14 Incredible Festivals to Visit in Asia
Thousands and thousands of festivals take place every single year. From music and performance to art and dance, food and gastronomy to wine and beer, religious ceremonies to street parades, historical celebrations to sporting events; it’s almost guaranteed that wherever you go in the world, whatever time of year, something amazing is happening. Here are 14 incredible festivals that you just have to visit if you’re travelling in Asia.
1| Diwali Festival
Diwali is one of the most spectacular festivals in the world and it takes place in exotic India every single year – as well as being celebrated worldwide. Known as “The Festival of Lights”, this is perhaps the most significant celebration of Indian culture. Bringing together Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, Diwali has one, single overriding theme; the triumph of light over darkness, and good over evil. This five day light festival brings friends, family and neighbours together with candles and lanterns being lit on the third day (the main day of celebration) and the third evening is often concluded with fantastic fireworks. Each day has its own meaning; the first day celebrates wealth, the second celebrates Naraka Chaturdashi, the third is a beautiful festival of lights and the exchange of gifts/sweets, the fourth is focused on prayer, whilst the fifth day is for celebrating sisters and sharing food with the family.
Diwali is celebrated almost everywhere in India; some of our favourite places to enjoy Diwali include Jaipur for the beautiful light shows and Varanasi for fireworks over the Ganges River.
2| Holi Festival
Holi has become something of a phenomenon across the UK and the rest of Europe. But what most festival-goers don’t know is that Holi originated in India and dates back to ancient times, perhaps even as far back as the 4th Century. Varieties of this festival are now celebrated around the world but the original Holi Festival takes place across a number of locations in India. An important Hindu festival, the purpose of Holi is very much the same as the Diwali Festival; to celebrate good overcoming evil. Holi begins every year around Phalgun Purnima or Pooranmashi (full moon) and involves a lot of fun and a lot of colour. This amazing celebration sees thousands of people gathering and throwing coloured powder over each other and smearing it onto one another’s faces.
If you’ve never experienced Holi, it’s a must. And there’s nowhere better in the world to experience it than its place of origin, India.
3| Storm Festival
Storm Festival is India’s most authentic camping and music festival; it brings together people of all ages and offers an exciting glimpse into modern-day Indian music culture. This brand new festival only debuted in early 2012 so it’s still fresh on the map of festivals in Asia but it’s already hugely popular with festival-goers in the East. After a failed attempt to launch in November 2011 due to freak thunderstorms (and then successfully making a comeback in January 2012), the location was branded famously as ‘Stormfields’ and the appropriately named ‘Storm Festival’ soon became the most talked about music event in the country.
The festival has a fantastic mix of music genres including folk, rock, fusion and Indian EDM, and takes place in Coorg in Madikeri Town in Karnataka State. Although it promotes modern festival culture, the festival organisers maintain that it’s a wholesome, safe and friendly festival which does not promote drug use.
4| Phuket Vegetarian Festival
Don’t be fooled by the tame, unthreatening name of this annual festival. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival, which dates back around 150 years, is best known for its strange, daring and quite simply terrifying acts of self-mortification. This event was first created when Chinese settlers and miners took residence in Phuket; during the 9th lunar month, the area of Phuket was riddled with disease. The people soon came to their senses and realised they had not been showing gratitude and appreciation to the Nine Emperor Gods. It’s known as the ‘Vegetarian Festival’ as many Chinese settlers and Phuket locals stopped eating meat and drinking alcohol to form a more wholesome lifestyle. And today, the Thai people pay homage to the Nine Emperor Gods by fire walking and piercing their own faces with knives and sharp objects.
Although it looks incredibly scary, piercing the cheeks causes little bleeding and no scarring but this annual festival is certainly not for the faint-hearted. It takes place in October at the Kathu and Cherng Talay Shrines in Phuket.
5| Songkran Festival
Songkran is one of the most unusual ways of celebrating New Year; actually originating from Burma, Songkran is celebrated for three consecutive days in April (between the 13th–15th each year). There are various different elements to the Songkran Festival, bringing together both tradition and fun. Many Thai people will return to their home villages to visit their elders (it’s very important to respect your elders in Thailand) and a popular New Year tradition takes place; water pouring to wash away all sins and bad luck. The result is a fun session of water splashing between friends and family, resembling what Westerners might consider a water fight. It’s a great festival for all ages and it’s safe for kids to participate.
6| Full Moon Party
Most people have heard of the Full Moon Party. It’s perhaps one of the most famous tales of a South East Asia traveller, and it’s definitely worth experiencing if you enjoy a lively party atmosphere. The Thai people are friendly, welcoming and kind, so it’s no wonder that so many travellers and holidaymakers enjoy partying with the Thai locals. This amazing all night beach party first began in the 80s when locals wanted to give thanks to a group of 20 or 30 travellers. The party soon grew after word of mouth and now the event attracts crowds of up to 30,000 each month. Taking place in Koh Phangan every full moon, this festival offers a number of arenas each with great music and atmosphere. This festival is best for students, groups, young couples or anyone looking to make new friends.
7| Loi Krathong
Loi Krathong in Cambodia is a fantastic festival for all ages and is particularly suitable if you are travelling with young children. The name ‘Loi Krathong’ translates as ‘to float a basket’ and that’s exactly what takes place during this event which derives from South Eastern Thai cultures. This atmospheric festival takes place in November and floating candles light up the rivers and streams in each city. The name ‘Krathong’ translates as ‘floating sculpture’ and today people create these out of banana trunk or even bread and then decorate with leaves, flowers or paint. Finally, a candle is placed in the centre and they are released in the water to create a stunning light show. Attend this festival and watch as thousands of floating candles lights up the night sky; truly spectacular.
8| Harbin Ice Festival
This international ice and snow sculpture festival is one of the most spectacular annual events in China. Starting on January 5th and lasting one whole month every single year, the city of Harbin in Heilongjiang Province offers the largest ice and snow event in the world. For first time visitors, you will be blown away upon arrival as you are greeted with an entire city carved out of ice. The festival has a number of different exhibition areas where you can enjoy the mind-blowing sculptures including the Sun Island recreational area and the famous Ice & Snow World which features illuminated ice sculpture buildings.
The life sized sculptured buildings are carved out of ice and are the largest ice sculptures in the world. Make sure you stick around for when the sun goes down as the entire scene of Harbin City lights up with bright LED colours.
9| Qingdao International Beer Festival
For serious beer enthusiasts, the Qingdao International Beer Festival is not to be missed. Qingdao in the Shandong Province hosts this fun-filled event every August and although China’s beer drinking culture is not as well-known as perhaps Great Britain’s, Germany’s or that of other countries in the Western world, this festival offers a glimpse into all of China’s very best beers – and you’ll get to taste test each one. The festival was first created so that the Chinese could honour the “nectar of the Gods” (beer) and what better way of celebrating than by toasting to the Gods with a drink in hand, surrounded by friends? This is a fantastic event for the local Chinese and it’s popular for groups of all ages. Free beer samples are always on offer for thirsty tourists, and there’s also a beer drinking competition which sees a line-up of willing contestants downing large amounts of alcohol for a chance to win a big prize.
10| Water Splashing Festival
Similar to the Songkran Festival in Thailand, the Water Splashing Festival was created to help people wash away their sins and improve their luck in life by splashing water on each other. This festival, which originated in Burma, is significant to the Dai minority in China and takes place in mid-April every year. The event will last between 3 and 7 days and involves a ritual to bathe the Buddha in their local temple, followed by splashing water at friends, family and neighbours to wish them good luck and happiness. It is said that the more water you have splashed on you, the more good luck you will receive in the year ahead. Although this traditional gathering has religious and spiritual significance to the Dai minority only, the Dai people see their event as an inclusive event and everyone can partake in their celebrations. They usually invite people from other Chinese minorities and are always welcoming of tourists.
11| Rainforest World Music Festival
This incredible festival on the island of Borneo is a 3 day event which celebrates the amazing diversity of music from all around the world. Held in Kuchung City in the state of Sarawak (Borneo Island), RWMF brings together the excitement of music workshops, food stalls, craft displays and evening concerts for all day / all night entertainment. Visitors can enjoy a range of performances including traditional to contemporary, world fusion to acoustic. There’s a particular focus on acoustic sets at the Rainforest World Music Festival so if you’re particularly interested in instrumental bands, this event is not to be missed. RWMF is known for being a fun, wholesome festival with plenty to do for all ages, so it’s great if you’re travelling with children. Family packages are often available for purchase and you can find affordable accommodation nearby.
Thaipusam is a well-known Hindu festival celebrated in various countries in South East Asia; it is held in the tenth moon of the Hindu calendar. In Malaysia, it is a public holiday and parades are held across the country. The Thaipusam festival is a thrilling experience and a fantastic window into the Malaysian people’s rich history; it’s one of the most colourful and lively festivals in the world and tourists flock to cities and towns such as Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Johor, Negeri and Penang every single year to witness the festivities. The parades are spectacular and are filled with dramatic costumes, body paint and some strange acts of self-mortification / body piercings.
13| Cherry Blossom Festival
The Cherry Blossom Festival happens from late March to mid-April across different regions of Japan, with dates varying dependent on location. You can catch the festival in Sapporo, Aomori, Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Niigata, Fukuoka, Kyoto, Matsuyama, Nagoya, Sendai, Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo, Shizuoka and Okinawa. The act of Hanami (flower watching) has ancient roots and is extremely popular in Japanese culture, and the spring bloom of the cherry blossom tree is one of the most wonderful sights you will ever see. This magical event takes on the ancient art of Hanami and often involves food and drink to complete the celebrations; locals love to enjoy barbecues or street feasts during the Cherry Blossom Festival, or you can head to a local park to admire the views on your own.
14| Winter Light Festival
This evening gathering in the gardens of Kuwana City is certainly a sight for sore eyes. Other than the illuminated ice city in China’s Harbin, there really is nothing else in the world that even compares to this spectacular light show. Running from November to March each year, the Winter Light Festival celebrates the winter time in a show-stopping way with over 7 million LED lights. The park, Nabana No Sato is well-known for having beautiful flowering gardens and large greenhouses so it’s a glorious place to be any time of year. But winter is definitely the most magical time to visit. The park is open from 9am to 9pm every day during the winter festival season and there are also a number of restaurants and cafes in the park, so you can enjoy it from morning until evening.
For more information or to start planning your own private tour of Asia please get in touch with an Ampersand specialist:
+44 (0) 207 819 9770