Myanmar – go for the Water Festival!

By Ella Hodgson-Pageau

A Burmese woman wanted to have her photo taken with author Ella Hodgson-Pageau and her brother Wesley. PHOTO: PAUL PAGEAU

A Burmese woman wanted to have her photo taken with author Ella Hodgson-Pageau and her brother Wesley. PHOTO: PAUL PAGEAU

One of my favourite stops on my family’s around-the-world trip is Myanmar (Burma), a smallish country right next to Thailand. It feels very, very far from France (our last destination). Along with the obvious distance, there’s the weather – here, it gets up to 40 degrees, daily! Then there’s the culture, which (of course) is very different. Also, there’s a lot more poverty here than in France. Myanmar is a pretty unique place!

Unlike the African and European countries we’ve been to, Myanmar only opened up its borders to tourists a few years ago. Although this might lead you to think that the Burmese people would be wary and unsure of foreigners, that’s not the case at all! Most people were so excited to see tourists that when they saw my brother and me, a gigantic smile would spread across their faces, and they would either wave or come talk to us. People would even come over and ask to take pictures with us! By the time we got ready to leave Myanmar, I was starting to sympathize with Selena Gomez! However, this excitement may soon come to an end, as more and more tourists are visiting Myanmar.

Wesley Hodgson-Pageau atop an ancient temple in Bagan, Myanmar. PHOTO: PAUL PAGEAU

Wesley Hodgson-Pageau atop an ancient temple in Bagan, Myanmar. PHOTO: PAUL PAGEAU

One of the places that’s on every Myanmar tourist’s list is Bagan, a city surrounded by ancient Buddhist temples. Most of them were built between the 11th and 13th centuries and, believe it or not, a lot of them are still in use! Myanmar is mostly made up of Buddhists, so at almost all hours of the day, you can find people worshipping or meditating in the temples. Even though it did eventually get a little boring, Bagan was still fascinating. I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Myanmar!

While we were in Bagan, a Buddhist celebration called the Water Festival was taking place. Buddhists believe that by dumping buckets of water on people, they’re washing away those people’s sins. Basically, this means a 4-day water fight. You can’t even step out on to the street without getting soaked! If you go for a walk along one of the busier roads, you’ll find groups of kids all huddled around a barrel of water with buckets in hand, ready to drench anyone who dares to pass by them. The funny thing was, even seconds after being completely doused, everyone had giant smiles on their faces! At first I thought it was kind of weird, dumping water on random strangers, but then I started to find it really fun. We were thinking of bringing the water festival to Ottawa next April. I mean, hey – maybe we’d start a trend!

The author and local kids drench a motorcycle rider during Myanmar’s Water Festival. PHOTO: LAURA HODGSON

The author and local kids drench a motorcycle rider during Myanmar’s Water Festival. PHOTO: LAURA HODGSON

After the Water Festival, we headed out on a boat to explore the Mergui Archipelago (some islands off Myanmar’s coast). Those islands were like paradise, times two! White beaches, warm sun, palm trees laden with coconuts, and a wild rainforest just a few feet back from the beach. And you know what the best part was? There wasn’t anyone else there. Not one hotel! I think the reason for this is that you need a special licence to visit these islands (unless you were born there). However, they are starting to develop. We found a tour company that would take us out to the islands, and let us sleep on the boat. One night, I actually got to sleep up on the deck, which was really cool. In the morning, I was woken up by the local fishermen, coming back with their morning’s catch. The Mergui Archipelago was definitely a highlight of our trip!

Another thing I quite liked in Myanmar was the food. It was a mix of Thai and Indian, often with a bit of spice. Burmese people eat mainly rice, stir-frys, noodles and curries. During the Water Festival, we tried some traditional foods. My favourite Water Festival treat is a doughy ball with a chunk of cane sugar in the middle, often eaten with shredded coconut. A Burmese woman told me that sometimes, tricksters stick a chili pepper in the middle, instead of a chunk of cane sugar. I was sure careful after that!

After seeing a bit more of Southeast Asia, we will be going to my favourite country in the whole world. It’s got kind people, amazing landscapes, and the best maple syrup around! It’s been an awesome trip, but I think I’ll be glad to finally get back home.

Ella Hodgson-Pageau is an 11-year-old Glebite and writer on a 10-month trip around the world with her family. This is the sixth installment in her series for the Glebe Report.

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