Ten of the Biggest Festivals in Southeast Asia!
- Songkran (April)
- The Chinese New Year (January)
- Ati-Atihan Festival (January)
- Thaipusam (October)
- That Luang Festival (November)
- Loi Krathong (November)
- Aguman Sanduk (1st January)
- Tet Nguyen Dan (New Year)
- Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival (May)
- The Phuket Vegetarian Festival (October)
Colorful, vivid, wild, vibrant, fun: this is what festivals in Southeast Asia are all about! Southeast Asia, with its amazing diversity of people, religions and cultures, is the one exotic holiday destination where you simply cannot run out of things to see and do: and this includes festivals!
From celebrating the birth of the Buddha on Wesak Day to having a water free-for-all on the streets of Bangkok, Southeast Asia’s creatively vivid festivals offer you a delightful glimpse into a land full of mystery, fun, glamor and enchantment!
There’s nothing quite as frustrating as being in a city a few days before or after a festival, and knowing that if you’d done your research, you’d be present for the fun-fest! This list of top ten festivals in Southeast Asia is for you, so you know where to be, and when!
Songkran, a Thai festival aimed at celebrating the Buddhist New Year by cleansing the body and spirit with water!
The ultimate water-fest, Songkran is a mega, mega water fight in the midst of summer in Thailand! Celebrated on April 13th to 15th, Songkran is so awesome you have to catch it! Here’s how it works: there’s lots and lots of cold water and then there’s you! During Songkran, local folks run out into the streets armed with a veritable arsenal of water weapons: water pistols, water balloons, long hoses attached to garden water taps and other cleverly designed contraptions that are designed to drench the unaware! Read more about it in our article about Songkran: The Water Festival; Bangkok in the Days of Songkran.
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The Chinese New Year (January)
Celebrated throughout Southeast Asia, the Chinese New Year is a sight and a half for tourists!
This fifteen day fest occurs at the end of January and flows in February, corresponding with the first day of the Chinese Calendar. Symbolized by loud fireworks, glowing red lanterns, colorfully vivid dragon parades and beating drums for warding off evil, this festival is definitely something to visit Southeast Asia for! Best spot to check out the Chinese New Year festival in Southeast Asia: Singapore!
Ati-Atihan Festival (January)
Soot-black faces, colorfully vivid indigenous costumes, outrageous dances and heavy throbbing drums calling people to the streets in celebration: this is what Ati-Atihan Festival in Philippines portrays!
Held on one fort-night in January, the Ati-Atihan Festival is a vibrant street festival that brings out the true exotic nature of the Philippines. Best place to check it out: Kalibo on Panay Island. And remember: if you can’t spare an entire fortnight in the Philippines, try to be there for the last three days!
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For its extreme shock value, few festivals in Southeast Asia beat Thaipusam!
The ultimate test of Hindu faith, penance and endurance, Thaipusam is a huge festival that is quintessentially religious and known for its extremities. During this festival, Hindu devotees carry kavadis (big steel racks) with steel skewers that are embedded in the skin, and carry out other almost-impossible feats that show their devotion to their Lord Murugan. Shocked much? The best places to be in when Thaipusam is on are Kuala Lumpur (Batu Caves is a must!) and Penang in Malaysia.
That Luang Festival (November)
Held in Vientianne in Laos every November, the That Luang Festival is another quintessentially Buddhist festival that starts off in the most beautiful Buddhist Temple in Laos: the That Luang Temple!
Starting off with a congregation of Buddhist monks in saffron robes from all over the country, the week-long That Luang Festival is a mixture of somber religious ceremonies and a carnival-style celebration with loud fireworks, heavy music and plenty of games!!
Loi Krathong (November)
Of the few festivals I’ve had the chance to enjoy in Thailand, Loi Krathong is my favorite!
Celebrated in November, Loi Krathong is a beautiful festival where thousands of tiny bobbing boats (krathongs), made from banana leaves and filled with lit candles, flowers and fragrant incense sticks are allowed to float away, taking with them the negativity of the past year! The festival is at its most beautiful just before midnight, when thousands of lit paper lanterns adorn the skies. Best place to check it out: the River Canal in Bangkok or in Chiang Mai.
Read more about Loi Krathong here: Loi Krathong – A festival of floating lights
Aguman Sanduk (1st January)
While all of Southeast Asia rousingly celebrates the International New Year on the First of Jan., you might want to catch it in Manila!
A New Year night in Manila may find you coming across several parades of men dressed as women! Yup, you got that right! While men in the Philippines have an aggressively macho image for the rest of the year, this night you’ll find them donning all sorts of colorful dresses, ladies hats and yes!, even stilettos!
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Tet Nguyen Dan (New Year)
The Vietnamese sure know how to party!
Tet Nguyen Dan, celebrated in all of Vietnam to symbolize the coming of spring and held on the very same three days as the Chinese New Year, is a massive festival cum carnival with a dazzling array of street food, the beating of drums, loud and colorful fireworks, street parades and more! During Tet Nguyen Dan, the key focus is on letting the past be the past and starting afresh in everything, including relationships. Try to be in Vietnam for this festival, so you can partake in the noisy street fete! The best place to check out Tet Nguyen Dan is Hanoi.
Boun Bang Fai Rocket Festival (May)
Where to catch it? Luang Prabang in Laos! The Boun Bang Fai rocket festival is perhaps the only festival in Southeast Asia that goes off with a big bang, literally!
Organized by the locals for the locals, this event nonetheless garners a lot of international attention. Here’s how it works: Come May, villagers from all over Laos gather and make the biggest rockets they possibly can. These rockets are then fired into the air, and there’s always something good for the one whose rocket goes highest! Like all festivals in Southeast Asia, this one is also very symbolic in that it is aimed at Phaya Thaen (the Rain God) for bountiful rains for the start of the rice planting season.
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The Phuket Vegetarian Festival (October)
OK, so what exactly is a vegetarian festival and why is the Phuket one on this list?
Here’s the truth: This festival is one of the hottest, most vibrant, most shocking and extravagant of all Southeast Asia festivals! Filled with exotic self-torture displays such as deep piercing of cheeks and chins with glass and steel skewers, walking on hot coals and nails and climbing on ladders with knife-edges, this festival is a must-stop for all tourists, and especially those with a love for taking extraordinary photos!