Festivals are a great way to experience a country’s hospitality, culture, and diversity. We’ve put together a list of some of the very best festivals in Asia.
When you travel the region, time your trips so you get the chance to experience the colourful fun of all these different festivals. It’s a fantastic way to take the excitement up a notch, celebrate with locals and be a part of something special in each place. You’ll come away with great photos, memories and stories to tell.
Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, China
Pack your winter gear and snow boots because things get pretty chilly in the Chinese city of Harbin! Every winter, the capital of the Heilongjiang province plays host to the famed Ice and Snow Festival. Giant blocks of ice are hauled from the nearby Songhua river and carved into some amazing shapes and massive sculptures — from buildings to people. Lights are added to create a Winter Wonderland feel. Perfect for the kids too!
While you’re there: Make sure to visit the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park to see this rare species up close.
Singapore’s very own colourful festival, Chingay, is a street parade replete with festive floats, stilt walkers, fireworks, and cultural performances galore. The festival began in 1973 as a replacement for the government’s decision to ban firecrackers (deemed dangerous). Since then, the festival has evolved into a two-day affair involving the myriad communities in Singapore. Expect to see Chinese wushu performers next to samba dancers next to wayang kulit performers.
If you’ve been everywhere and seen all the festivals, it’s about time to experience our own. If nothing else, to share with other travellers you meet on the road or invite them to experience the festivities when they visit you. For more info, visit www.chingay.org.sg.
When Chingay brings out your curiosity about all our people’s backstories, have a wander down to the nearby museums. Check out the Asian Civilisations Museum, the Baba House, the Malay Heritage Centre, the Chinatown Heritage Centre and the Peranakan Museum.
When: 13 to 15 April. Annual
Where: Anywhere in Thailand, try Bangkok or Chiang Mai
CC2.0 / Yang Hai / James Antrobus / Jan
Break out those water pistols! Thai’s celebrate their new year at Songkran. The word comes from Sanskrit and means “astrological passing”.
Today, the festival is known the world over for the crazy water-soaking activities the citizens engage in. The soaking you’ll receive isn’t just for fun and laughs though: it symbolises the washing away of the bad things in your life. Somehow the festival has evolved into the uber fun version today where you’ll get to arm yourself with a Super Soaker and jet away at anyone in your path!
At Ayutthaya, even elephants get in on the Songkran festival action. The focus is a little more spiritual this side of Thailand as compared to Bangkok. Locals offer food to monks, release birds, bless their elders and enjoy a little splash of water off the trunks of elephants. Experience the traditions of the Mon people at Songkran.
While you’re there: Thailand is famed for it’s aromatic and spicy cuisine. Try modern Thai at Le Du or Bo Lan in Bangkok.
Cherry Blossom Festival, Japan
Japan’s Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festival needs little introduction, especially if you’ve been crying over sappy Korean dramas.
The spring festival is celebrated in a short two-week span across Japan. For centuries, the Japanese have enjoyed the blooming of the stunning Cherry Blossom flowers with “Hanami”, a picnic under the trees. Grab a bento and some drinks from a supermarket, bring your own mat and celebrate your very own Hanami.
Check the forecasts at the Japan Tourism website and chase the blossoms across the lovely Japan.
While you’re there: Get lost in the heady swirl of human traffic at the Shibuya crossing, Japan’s most iconic street.
When: 11 to 13 July. Annual
Where: Mongolia, try Ulaanbaatar
CC2.0 Paolo Fassina, istolethetv
Mongolia’s largest festival, the Naadam, has been running for centuries. Naadam is a celebration of local sporting activities: wrestling, horse racing and archery. The nomadic Mongolians dress up in their finest and descend upon the stadium in the capital of Ulaanbaatar for a few days of testosterone-loaded competition.
The festival is also celebrated in provincial towns where you’ll arguably find a more authentic experience in the grasslands.
While you’re there: Experience a farm stay in a traditional Mongolian ger (yurt). Drink some salty milk tea for breakfast before trying your hand at archery or horse riding across the lush grasslands.
Boryeong Mud Festival, South Korea
When: Mid July. Annual
Where: Boryeong, South Korea
The seaside town of Boryeong, famed for its mud flats, is the setting for 2 whole weeks of the messy bacchanalia that is the Mud Festival. Each year, more than 2 million people descend upon Boryeong for the beachside festival. Massive quantities of mineral-rich mud is brought to the festival and revellers splash, throw, and wade through the brown stuff.
If that’s not enough, there are other activities such as zip-lines, slides, mud wrestling…so leave your Versace threads at home. You’ll want to pack your swimsuits and dive right in for some mud-rolling fun.
While you’re there: The Daecheon beach in Boryeong is lined with seafood restaurants. Korean BBQ! Pick your seafood and DIY grill at your table.
When: Early March. Annual
Where: India, try Jaipur, Goa, Rajasthan, or Mumbai
India’s most colourful festival, quite literally, is Holi. This spring festival is a celebration of love and revellers welcome the coming of spring by flinging pigment at everything and everyone. It’s chaotic, messy and great fun. Holi is celebrated in Singapore too, but of course it’s always something special to experience a festival in its place of origin. A truly happy festival that covers everyone in colours of the rainbow.
While you’re there: Head to Jaipur for the exotic Elephant Festival, held a day before Holi. A parade of blinged-up elephants, horses, camels and dancers take to the streets.
Make more of each trip by diving into all the culture and joyous festivities celebrated in their own uniquye ways across Asia. Check your calendar and book your flights and find hotels early for greater savings — and more to spend on super soakers.
Feature Image: Chingay Festival, Courtesy of People’s Association, Singapore.
Image Credits: Various photographers under the Creative Commons License