Asia is home to some of the most celebrated cultural festivals in the world. If you have flexibility in planning your travels, try to hit one of these iconic cultural festivals in Asia.
Taking place in the winter months, China’s Harbin International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival has been hailed as the world’s best and biggest ice and snow festival. What started as a small event has blossomed into a huge international festival and competition. The festival opens in early January and lasts for a month, but the dates may vary depending on weather that year. Sculptures are erected throughout town, but there are two main exhibition areas: Sun Island, and Ice and Snow World.
Songkran celebrates the Thai New Year, which falls on April 13, but the holiday period typically runs April 13 to 15. In Bangkok, it may last a few more days, while in places like Chiang Mai, it may extend a week. Songkran marks the end of the dry season, as the annual rains typically start in the fifth month of the Thai lunar year. Locals will visit temples, wash their Buddha icons, and clean statues, as it’s believed to bring good luck and prosperity. That has expanded into a multi-day celebration that sees children roaming the streets with big water guns, while pick-up trucks loaded with water buckets soak passersby.
Chinese New Year is one of the biggest holidays in Asia, especially in places like China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. It’s also referred to as Lunar New Year, and it’s one of the most important holidays in the Chinese calendar. It runs for nearly two weeks, starting from Chinese New Year’s Eve up to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month. Look for parades, fireworks, special dinners, and the multi-day Lantern Festival that is held at the end of the festive period. While the date varies each year, it typically falls around February.
Held in Taiwan’s Pingxi District, the Taiwan Lantern Festival started because people would release sky lanterns into the air as a prayer for the coming year. Pingxi is the only place to legally release the sky lanterns as it’s been deemed a safe spot since it’s high in the mountains. The Pingxi Lantern Festival is held in conjunction with Chinese New Year, which helps celebrate the first full moon of the new lunar year. Participation is capped for this event, so if you want to participate, you need to arrive early.
Please note, the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival is different from the Taiwan Lantern Festival, which is also held in conjunction with Chinese New Year and features beautifully designed stationary lantern displays around the country.
The Hindu festival of Holi in India is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar. It’s typically held in March and kicks off with bonfires, singing, and dancing the night before Holi. Then you’ll find crowds throwing colored powder and water at people in the streets, which is what many people come to Holi festivals for. While India is home to the biggest celebrations, other places with large Hindu communities also have Holi festivals.
Another fun and important celebration in Chinese culture is the Dragon Boat Festival. It occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the traditional lunar calendar, so it’s also called the Double Fifth Festival. Eat traditional zongzi dumplings (made with sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) and enjoy watching a few of the famous dragon boat races. Races are held in a variety of destinations, including mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. The date varies each year, but Dragon Boat Festival typically falls in June or toward the very end of May.
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Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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