East and Southeast Asia's myriad of cultures are jam-packed with festive events, celebrating the nuances of past and present life in this region. The shrewd traveller will sculpt their itinerary and season of travel around these festivals, so as to make the most of whatever is happening near them. Take a look at our compilation of the 5 best festivals to try to attend!
1. Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival (China)
When to go: January 5-February 5, though exhibits often open earlier and stay for longer
The Harbin Ice Festival was first started in 1963, having far more recent origins than most of the other festivals on this list, but don't pass it by–it's the largest ice sculpture festival in the entire world. The festival is held at the start of the year in Harbin, the capital of China's northernmost province, and the city comes alive to celebrate artists' wondrous works of winter. Find most of the exhibits at Sun Island and the Harbin Ice and Snow World.
2. Songkran Festival (Thailand)
When to go: April 13-15
Thailand people know how to properly welcome the new year. Every Thai New Year's Day, everyone takes up their aqua-centric arms and floods the street for the largest water fight. Water guns, buckets, even elephants are all fair game. The burning heat of this time of year makes the water even more satisfying. Songkran has its origins in Buddhist rituals of cleansing, and Buddhist statues are also given a wash during this time.
3. Dragon Boat Festival (China)
When to go: the fifth day of the fifth lunar month by the lunar calendar, so there's no direct Gregorian connection. However, it usually happens around the summer.
The Dragon Boat Festival is famous around the world. Every year, competitors take to the water on great dragon-shaped canoes painted in vibrant colours. Winning requires utmost physical strength, endurance, and teamwork as they row in time to the beat of the drum. Legend has it that the festival was first started when Qu Yuan, a legendary ancient Chinese poet and patriot, committed suicide by drowning himself in the Mi Lo river after the country's capital was conquered. Ancient Chinese villagers rode out in boats, splashing water and throwing rice dumplings to keep fish and evil spirits. away from his body. The spirit of the event is still alive today, with thousands of spectators enjoying the races. If you join the festivities, be sure to try traditional Dragon Boat Festival foods like zongzi, the rice dumplings in the legend, and other foods like fried cake and tea eggs depending on the region.
4. Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival (Indonesia)
When to go: can vary, usually the early days of March
In the mood for some music? You've come to the right place! The International Jazz Music Festival of Jakarta is one of the largest music festivals in the world, and is likely the biggest one in the Southern Hemisphere. Legendary artists from around the world and many from Indonesia itself gather to showcase their talent. Every year comes with a different theme to help musicians shape their music, from 2014's Bringing the World to Indonesia to Redeeming Yourself Through Music in 2020. Tickets are required to attend.
5. Chinese New Year (China)
When to go: can vary as the Lunar Calendar has no direct Gregorian translation, usually around February
We end with the biggest Asian festival of all–Chinese New Year. Honouring the beginning of the new year in the Chinese Lunar calendar, it's celebrated not only in China itself but everywhere around the world that has a large Chinese population. Chinese New Year has an enormous amount of traditions, food, and practices, so much that it could fill its own article. Highlights include synchronized dancers under a lion costume, fireworks, and enjoying special rice cakes.