1. Pingxi Lantern Festival, Taiwan
Location: Pingxi District, New Taipei City
You’ve seen breathtaking photos of the bright, luminous lanterns floating in the sky (even Disney featured this scene in the movie, Tangled) but unknown to most, the famed Pingxi Lantern Festival is not just about releasing lanterns. You can also munch on traditional festival food (tangyuan), make your own lanterns, play Chinese riddle games and many more. If you cannot be in Pingxi on the exact date of the Lantern Festival, there would be several others held all over Taiwan in the month of February and March. Do look out for those as well!
2. Songkran, Thailand
Location: Several Locations, Thailand – Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai & Phuket
The most important festival in Thailand, Songkran celebrates the coming of the Traditional New Year with a splashing good time. The annual water festival will leave you soaked as strangers (locals and tourist) douse you with buckets of water and well-wishes for the New Year. Don’t forget to bring water-proof cameras and shoes, or simply bring a change out when you are thoroughly drenched. Also, do remember to gobble down all the delectable street foods that Thailand offers.
3. Holi Festival of Colors, India
Location: Various Cities, India – Barsana, Delhi, Jaipur, Mathura & Vrindavan
One of the most cheerful festivals in the world, Holi (also known as the Festival of Love) celebrates the beginning of spring by throwing colors and blessings to one another while singing and dancing the day away. A grander and more heart-warming version of The Color Run, Holi promises a spectacular time. Wear a plain white shirt to ensure that the multitude of colors would stay on your clothing, this way you’ll be able to keep a souvenir from the fun day!
4. Boryeong Mud Festival, Korea
Location: Boryeong, Korea
Where else can you find a festival that offers a crazy and entertaining time while getting the benefits of a spa session? Boryeong Mud Festival offers that and much more. Other than just rolling in mud and enjoying the many health benefits, you can also enjoy live music, mud skiing competitions, wrestling, body painting, massages and even fireworks. Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty at this muddy festival.
5. Thaipusam, Malaysia
Date: January/ February
Location: Kuala Lumpur & Several Other Locations
Thaipusam is an important Hindu festival where rituals and parades are held in various locations in Malaysia. The most well-known Thaipusam celebration would be in Kuala Lumpur and the temple at Batu caves that attracts more than a million people. The parade starts from Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur and embark on an 8-hour journey to the caves. A meaningful, colorful journey that truly celebrates tradition, Thaipusam is definitely a sight to behold.
7. Naadam Festival, Mongolia
Location: National Sports Stadium, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
The Naadam Festival is a culturally-rich local festival that was recently inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO. The opening ceremony kickstarts the festival with a booming parade of musicians, monks, wrestlers and costumed warriors/soldiers. In the following week, horse racing, archery and Mongolian wrestling competitions will take place. Naadam is an unique event that will entertain and educate.
8. Winter Light Festival, Japan
Date: Mid-November to Mid-March
Location: Nabana No Sato, Kuwana City (Mie Prefecture), Japan
Not only does the Winter Light Festival offer the finest Winter Illuminations, including the famous light tunnel and also a brightly lit flower display, it is actually located in a flora-centered theme park. With picturesque gardens, onsen (hot springs) and numerous restaurants/cafes, the light festival offers a comprehensive experience for the festival-goer. However, it gets really crowded and busy on weekends, so do try to go on a weekday.
8. Esala Perahera, Sri Lanka
Date: July / August
Location: Kandy, Sri Lanka
The procession of Esala is a magnificent ten-day festival with sophisticated costumes, elephants and sparkling light decorations. Several traditional dance performances such as fire-dances or whip-dances would be carried out during the parade as well. The festival will then end with a splashing water cutting ceremony. One of the lesser-known festivals, Esala Perahera promises a truly native experience untainted by tourism.
9. Harbin Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival, China
Date: January – March
Location: Harbin, Heilongjiang, China
The largest ice and snow sculpture festival in the world is an annual affair with a different theme every year. There would be two main exhibition areas: Sun Island and Ice and Snow World, so be sure to check both of them out and not miss out on any of the beautiful snow sculptures and full-sized ice buildings. Also, there would be other winter activities such as ice-skating, ice-lantern exhibitions and skiing as well. This is the ultimate festival to go for winter and Christmas.
10. Diwali, India
Location: Various Locations, India
Diwali (also known as the Festival of Lights) is celebrated all over the world in many countries such as Nepal or Sri Lanka, but the festival in India is more extravagant, beautiful and one of the biggest merry-making affairs. Viator offers local experiences in the home of Indian natives, if you would like to gain insight into the Indian culture and the true traditional Diwali rituals.
11. Kanamara Matsuri, Japan
Date: First Sunday of April
Location: Kanayama Shrine, Kawasaki, Japan
The winner of the most unique festival experience has to go to Kanamara Matsuri, a festival in Japan that celebrates safe sex and to spread awareness. Festival goers will not only able to follow a Mikoshi parade where the locals parade around with a giant penis, they can also purchase penis-looking candy, carved vegetables and decorations. It is a simple and amusing festival that would make an amazing story to tell your friends.
Still need inspiration on interesting things to do and places to visit when in Asia? Browse Travelog for useful shortlists of fun things to do and places to visit.
Images courtesy of (from top to bottom) Odyssey Traveller, Thai Food Online, GoPixPic, Visuallysaptarshi, Demotix, Hovd Tour, Incredible Snaps, Sri Lanka in Style, Foreign Policy, The Wall Street Journal, Japan Info Swap.
Still not sure what to do next time you travel in Asia? Check out these useful links for more ideas:
- Fest300 – The World’s Best Festivals
- Top Universities – Must-See Cultural Festivals in Asia
- About.com – Asian Festivals