Dragon boat races, floating lanterns, parades and rockets...we’ve lost our hearts to these festivals around Southeast Asia.
We love our spas, shopping and hotel stays in Southeast Asia but sometimes it’s great to soak in some culture and take a piece of it (in the form of memories, experiences and beautiful pictures) back home. Below are some stellar examples worth a quick trip out of town and a perfect way to make use of those long weekends. Buckle up for an unforgettable experience.
Thailand: Loy Krathong, 13 November
The Thais love their festivals and celebrations but the most beautiful of them all in our opinion is the Loi Krathong Festival. With floating krathong (small boats made with banana trunk) and lanterns filling the rivers and skies, it’s quite a breathtaking sight. There are many versions to the festival’s origins but most locals believe that it celebrates the goddess of the river called Pra Mae Khongkha. It’s also an act to say goodbye to misfortune and wrongdoings, and usher in good luck for the year ahead. The krathong is decorated with flowers, banana leaves, candle and incense sticks.
Malaysia and Singapore: Thaipusam, January or February
Commonly celebrated by Hindu Tamils, Thaipusam is a thanksgiving of sorts where devotees show their gratitude towards Lord Murugan. Devotees spend a month to prepare for the procession by following a strict vegetarian diet and doing regular prayers. On the day, they carry a wooden structure called the kavadi as a ceremonial sacrifice. The kavadi is decorated with colourful flowers, peacock feathers (symbols of Murugan), bells and pots filled with milk – it can weigh up to 30 kilos and reach up to four metres. It’s quite a sight! Some devotees even pierce their tongue and cheeks with symbolic skewers to sacrifice the gift of speech. The procession at the Batu Caves in Malaysia attracts thousands where devotees climb 272 steep steps to give thanks to the shrine in the cave. Devotees in Singapore start the 4.5km procession at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road.
Thailand: Elephant Boat Race and River Festival: 29-31 March 2019
A festival that celebrates the majestic Asian elephant with dragon boat races, concerts, food trucks and fireworks? One plane ticket to Bangkok, please! Get all the action at the first-ever Elephant Boat Race and River Festival located right next to Anantara Riverside Bangkok. For starters, watch the Thai Navy Seals battle it out at the Chao Phraya River with international teams from China and the Philippines for the King’s Cup Elephant Boat Race. Trivia: the boats are decorated with cool elephant-inspired designs to commemorate the National animal. On land, traditional Thai dancers, live gigs by local acts, pop-ups by Bangkok’s finest restaurants, a vintage car show and champagne and beer tents will keep you entertained all through the weekend. All proceeds from the ticket sales will go to the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) so you’re actually saving the elephants by having some fun. Sweet!
Laos: Boun Bang Fai “Rocket Festival”: April – June 2019
Boun Bang Fai (or Rocket Festival) signifies the celebration of the god of the sky (Payathaen). It is believed that Payathaen gives rain for crops to grow and for farmers to prosper. During this time, traditional dances are performed in a circle and artificial elephants and horses are paraded around the village. The highlight, of course, is the rocket competition where ‘rockets’ made out of bamboo or PVC piping and charged with black powder are launched in the air. People gather on the field to witness the competition and the village with the highest rocket launch wins. *Plays rocket man in the background*
Thailand: Songkran, 13-15 April 2019
Probably the most recognised festival on the list, Songkran (also known as the water festival) celebrates the beginning of the Thai New Year. Shops and businesses are closed for three days and locals and tourists from all around the world gather for one big water party. The practice is believed to be a religious ritual to ‘wash away’ bad luck and wrongdoings of the past year. It’s celebrated all over Thailand but the biggest parties are in Bangkok where you’ll be soaked to the bone.
Phillippines: Sinulog Festival, 19 Jan 2020
There are parades at theme parks and then there’s the grand Sinulog parade in the Phillippines. Held every third Sunday of January, the Sinulog Festival honours Señor Santo Niño (the child Jesus). It takes you back to the 15th century and commemorates the time when locals accepted Christianity. It’s celebrated with much fanfare with a massive parade where dancers in elaborate and colourful costumes dance to the beat of native gongs, drums and trumpets.
Cambodia: Bon Om Touk or the Cambodian Water Festival, 10-12 November 2019
Bon Om Touk or the Cambodian Water Festival marks the beginning of the dry season. During this time, a natural occurrence happens where the current between the Tonle Sap and the Mekong River reverses. It is celebrated with great fanfare in the capital of Phnom Penh where thousands of locals gather to water boat races and fireworks.