Seasonal Spectaculars: Festivals in Asia

One of the most refreshing things about Asia is the region-wide emphasis on having a good time. This light-heartedness is reflected in practically every country, with festivals, events and a variety of other shindigs providing the perfect excuse for everyone to let their hair down.

This accentuation on joie de vivre is especially appealing for those who visit the region. After all, what trip of a lifetime is not enhanced by an epic knees-up? Below we delve into some of the best upcoming festivals in Asia, which are far and away some of the most eclectic experiences on offer during the cooler period of the year.

In Thailand, the locals live by a creed that values “sanuk” or fun as highly as any weighty predilection. Nicknamed the “Land of Smiles”, the country is famous for its array of colourful annual events. The most famous of these is arguably Songkran, or Thai new-year, when cities and towns throughout the country play host to riotous water fights.

Just as compelling, however, are celebrations such as the Elephant Round Up in Surin Province and the Monkey Banquet in Lopburi Province.

The former has its roots in the ancient hunting rituals of the Kuy tribe who would round up and capture the wild elephants that roamed the forests around Surin. The modern two-day event witnesses a plethora of shows displaying the physical prowess and skill of elephants.

In the central Thai province of Lopburi, meanwhile, the last Sunday in November is reserved for the Lopburi Monkey Banquet. Monkeys are venerated in Thai culture and this wild dinner party was designed as a way of thanking the creatures for helping bring good fortune to the people of Lopburi. Chefs prepare an abundant spread of Thai goodies, which the cheeky long-tailed macaques proceed to devour in their own inimitable fashion.

Other annual festivals in Asia well worth catching in Thailand include Loy Krathong, an evocative lantern festival that takes place in November, and the River Kwai Bridge Week, when a spectacular remembrance ceremony is held in the town of Kanchanaburi to honour Allied prisoners of war. For fans of contemporary dance music, meanwhile, Arcadia – The Bangkok Landing showcases the best in local and international DJ talent as well as some truly spectacular pyrotechnics.

In many ways Laos is more subdued than its neighbour to the south and west. Nevertheless, the land-locked country also has its share of vivid celebrations. One of the most impressive is Boun That Luang, the Festival of the Grand Stupa. At this time thousands of monks and tens of thousands of pilgrims from around the country descend upon the capital Vientiane to worship at That Luang, the nation’s most revered religious site which is said to be home to the hair and breast-bone of Lord Buddha.

Also popular among visitors to Laos are the celebrations that take place around Hmong New Year, which typically falls in December. At this time, Hmong communities in Laos dress in traditional clothing and enjoy Hmong traditional foods, dance, music, bull-fights, and other forms of entertainment.

One of the most impressive annually celebrated festivals in Asia is found in Japan, and is the Winter Light Festival held in the city of Kuwana.  The city is home to Nabana No Sato, a park featuring sprawling gardens and giant greenhouses. The peaceful haven is appealing throughout the year but it springs into sensory life between mid-November and mid-March when it hosts one of the country’s finest winter illuminations with over 7 million LED lights creating a spectacular visual impact.

In addition to events that celebrate traditional culture, Asia is also home to some tremendous contemporary festivals. In Cambodia, in the shadow of the temples of Angkor, the annual Angkor Photo Festival has established itself as one of the world’s top photography festivals with a huge range of exhibitions and workshops appealing to budding shutterbugs and expert snappers alike.

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, the bizzarely named Clockenflap Festival showcases the very best in music, film and art from around the planet. Significant names to have appeared at the festival, which is now in its eight year, include Scottish rockers Primal Scream, disco legends Chic and US eccentrics The Flaming Lips.