Myanmar, like most Asian countries, has a deep love for football. They proudly cheer on their men’s and women’s national teams and the younger generation follow the English Premier League. But the country’s two traditional sports- Chinlone and Lethwei- remain popular amongst people of all ages.

Chinlone can be played anywhere, anytime and this is one of the reasons it is so popular. A simple ball (actually chinlone translates in to round basket) woven of strips of rattan is the only equipment needed. Players stand in a circle and, using only their feet, knees, head and chest, pass the ball around with the goal of keeping it off the ground for as long as possible. The sport features more than 200 ‘moves’ for passing the ball. It is common to see groups of friends gathering in the early evening to play chinlone in the street or in front of their house. It is also a popular activity during Myanmar’s festivals and large competitions are sometimes arranged at pagodas.

Lethwei is a martial-art form similar to kickboxing. Lethwei is widely recognized as one of the toughest martial arts as it has fewer rules meaning that fighters can not only use punches and kicks but can also use their knees and heads. Fighters do not wear any protective gear except thin gloves over their hands. In traditional lethwei fights, the winner is declared after drawing blood three times or being knocked unconscious. The sport has been played for centuries but only recently were official rules put into place. As mixed-martial arts has gained popularity in other parts of the world, the interest in lethwei has grown and more and more people are playing.

The Wheel Travel can design a tailor-made Myanmar holiday that includes a visit to a lethwei gym or to see a chinlone match. These are great ways to experience local life- ask your guide or sales executive for more details.

Myanmar’s calendar is filled with festivals and traveling to the country during one of these holidays is a fantastic experience. Most of the festivals are centered on religion but still offer a lively atmosphere. The local people are eager to share these festivals with foreign visitors as they are proud to showcase the country’s rich traditions.

Buddhist festivals are based on the lunar calendar. The full moon days in October and November, for example, are marked by the lighting of candles. Small street fairs occur with carnival-type games, food vendors and other stalls.

Each pagoda also has an annual festival. On those days, worshippers come to pray, make donations or help do maintenance or cleaning at the pagoda. Some of the larger pagodas like Ananda (Bagan) or Phaung Daw Oo (Inle Lake) have celebrations that last one week or longer. These are great festivals to watch but take note of your hotel location as often the pagodas will play loud Buddhist music 24-hours a day to celebrate.

Many of Myanmar’s ethnic groups also have their own festival or ‘national day’. These holidays are important for maintaining the culture and traditions of the various races in Myanmar. The people wear their colorful costumes, eat special regional dishes and sing folk songs. The Manaw festival in the Kachin state and Pa-oh Festival in Shan State are two of the most notable ethnic celebrations.

The country’s largest festival is Thingyan. Also known as ‘water festival’, this week-long celebration marks the start of Buddhist lent. During Thingyan many residents go to monasteries or nunneries to meditate. It is also an important time to be with family so people travel back to their native village for the festival. But perhaps what the festival is most famous for is the water throwing. The pouring of water over oneself symbolizes washing away sin but these days it has turned in to a huge party. In bigger towns like Mandalay and Yangon, stages are set up along the main roads where party-goers can dance and throw buckets of water or use fire hoses to douse people walking by.

If you are interested in experiencing a Myanmar festival, let one of The Wheel Travel’s sales executives create a tailor-made itinerary for you.