How to beat the Thingyan blues

Tired of the chaotic party in Yangon, our writer looks at the options for those who want to escape the city during the Thingyan New Year holiday.

By KYAW PHONE KYAW | FRONTIER

AROUND THE middle of March every year, I start to hear the “Tuu Pot Tuu Pot” songs almost everywhere I go. The songs, as well as the increasingly oppressive heat around this time of year, are a symbol that the Thingyan New Year Holiday is just around the corner.

Thingyan is by far the most popular holiday in Myanmar, where revelers spend several days dousing each other in water. The origin of the water splashing is to clean the sins from the previous year, and to start the new year with a clean body and mind. Although other neighbouring countries, such as Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, celebrate their new year holiday around the same time, Myanmar’s is by far the largest.

Almost the entire country comes to a standstill. The government is stopped, highway buses come to a halt, or are impossible to get on, and the majority of businesses are closed. Out on the streets, you can do nothing except get drenched in water. During the festivities, people, especially young people, spend the day partying and throwing water at anyone who passes. It is an open party on the roads, where people drink alcohol and dance to loud music. Young people are crazy with happiness at this time.

But I would rather relax on holiday than participate in this chaotic party.  

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Since my mid-20s I stopped enjoying the partying and drinking associated with Thingyan. One of my close friends suffered a severe injury during Thingyan six years ago and came close to dying. I realised that anyone could experience the accident he had, and that was my last happy Thingyan.

Those who do not enjoy the chaotic activities do have other options, however. People often take the opportunity to meditate at monasteries during the Thingyan holiday. Some men temporarily ordain as monks, and women as nuns. But I don’t want to spend my Thingyan holiday partaking in religious activities.

Other people prefer to stay at home and read books during Thingyan, but it’s not something I like to do. It makes me blue when the time comes to decide where to run away to escape the craziness of Thingyan. During that time, most of the markets and restaurants are closed, so it can be difficult to find somewhere to get a meal.

Another strong reason for me wanting to get away from my apartment is that as Yangon city dwellers we rarely get the opportunity to go outside of our concrete cubes.

So what are the best choices to escape Yangon? How about the southern islands of the Myeik Archipelago? Sounds great. But wait, it’s so expensive to go there during Thingyan time. So if you want to keep to your budget, you had better choose another place.

Myanmar hoteliers have got into the habit of doubling, sometimes tripling, the price of rooms during Thingyan time. Maybe they want poorer people to rest and get merit, so they get better things in their next lives. That’s very nice of them. Thank you, but I am going for a vacation.

How about the west coast? Myanmar has very long coastal areas and the beaches are best-visited during the hot summer. I love to go to the western beaches of Ngwe Saung and Chaungtha in Ayeyarwady Region, and Ngapali Beach in Rakhine State. But something else has popped up in my mind. Hotel charges are higher at these places during Thingyan too. Also, with transport options also ground to a halt, not having a car can make it very difficult to get places. Maybe people like me, who want to escape, have to waste their time in cities.

Finally, I decided to spend my holiday in Ngapali, even though I am a bit uncomfortable spending so much money for just four days. Fortunately, I booked hotel room one month in advance. I chose to go there because Ngapali is one of the country’s most beautiful beaches, with white sands, open space and good accommodation. The food, drinks and service are among the best in the country.

After finally deciding where to go, the Thingyan blues aren’t over. There’s frustration if you don’t have a car. Highway bus tickets are very hard to find at that time; maybe it would be easier to get married to Emma Watson. Most of the tickets are sold out by mid-March. So we have to persevere and try hard to get bus tickets. You have to lose some sleep and wait at the bus station from about midnight. If you are lucky enough, you might get a ticket at a fair price.  Or you will have to spend your money on hiring a car. Or you will have to build a good relationship with a friend who has a car.

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