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Popular cultural and music festivals in Asia

Love exploring and gaining new experiences? The Asian region is rich in culture and tradition, with so much to see and discover. Singapore itself has so many festivals and cultural celebrations to take part in! Here is an eclectic selection of solemn, scary, fun, musical and just plain weird festivals in the region in the next 12 months.

 

Ningaloo Whale Shark Festival, Exmouth, Western Australia

26 to 28 May 2017

When the world’s largest sharks visit in hordes, what do you do? Hold a festival, of course! Fortunately, whale sharks are completely harmless to humans so everyone can swim with these friendly giants. Floating parades, market stalls and plenty of beach game stations will be set up to celebrate the annual arrival of the whale sharks.

Dragon Boat Festival

30 May 2017

Crowds munching on sticky rice dumplings (zongzi) will be streaming to this exciting event that originated in China over 2000 years ago and now takes place all over the globe. A festival of many names, it’s also known as Duanwu, Tuen Ng and Double Fifth Festival (falling on the fifth day of the fifth month).

How it all began

Legend has it that the Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the attempt to save the life of Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet and statesman of the ancient Chu kingdom. Court officials, jealous of Qu Yuan’s wisdom, falsely accused him of conspiracy and he was exiled by the king. At the age of 61, Qu Yuan drowned himself by attaching a heavy stone to his chest and jumping into the Miluo River. The people of Chu took to their boats and tried to rescue Qu Yuan, believing he was an honourable man, but they were unable to save him. Instead, they threw sticky rice dumplings into the water so that the fish would eat these rather than Qu Yuan’s body.

Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak
Enjoy all kinds of music at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak

Rainforest World Music Festival, Sarawak, East Malaysia

14 to 16 July 2017

This three-day musical celebration has grown and grown since its inauguration in 1997. Dance along with 20,000 others to anything from local native chants and African dance to American folk music and percussion troupes.

Boryeong Mud Festival, South Korea

21 to 30 July 2017

Since 1998, visitors have been getting down and dirty at the Boryeong Mud Festival, caking themselves in the nourishing, mineral-rich mud from the Boryeong mud flats while being entertained with bands, mud games, fireworks and more – all for around S$10 a day.

Mid-Autumn Festival

4 October 2017

Chinese and Vietnamese families gather in the evening to admire the mid-autumn harvest moon while eating mooncakes and pomelos.

Pchum Ben in Cambodia
Monks during Pchum Ben in Cambodia

Pchum Ben, Cambodia

19 to 21 September 2017

Also known as the Festival of the Ancestors; food, flowers, rice and gifts are given to monks, while religious rites are carried out on the streets.

Hari Raya Haji

5 September 2017

Marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia by Muslims worldwide. There’ll be bazaars to attend, and mosques and relatives to be visited.

Deepavali

18 October 2017

The “Festival of Lights” is a joyous four- day Hindu celebration of the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Head down to Little India in Singapore to see the lights and street decorations, feast on festive delicacies, get a henna hand tattoo and join in the fun.

Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan
Get up close to these gentle creatures in at the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan

Pushkar Camel Fair, Rajasthan, India

29 October to 4 November 2017

One of India’s most highly rated travel experiences, a spectacle on an epic scale, attracting more than 11,000 camels, horses and cattle and visited by over 400,000 people.

All Saints Day, Philippines

1 November 2017

A day of remembrance of the dead and an important holiday for the Catholic Church. People attend Mass, decorate loved ones’ tombs and spend the day in graveyards with picnics.

Bon Om Tuk, Cambodia

2 to 4 November 2017

Celebrate the end of monsoon season. Brightly decorated dragon boats will race over the three days – and Phnom Penh will be very crowded!

Hornbill Festival, Nagaland, India

1 to 10 December 2017

Launched in 2000 by the Government of Nagaland to bring together the 16 major tribes of the region, the Hornbill Festival colourfully celebrates the Naga’s cultural heritage. Buy yourself a hornbill headdress, practise your moves and join in the fun.

The Emperor’s Birthday, Japan

23 December 2017

This is one of only two occasions when the inner grounds of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace are open to the public, and Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will greet the flag-waving crowd.

Harbin ice and snow sculpture festival
Feast your eyes on beautiful sculptures in Harbin

Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, China

21 December 2017 until end February 2018

Set in Harbin’s coldest months (and we’re talking minus 20 degrees Celsius or considerably lower!), this festival features stunning works of art, all created with over four million cubic feet of ice from the Songhua River – giving a whole new meaning to Winter Wonderland.

Ati-Atihan Festival, Kalibo, Panay Islands (Visayas), The Philippines

10 to 19 January 2018

This flamboyant fiesta, dubbed “The Mother of all Philippine Festivals” began in the 13th century when a small group of Malay chieftains landed on the Panays and were sold land by the local Ati people. To celebrate, the Malays painted their faces black to look like the tribe. This tribal celebration has now evolved into a wild, rhythmic, street party in honour of Santo Niño (the infant Jesus).

Australia Day

28 January 2018

Outdoor concerts, sporting competitions, fireworks shows and backyard barbecues are held all over the country to celebrate all things Australian.

Thaipusam

31 January 2018

In Singapore, get up early to witness the 4.5-kilometre “Walk of Faith” by Hindu devotees carrying brightly decorated kavadis, burdensome metal frames with sharp skewers piercing their tongues, cheeks and bodies. Other major processions take place at the Batu Caves, just outside Kuala Lumpur, and George Town in Penang.

Waitangi Day, New Zealand

6 February 2018

Commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document for New Zealand. Celebrations include flag-raising, naval salutes, Maori cultural performances, family-themed festivals, sports events and more.

Waitangi Day Maori performances
Maori performances during Waitangi Day

Chinese New Year

16 to 17 February 2018

Traditional Chinese decorations and lights abound. Families have a reunion dinner on Chinese New Year’s Eve and visit relatives over the next 15 days. Many businesses close for the whole week.

Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival

2 to 4 March 2018

First held in 2005, this festival attracts over 100,000 visitors a year. International performers in 2017 included Grammy winners Sergio Mendes, Chick Corea and Arturo Sandoval. Arguably the biggest jazz festival in the Southern Hemisphere.

Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Season, Japan

Late March to early April 2018

Not really a festival, but a spectacular event nonetheless. The blossoming begins in Okinawa in January and reaches Kyoto and Tokyo late March to early April. When the blossoms are at their peak, the Japanese turn out in large numbers at parks, shrines and temples to picnic, relax and admire the flowers.

Ching Ming Festival

5 April 2018

Also known as Tomb Sweeping Day or Mourning Day, when Chinese families visit their ancestors’ graves to offer incense and flowers.

Songkran Festival, Thailand

13 to 15 April 2018

The Thai New Year often attracts droves of tourists and locals, where people splash water on one another as a blessing.

Songkran Festival in Thailand
Cool off at the Songkran Festival in Thailand

Lao New Year

14 to 16 April 2018

Laotians shower one another with water and white powder as blessings, and pray at temples. Fun to watch, though it is the hottest time of the year.

Chaul Chnam Thmey, Cambodia

16 April 2018

Cambodian New Year involves dressing up, visiting temples and cooking feasts with family. Celebrations last three to four days; the Angkor temples will be packed. 14 TO

Nyepi, Bali, Indonesia

17 to 18 April 2018

The evening before Nyepi (Balinese New Year and “Day of Silence”), loud street processions are held to drive away evil spirits with gongs, drums and huge, papier-mâché “ogoh-ogoh” monsters. On New Year’s Day itself, Bali retreats into silence for 24 hours. No work. No travel. No cooking. No noise. Even the airport closes. Village wardens (Pecalang), there to enforce the rules, are the only people outdoors. The idea is that any demons and evils spirits will be deluded into thinking that Bali is deserted, prompting them to leave the island.

Myanmar New Year

18 April 2018

Burmese visit their elderly to pay respect, and visit the temples. A religious tradition is to release caged birds or fish into lakes and rivers to gain merit. The accompanying Thingyan Water Festival is great to watch.

Hamamatsu Festival, Japan

3 to 5 May 2018

For over 440 years, the Japanese have fiercely wielded their kites in kite fights at this festival. Fliers attempt to cut their opponent’s 5mm hemp string by using their own kite string to create enough friction to break the line. The last kite still flying is the winner as it soars through the leftover smoke created by the friction.

Vesak Day

29 May 2018

Buddhists bring offerings of flowers, candles and joss sticks to the temples where elaborate rituals are held to commemorate the birth, the Nirvana (enlightenment), and the Parinirvana (death) of Gautama Buddha. This is the most significant day of the Buddhist calendar. Dates differ due to variations in lunar calendars.

 

This is an article that first appeared in the Travel Guide 2017. Purchase a copy or subscribe now so you never miss an issue!

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