Indulge in the festive spirit all year round
Given the myriad of colourful events that dot the Burmese calendar, it is perhaps little wonder that Myanmar is often described as being the ‘land of festivals’.
Whilst many of these coincide with the full moon, and most centre on the nation’s Buddhist convictions, one thing they all offer is the opportunity to experience an authentic and intense taste of the country’s vibrant culture.
Coinciding a Myanmar holiday with one of these incredible displays can certainly turn a great trip into an exceptional one. So, to help get you in the festive spirit, luxury travel operator, Sanctuary Retreats’ has selected its five favourite ways to celebrate the country’s old world charm in style.
Ananda Pagoda Festival (January)
With the Burmese people still largely reliant on agriculture, it stands to reason that harvest plays a crucial role in the nation’s psyche. Every January, the ancient ruins of Bagan come alive for 15 days around the first full moon as convoys of ox carts make their way from the villages to this sacred spot. During this jubilant time Buddhist alms-giving rituals become entwined with harvest celebrations, making it a wonderful opportunity to combine a visit to one of the country’s best preserved temples with a chance to sample the fruits of the nation’s harvest in one of the many food stalls.
Thingyan Water Festival (April)
What better way to see in the Burmese New Year than by washing away the old one with a high-spirited water festival. Thingyan translates as the changing over and Myanmar’s biggest national festival – held in mid-April every year – has evolved into a 5-day purification ritual like no other. Join in with the fun-loving locals as all ages use any receptacle going – from bucket to water gun – to hose each other down and enjoy some welcome relief from the day’s heat. Then, once evening falls, it’s time to feast on traditional local delicacies.
Kason Festival (May)
To honour Buddha’s birthday, every May sees the country acknowledge this auspicious event with an alternative water-pouring ceremony. This time, the focus of the occasion is the sacred Bodhi Tree, under which Buddha gained enlightenment whilst meditating. Follow the processions of pilgrims to join in the ritual that ensures these precious fig trees do not succumb to drought or pour scented water in one of the country’s magnificent pagoda complexes.
Thadingyut Festival of Lights (October)
As Buddhist Lent comes to an end, heralding clear skies and cooler climes, Myanmar is illuminated by a very special candlelit celebration. Lights are symbolic of Buddha’s return from heaven to earth and if you visit during this period you’ll be treated to a truly dazzling display as paper lanterns and oil lamps shimmer across the land. For an added touch of authenticity, visit a pagoda to partake in the time-honoured tradition of creating your own glowing offering from a small sesame oil-filled earthen saucer and pieces of cotton as its makeshift wick.
Tazaungdaing Festival of Lights/Taunggyi Balloon Festival (November)
This shining example of a festival takes a very different approach to Thadingyut, with people marking the end of the rainy season by releasing candle-lit paper balloons. These heavenly offerings are said to drive away evil spirits as the homemade lanterns take to the skies every mid-November to celebrate the full moon. Throughout Myanmar, communities come together to create a breath-taking spectacle, releasing thousands of bamboo hot air balloons into the sky, each glittering with the light of a hundred candles. In Bagan, the thousands of temples that litter the landscape literally become beacons of light as pilgrims travel from far and wide to make their offerings.
For travellers lucky enough to find themselves in Myanmar during one of the country’s many festivals, it is an experience like no other. And one of the best places to observe them is aboard the luxuriously appointed Sanctuary Ananda, which affords unique perspective of each one.
Custom-built using traditional Myanmar materials and arranged over four decks, Sanctuary Ananda combines all the comforts of 5-star contemporary luxury with the refined elegance of authentic Burmese design. All of the ship’s 21 beautifully appointed suites have floor-to-ceiling windows and full balconies – the perfect spot from which to take in stunning scenery and the daily bustle of Burmese life. On board relax in the library, enjoy a delicious cocktail at the bar or beside the plunge pool, or tempt your taste buds with a range of delicious Asian and international dining options. Or for the ultimate indulgence book yourself into the on-board spa – Thambyadine Spa by L’Occitane, the luxury French Skincare brand’s first cruise ship foray.
Best of all, the Sanctuary Ananda offers one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios on the river, allowing guests to enjoy the mysteries of Myanmar with a choice of fascinating itineraries full of excursions and unique cultural experiences led by expert guides – including unique insights and access to its many festivals.
Sanctuary Ananda offers 3, 4 and 7 night itineraries on the Upper Irrawaddy River, 11 nights on the Upper and Lower Irrawaddy River and 10 nights on the Chindwin River.
In 2019, 3-night cruises aboard Sanctuary Ananda start from just USD643 per person twin share.
For more information, please visit: www.sanctuaryretreats.com
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