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CULTURAL

Immerse yourself in culture and participate in one of these 28 unmissable traditional festivals in Asia.

by Thea Gillingham

Asia is a colourful continent full of exciting events going on at any time of year, including religious, traditional and cultural festivals.

For a truly immersive travel experience, it’s a great idea to time your trip so that you can observe, or even participate in, some of the best cultural festivals in Asia.

Here, we’ve compiled a shortlist of some of the most famous festivals in Asia in some of the most popular countries for holidays, including India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Japan - as well as the dates of the Asian festivals in 2018 and 2019.

With thousands of traditional Asian festivals to choose from, we hope this list inspires you to get involved in the celebrations and book your next trip to coincide with one of the holidays celebrated in Asia every year.

India

Cambodia

Thailand

Vietnam

Laos

Myanmar

Sri Lanka

Japan

The markers on the map below displays the countries where the Asian festivals listed are celebrated:

Festivals in India

A wide variety of festivals are celebrated in India, which reflects the country's rich culture and traditions. Some you may already be familiar with, such as the colourful powders of Holi and the Diwali Festival of Lights, which are famous around the world.

Here are our top recommendations for the best festivals to see in India during your visit. For more information about what's going on during your trip, take a look at our When to Visit India Guide.

1. Holi (Hindu)

1st to 2nd March 2018 / 20th to 21st March 2019

Indian lady celebrating Holi, cultural festival in Asia

March is an exciting and colourful time to visit India with the spring festival of Holi taking place. One of the most popular Asian festivals, celebrations take place across India.

However, Holi is celebrated enthusiastically in Northern India (especially in Udaipur, Varanasi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Delhi) and in the south it tends to be a much more subdued affair.

Holi celebrates the triumph of good over evil and the festival coincides with the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It is a time to give thanks for a good harvest, plus it is a time to come together and end any conflicts you might have with others.

The festivities begin with bonfires where people gather to watch the burning of Holika effigies. Religious rituals and prayers are carried out in the hope that evil will be destroyed in the fire as Holika was.

The next day people take to the streets to throw dry, coloured powder at each other.

The day of Holi is the Phalgun Poornima (full moon) by the Hindu calendar which generally arrives in March. This coincides with the period between late February and mid-March in the Gregorian calendar.

2. Diwali or Deepavali (Hindu)

7th November 2018 / 27th October 2019

Every October/November the streets of India erupt with colour and sound as Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated.

Diwali, or Deepavali, honours Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, and during this festival people decorate their homes with lamps, known as diyas, and other decorations, to welcome Lakshmi in.

The festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil and light over dark. You’ll see celebratory fireworks all over the country (it is believed that the loud bangs and the bright lights chase away evil spirits).

Diwali is a time to be with family and friends, to celebrate the good things in life and to look forward to prosperity, and it is a magical time to be in India. Countries with a large Hindu population also celebrate Diwali, including Sri Lanka, Malaysia & Mauritius.

3. Durga Puja (Hindu)

15th to 19th October 2018 / 4th to 8th October 2019

Durga Puja festival is one of the most important festivals in the region and there are lively processions carrying idols of the Goddess Durga through the streets and down to the river.

The festival celebrates the victory of Durga over the buffalo demon Mahishasura, and is in part a harvest festival that marks the goddess as mother and creator of life.

4. Pushkar Camel Fair - Pushkar, Rajasthan

15th to 23rd November 2018 / 4th to 12th November 2019

The Pushkar Camel Fair, known as Pushkar ka Mela, is a cultural festival/fair held in Pushkar, Rajasthan.

The festival sees around 50,000 camels, goats and other livestock brought here for trading and to participate in races. It's accompanied by music and dance performances, cricket matches and a longest moustache competition, fittingly called the Mr. Desert Competition.

There are also hundreds of authentic stalls selling jewellery, textiles and other items from the surrounding areas. Visiting the festival of Pushkar Camel Fair is a once-in-a-life travel experience.

Festivals in Cambodia

Cambodia has the highest number of public holidays in the world, a total of 28, which makes for a lot of different holidays, festivals and events held in the country. 

Many of Cambodia's festivals, as with many Southeast Asian festivals in general, centre around Buddhism. The cities empty out and locals return to their hometowns to spend time with family.

For more information about Cambodian festivals, read our When to Go to Cambodia Guide.

Monks in Angkor cultural festival in asia

5. Chaul Chnam (Cambodian New Year)

14th to 16th April

Chaul Chnam is the most important festival in Cambodia and a really fun time to be in the country. Locals take to the streets to celebrate the end of the dry season and the start of the rains.

You should expect to get wet while you’re out and about, as everyone has a water gun or bucket of water and no-one can escape getting soaked!

Festivals in Thailand

Many cultural festivals are held in Thailand every year, ranging from regional to those celebrated nationwide.

Like many Southeast Asian festivals, Thailand's cultural calendar is mainly filled with Buddhist holidays and a lot of these also follow the cycles of the moon, so the dates can change from year to year.

Here are some of our favourite Thai festivals to celebrate. For more information, have a read of our When to Go to Thailand Guide.

6. Songkran (Thai New Year)

13th to 15th April

The Thai festival of Songkran is one of the most prominent festivals in Thailand. People take to the streets and throw buckets of water on each other, which symbolises washing away the old year and refreshing everything for the New Year.

Songkran essentially turns into a huge water fight and street party and it is a super-fun time to be in Thailand.

7. Loy Krathong

23rd November 2018 / 13th November 2019

Cultural festivals in Asia, loy Krathong

Loy Krathong (roughly translated as "to float a basket") is one of Thailand’s most magical festivals and takes place on the night of the twelfth lunar month (usually in November), at the end of the rainy season when the full moon lights up the sky. The festival celebrates the tradition of making krathong: decorated baskets, which are then floated on a river.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Thailand during this special time, you can expect to see thousands of krathongs with flickering candles floating on the rivers and canals, strings of colourful lights hanging from houses and temples, fire lanterns floating in the sky and dramatic fireworks displays.

You’ll also see boat races, lively parades, traditional music and dance performances, and other cultural activities.

In Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River is the centre of the celebrations. Expect cultural performances, boat processions, krathong making workshops, firework displays and many other activities taking place.

If you’re visiting Thailand’s beaches and islands, you’ll find that many hotels and resorts lay on special celebratory meals and activities for their guests, culminating in crowds gathering on the beach to float krathongs into the sea.

8. Yi Peng (Buddhist) - Chiang Mai

23rd November 2018 / 13th November 2019

Cultural festivals in Asia, Yi Peng

Originally an event in its own right, marking the end of the rainy season, Yi Peng now takes place at the same time as Loy Krathong. Yi Peng is a festival of lights that shows respect to Buddha, which is why many of the Loy Krathong floating baskets feature little candles or lanterns.

This festival is only celebrated in the north of Thailand and the cultural capital of Chiang Mai has become synonymous with Yi Peng.

The festivities in Chiang Mai take place over three days with religious events, cultural performances, boat races, street parades and the release of fire lanterns.

Loy Krathong and Yi Peng are hugely important to the Thai people, and many tourists specifically plan their holiday to Thailand around these magical festivals.

Festivals in Vietnam

Despite modern development, Vietnam is still a traditional country at heart, with many Vietnamese festivals centring around Buddhism.

We’ve narrowed our choices down to just one here, but for more you can read our When to Go to Vietnam Guide.

9. Tet (Vietnamese New Year)

16th February 2018 / 5th February 2019

Celebration of Tet in Vietnam festival

Tet (Vietnamese New Year) usually falls between late January and mid-February and celebrations last up to six days. It is an occasion for Vietnamese to express their respect and remembrance for their ancestors, as well as welcoming the New Year with beloved family members.

As part of the celebrations, you can expect to see parades in towns and cities through Vietnam and people in the streets trying to make as much noise as possible using firecrackers, drums, bells, gongs, to ward off evil spirits.

Festivals in Laos

Celebrating traditional festivals is an important part of life in Laos and the Lao calendar is a solar-lunar mix of Buddhist holidays. The word “boun” or “bun” means festival and prefixes many of the Laotian celebrations.

Below are our top picks for cultural festivals in Laos. For more, have a read of our full When to Go to Laos Guide.

Laos religious cultural festival

10. Boun Pi Mai (Laos New Year)

14th to 16th April

Boun Pi Mai usually falls around mid-April and the celebrations last for several days. Laotians take to the streets to celebrate and similar to Thailand's Songkran, you should expect to get wet when you’re out and about as everyone has a water gun or bucket of water!

11. Boun Bang Fai (Buddhist) - around Vientiane

May (dates differ between locations)

Boun Bang Fai, Rocket Festival, takes place in either May or June (the 6th month of the Lunar calendar) before the rainy season, on the outskirts of Vientiane and the surrounding villages. During this festival, rockets are fired into the air to encourage rain to fall.

The most impressive activity of Rocket Festival is launching handmade firework rockets, which are made by stuffing gunpowder inside decorated bamboo.

On the first day of the festivities, the bamboo rockets are carried to the launch-pad and villagers participating in the contest are divided into teams depending on the size and shape of their rockets. Scores are given based on the following criteria: highest flyer, most beautiful decoration and most entertaining performance.

Before launching the rocket, men in women’s clothes and elaborate masks dance and sing around their rockets to call for rain, which is necessary for agriculture. Rockets are then launched into the sky whilst huge crowds cheer on the teams.

12. Boun Khao Phansa (Buddhist)

28th July to 24th October 2018 / 17th July to 13th October 2019

Early in the morning of the first day of Boun Khao Phansa (Buddhist Lent), local people gather food - rice, bananas and necessities such as soap and toothpaste, and then they take the donations to the temples where they listen to Buddhist teachings and receive blessings.

In the evening, monks and their novices carry flowers and candles around the central temple three times. It can be a very calming and peaceful experience to join the Lao people in temples on the first day of Boun Khao Phansa.

13. Boun Ok Phansa (Buddhist)

24 October 2018 / 13th October 2019

Boun Ok Phansa will fall on 24 October and marks the end of the Buddhist Lent. Lots of interesting celebrations and activities take place around the country at this time, such as boat racing, candlelit processions and lanterns released into the sky and the Mekong River.

14. That Luang (Buddhist) – Vientiane

22nd November 2018 / 11th November 2019

That Luang Festival takes place during the full moon in November and lasts from three to seven days with various processions, celebrations and firework displays. This is one of the most significant festivals of the year in Laos, celebrating the religious monument of Pha That Luang (the Golden Stupa) in Laos’ capital city, Vientiane.

Festivals in Myanmar (Burma)

Myanmar is often referred to as the Land of Festivals due to the numerous celebrations which take place throughout the year. If you’re planning a trip to this enchanting country, you may want to consider incorporating a festival into your itinerary.

Here are our favourite festivals in Myanmar. To learn more about traditional holidays and special events going on in the country throughout the year, read our When to Go to Myanmar Guide.

Burmese monk lighting candles

15. Ananda Temple Festival - Bagan

27th December 2017 to 15th January 2018 / 12th to 20th January 2019

This festival is in honour of the limitless wisdom of Buddha and sees visitors come from far and wide to pay their respects.

There is a carnival atmosphere at Ananda Temple and around the ancient city of Bagan, with traditional dance performances and numerous food stalls.

Alms bowls are filled with everything from crops to money and offered to the resident monks, the trademark of any Buddhist festival in Asia.

16. Shwedagon Pagoda Festival (Buddhist) - Yangon

16th March 2018 / 20th March 2019

The celebration for the Shwedagon Pagoda is an exciting time to be in Yangon. On the days of the festival, the stairways and platform of the Shwedagon Pagoda are filled with endless streams of devotees, from dawn until midnight, while red-robed monks lead the attendees in Buddhist rituals.

17. Thingyan Water Festival (Burmese New Year)

13th to 16th April

Thingyan Water Festival usually falls around mid-April and the celebrations last for several days. Like in many Southeast Asian countries where Theravada Buddhism is present, around this time people take to the streets and participate in a huge water fight.

18. Full Moon of Waso (Buddhist)

27th July 2018 / 8th July 2019

Full Moon of Waso falls in July marking the start of Buddhist Lent and for Buddhist clergy across Myanmar it is the beginning of their three-month retreat into monastic life.

On the morning of the first day of Full Moon of Waso, people gather robes, food and other essentials and they offer donations to the Sangha.

19. Taungbyone Nat (Buddhist and Nat) – Taungbyone

19th to 26th August 2018 / 10th to 15th August 2019

Taungbyone Nat Festival celebrations takes place before and during the August full moon, in the middle of the month of Waso. 20km north of Mandalay, the village of Taungbyone puts on one of the most impressive nat (spirit) festivals in the country, with drinking, dancing and revelry throughout the day and night.

20. Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival (Buddhist) - Inle Lake

10th to 27th October 2018 / 29th September to 16th October 2019

Phaung Daw U Pagoda is the most famous pagoda at Inle Lake. During the Burmese month of Thadingyut, usually between September and October, the festival celebrating this pagoda is held, with festivities lasting up to 20 days.

A large boat with a bird motif is built and statues of the Buddha are paraded around the lake, moving from village to village. The high point of the festival is when the deities arrive at the main town of Nyaung Shwe, where most pilgrims come by boat to pay their respects.

Festivals in Sri Lanka

With a diverse population following four main religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity) and a whopping 25 public holiday dates, there are plenty of cultural festivals and religious holidays in Sri Lanka.

Here are our tips for the best festivals in Sri Lanka. For more information, read our When to Go to Sri Lanka Guide.

Sculpture of faces, Sri Lanka culture

21. Kandy Esala Poya Perahera (Buddhist) – Kandy

18th to 28th July 2018 / 6th to 16th July 2019

Esala Poya is a celebration of the arrival of the Buddha Tooth Relic at the famous Temple of the Tooth in the Sri Lankan city of Kandy.

The perahera processions takes place all around the island, but the biggest celebrations are in Kandy, where dancers, musicians, elephants and more can be seen all throughout the week, culminating in the biggest procession on the last night of the festival.

22. Christmas (Christian)

25th December each year

Less than 20% of Sri Lanka’s population in Christmas, however Christmas is still a big celebration on the island. Buildings are decorated with trees, lights and garlands, as well as some nativity scenes.

All big hotels serve Christmas dinner on the 24th December and the Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo goes above and beyond with grand decorations in the lobby.

Don’t forget to try Sri Lankan Christmas cake, which is thought to be the richest and most spiced cake in the world.

23. Sinhala and Tamil New Year

13th to 14th April 2018/19

Taking place in April, the Sinhala and Tamil Lunar New Year festivities are colourful and fun. Like other Poya (Full Moon) holidays, businesses close and the island’s population celebrates with competitive games and other fun festivities.

24. Ramadan and Eid (Muslim)

16th May to 14th June 2018 / 5th May to 4th June 2019

Sri Lanka also has a Muslim population, so the month-long festival of Ramadan sees many Sri Lankans cleansing and fasting during this time. As fasting occurs during daylight hours, many restaurants feature a special night menu for Muslims to come together and break their fast.

The month of Ramadan ends with Eid, which is a big celebration of feasting and giving.

Festivals in Japan

The word "matsuri" means festival in Japanese and is a word you’ll most likely come across during your trip to Japan as there are thousands of traditional festivals which take place throughout the year, many sponsored by local shrines or organised by a local community.

Here are our picks of the best festivals to enjoy in Japan. Read our When to Go to Japan Guide for more ideas of festivals, holidays and events going on in the country throughout the year.

Japanese women dressed in Kimoni in Kyoto festival

25. Gion Matsuri (Shinto) – Kyoto

July

One of the most famous festivals in Japan, Gion Matsuri takes place during the entire month of July, in the traditional “geisha district” of Gion, Kyoto.

This celebration of the Yasaka Shrine grand procession of floats on the 17th and 24th July, which parade along the Kawaramachi and Oike Streets.

26. Awa Odori – Tokushima

12th to 15th August

This traditional dance festival in Japan sees men, women and children dance on the streets in Tokushima City, between the 12th to the 15th of August, wearing summer cotton kimono and straw hats.

More than a million people visit Tokushima during this time and you’re more than welcome to join in!

27. Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) – Sapporo

5th to 12th February 2018 / 4th to 11th February 2019

Back in 1950, some local students built six snow statues in Sapporo and this act has “snowballed” over time to become an international contest of humungous snow sculptures, taking place over a week every February.

Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome are the main places where you can see the beautiful snow and ice sculptures on display. Subject matter often features famous people, landmarks and events which have happened in the past year.

28. Nebuta Matsuri – Aomori

2nd to 7th August 2018/19

The Nebuta Matsuri features daily parades of handmade festival floats, decorated with huge lanterns depicting everything from mythical stories to popular TV characters.

The floats take up to a year to make and are accompanied by large taiko drums, musicians and dancers.

Timing your trip with cultural festivals in Asia

With so many Asian festivals in the region and so many kinds of festival in Asia, it can be difficult to narrow it down to which ones you’d like to see.

We hope this list of traditional Asian festivals has helped inform you of the events and holidays celebrated in Asia, so you can time your next trip to coincide with the celebrations!

Wayfairer provide luxury tailor made holidays & tours to Asia, catered to your interests and needs. Contact our team of luxury travel specialists today to start working on a bespoke itinerary for your next big trip.

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