Blessed with colour, tradition and celebration, Festivals in South Asia is a cultural experience that should not be missed! South East Asia is one region where at every corner; you’ll find festivals of all shapes and sizes that are truly unique in their own way! You won’t need any excuses to party at these spectacular South Asian Festivals we have shortlisted for every month, they are certainly worth a trip and more:
Known to be one of the largest and most extravagant Hindu Festivals in Asia, Thaipusam is held in honour of Lord Murugan (also known as Lord Subramaniam) every January. This celebration is not for the faint-hearted. Starting at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur, this eight-hour procession ends after a flight of 272 steps to the stunning temple at Batu Caves. Usually celebrated by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February), Thaipusam is a true spectacle to witness as participants offer thanks to the Lord for good fortune.
Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year is celebrated by Chinese communities all over the world. It marks the first day of the new moon and therefore is also known as Lunar New Year due to the lunisolar Chinese calendar. It is an important traditional Chinese holiday lasting for 15 days with unique celebrations and rituals taking place on each day, it is also the longest festival in the Chinese calendar. While Bangkok, Penang and Kuala Lumpur can be considered as great places to witness the festivities, all the South East Asian cities, towns and villages are lit up with decorations!
This massive event features colourful dragon parades, lion parades, fireworks, colourfully-decorated streets with intricate lanterns and nightly staged shows.
Nyepi, Bali, Thailand
Also known as the Bali annual day of silence, Nyepi is an important Hindu celebration, reserved for prayer, meditation, and fasting for the Balinese. It commemorates the ‘Isakawarsa’ New Year and falls during March every year. On this unique day, you will find all of the island’s inhabitants abide by a set of local rules that bring routine activities to a complete halt for 24 hours. While the tourists are free to do as they wish on this day, they must stay indoors and make sure that any lights cannot be seen from the outside. Traditional community watch patrols or pecalang enforce the rules of Nyepi, patrolling the streets by day and night in shifts. So if any curious individuals try to explore the empty streets, they are swiftly sent back to their homes or hotels by the traditional village security.
Songkran festival in Thailand is a joy ride including water balloons, Super Soakers, and hoses. Every year in April, people come together for the main festivities in areas like Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Phuket to drench each other. The festival has its roots in a Buddhist purification ritual that is done to wash away evil spirits before the Thai New Year by throwing water. For three whole days, people, young and old, take to the streets armed with water pistols, super soakers, buckets of ice-cold water and even industrial hoses!
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Boun Bang Fai (Rocket festival), Laos
Celebrated by Laotian people along with people from Isaan, Boun Bang Fai Festival is traditionally held in the sixth Lunar month (around May or June) to call for rain and favourable weather conditions. It is known to be one of the most unique festivals in Laos and is typically celebrated for over three days with plenty of eating, drinking and dancing thrown in. The highlight of this festival is a competitive firing of home-made rockets by the locals. These rockets are made by stuffing gunpowder inside a nicely decorated bamboo and blasted skywards to let the God of rain, Phaya Thaen, know it is time to send the rains. The owner of the highest fired rocket receives prestige and status, while the designers of failed rockets are punished by being made to drink muddy water or Satho (rice whisky).
Gawai Dayak Festival, Sarawak, Malaysia
Tracing its roots back to as early as 1957, The Gawai Dayak Festival is celebrated by the Dayak community in Sarawak on 1 June every year. This sacred festival marks the end of paddy harvesting season and the beginning of the new planting season. Preparations for the festival begin early with the brewing of rice wine or “tuak” which is the main item in the celebration of this festival. The festival begins with the Long House Chief (Tuai Rumah) allocating duties to the longhouse residents while the women prepare traditional cakes and delicacies made from rice flour, sugar and coconut milk.
Bali Kite Festival, Bali, Indonesia
One of the most colourful South East Asian Festivals, the Bali Kite Festival is held annually from July to October. Traditionally held as a religious festival, this wonderful spectacle of an event has now become a big sporting event in Bali. It was held to thank the Gods for abundant crops and harvests but now hundreds of competing kite troupes gather (from all over the island and abroad) to pilot their traditional kites. Kicking off notably at the start of the windy season in Bali, the main festival takes place along the eastern coast of Padanggalak which is just north of Sanur. The specific schedules are often confirmed following favourable weather conditions.
Taung Byone Nat, Taung Byone Village, Myanmar
Taung Byone Nat festival is the biggest Nat festival of the year and is celebrated for almost a week in Taung Byone village during the August full moon. Thousands of pilgrims come one a year to the village to pay tribute to two of the widest known Burmese nats, or spirits. This impressive Nat Festival in Myanmar features offerings, dances, and the inflow of merchants with the constant arrival of pilgrims.
Mid-Autumn Festival, Vietnam
‘Tet-Trung-Thu’ or Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam takes place in the middle of the eighth lunar month and traditionally focuses on children. The celebration marks the end of rice harvest and is believed to have originated from an old folktale about parents working so hard to get ready for harvest that they forgot about their children. The festival holiday at the end was a chance to spend time with them. This Instagrammable cultural celebration should not be missed as it includes a huge array of technicolour star-shaped lanterns; a lion dance parade, dragon boat races, and lantern fairs, adding lustre to the festival.
The Phuket Vegetarian Fest, Phuket, Thailand
While Phuket is known for a spectrum of festivals, one prime festival that you should not be missing is The Phuket Vegetarian Fest. But the name of this festival is somewhat misleading. It may seem that the festival is just about vegetarians gathering to eat fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables; however, the main event is rather a different affair!
It also includes some frightening rituals that involve gory body piercing, and self-mutilating practices to express their obeisance to their almighty Gods. Lasting for nine days, the festival is also known as the ‘Nine Emperor Gods Festival’, where participants take to the streets of Phuket’s Old Town in South Thailand to perform acts of self-mutilation, impaling their body with razor-sharp weapons like blades, swords, iron rods and so on to name a few. The acts are believed to be a demonstration of devotion to ancestors and gods.
Bon Om Touk, Cambodia
Also known as the Water Festival, Bon Om Touk begins on the night of the full moon in November, marking the end of the rainy season in Cambodia. It is primarily celebrated in the capital city of Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat where locals flock from across the country to watch the colourful boat races take place along the Tonle Sap River. This three-day carnival also features evening boat parades with illuminated vessels, carnival rides, fireworks, and traditional music and dance performances.
Not the usual white, but the SE Asian Christmas is also celebrated with great vigour and good cheer. The Christian population in Southeast Asia can mostly be traced to countries that include the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. While each country celebrates the festival with their unique traditions and customs, the essence of Christmas trees and people dressed up in Santa costumes remains universal.
Check out these Vibrant South East Asian Festivals and do us know about your experiences below!