From Thailand’s famous water festival Songkran to India’s explosively colorful Holi to Easter in the Philippines, Asia is home to numerous incredible festivals that provide visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in the country’s culture and experience it like a native. Here’s our favorite seven that are absolutely worth the trip.
Officially known as Songkran, this Buddhist festival marks the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year and celebrates purification and new beginnings. It is also arguably the largest water fight in the world. Songkran promises locals and tourists alike a day or two of wet, rowdy fun as friends and complete strangers splash each other with water.
If you’re in Thailand during the festival, be prepared for crowds of people roaming around throwing buckets of water, using water pistols, and even dousing people from moving vehicles. White talc is also thrown in copious amounts so be sure to dress appropriately. We also highly recommend waterproof bags for your electronics if you’re going to be walking the streets. The festival officially runs for three days starting on Friday, April 13, 2018. Book your stay in Bangkok to live the festival like a local!
Dragon Boat Festival
Dating back over 2000 years to the Warring States Period (B.C. E. 403 — B.C. E. 221), the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival is one of the three most important lunar festivals – along with Spring Festival and Mid-autumn Festival – celebrated by Chinese communities worldwide.
The most popular legend involves Qu Yuan, a notable state official and poet during the Spring and Autumn periods, who drowned himself in a river to protest against the political corruption of the day. Many fishermen rode their boats on the river to find his body while other threw rice rolls, eggs and meat into the river hoping that the body of Qu Yuan wouldn’t be eaten by creatures in the river. Today, dragon boat racing and rice dumplings (zongzi) have become part of the celebration.
To commemorate his sacrifice, people began to organize Dragon Boat Races. The first International Dragon Boat Festival race was staged in the 1970s by the Hong Kong Tourist Association (now Tourist Board) and is today one of the largest races of its kind with hundreds of thousands of revelers and spectators who converge at Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. Dragon Boat races also happen in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Malaysia and in Europe and North America. The festival is expected to fall on June 18, 2018.
Easter (The Philippines)
While Easter Sunday is celebrated by Christians worldwide to commemorate the rebirth of Jesus Christ, the predominantly Roman Catholic country of the Philippines does it a bit differently. Some of the rituals are Spanish-influenced Catholic ceremonies which have been combined with pre-Hispanic beliefs.
One of the most unusual traditions is the use of penitents. These volunteers have three-inch steel nails hammered into their palms and feet, and are then hoisted up onto crosses, in a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Christ at ceremonies that take place across the country on Good Friday. The most elaborate celebrations take place in San Fernando, located about 50 miles (80 km) north of Manila. Religious devotees will also march in the streets while whipping their backs with bamboo sticks tied to a rope.
In Cebu city, you can see the Buhing Kalbaryo (Live Calvary). The Buhing Kalbaryo is a play featuring a cast of over 100 people depicting the final hours in the life of Jesus in an elaborate street drama. At a certain point in the performance, the audience on the street joins the cast and walks several miles towards the site of the play's finale. While in Bantayan Cebu, the Holy Week Processions feature a parade of life-sized antique statues – crafted by Spanish artisans in the 1800s – mounted on huge, richly decorated chariots to depict the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Holy Week falls on Sunday, 25 March 2018 to Saturday, 31 March 2018.
The Mid-Autumn festival is the second most important festival after the Spring Festival to be celebrated by people of Chinese descent in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore. Often described as the Chinese version of “Thanksgiving”, Chinese people reunite with their family members to celebrate harmony and family unity. The festival, which is said to date back over 3,000 years, also celebrates Chang’e, just one of many legends related to this festival. Today the festival is celebrated by the gifting and eating of mooncakes, a pastry filled with lotus paste and sometimes a salted egg yolk or more. Children also light up and go on walks with colorful lanterns, either made from paper or battery-powered ones. Some cities hold big lantern parades and exhibitions.
In Beijing, go to the Summer Palace to see the osmanthus flowers or the 72 ancient osmanthus trees in the imperial garden during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Temple fairs and boat rides in the lakes in Beihai Park and Shichahai are also popular spots to admire the full moon. In Hangzhou, the best known spots are San Tan Yin Yue on West Lake where locals light candles in the mini pagodas and cover the holes with tissue paper, Ping Hu Qiu Yue also on West Lake, and Yueyan on Fenghuang Mountain. The festival is expected to fall on September 24, 2018.
Also known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali (as it is known in North India and Deepavali in the South) is India's biggest and most important holiday of the year. Today, Indian households continue to light a row (avali) of clay lamps (or deepa) outside their homes to signify the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. Preparations and rituals typically extend over a five day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu lunar calendar. It is also one of the biggest shopping seasons where people buy new clothes for themselves and gifts for their families and friends. Diwali is expected to fall on November 7, 2018.
Arguably one of the world’s most colorful affairs, Holi celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring. These days, this ancient Hindu religious festival is more a time for fun than religious observance. On the eve of Holi, bonfires are lit to symbolize good overcoming evil, and crowds may sing and dance on the streets near the bonfires. On the day itself, people of all ages go into the streets and play with colored powder and water. Anyone and everyone is fair game – in the spirit of celebration. Indoors, only dry powder is used to smear each other's faces. Primarily observed in northern India, Nepal, and other regions of the world with significant populations of Hindus or people of Indian origin, this festival is sure to enchant and delight even the most sullen of people. Holi falls on March 2nd, this year.
Chinese New Year
The Spring Festival, also known as Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year, is the most important celebration for the global Chinese community. The festival falls on Friday, 16 February 2018 to Friday, 2 March 2018. Celebrations traditionally run from the evening preceding the first day to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first calendar month. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, families will gather for a reunion dinner and enjoy a scrumptious spread and friends and relatives will visit one another during the festival to convey their good wishes.
The New Year festival is centuries old and while ways of celebrating might differ in some regions, several traditions are still observed. For example, decorating with red color paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “wealth” and “longevity”, lighting firecrackers (depending on local regulations), giving money to the young ones in red paper envelopes called hong-bao. China is undoubtedly the place to be for authentic celebrations! The Radisson Blu Hotel Shanghai New World is located at the accessible Nanjing West Road where you can experience the bustling excitement of the city.