7 Fascinating Festivals in Southeast Asia
Have you ever thought of taking a trip somewhere you’ve never been? How about experiencing something extraordinary but didn’t know where to start? In this article 7 of the most breathtaking festivals in Southeast Asia will help you in making a decision. From bathing in sacred rivers to lighting lanterns along a river, these festivals
1. Chinese New Year – Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia
Do history and culture fascinate you? Do you love colorful and extraordinary occasions? Then the Chinese New Year is the best festival for you to visit.
This festival has gained popularity in many other countries besides China. Malaysia and Singapore are the places where the main celebrations take place, however, almost all parts of Southeast Asia celebrate this unique festival. It is also called the “Lunar New Year” or “Spring Festival”.
It is a national public holiday and many activities take part in this festival. One example is the Chingay Parade in Singapore. During this parade, you can see colorful floats and many different cultural performances. This celebration became a public holiday in 2012 in the Philippines because of its importance to Filipino-Chinese people. In Indonesia, the biggest Chinese population towns such as Jakarta, Medan, Singkawand and more celebrate this one-of-a-kind festival with parades and fireworks.
Other activities which take part throughout Southeast Asia during the Chinese New Year are lion dances, dragon dances, family gatherings, giving red envelopes etc.
2. Yi Peng Festival – Thailand
During the Yi Peng Festival (also written as Yee Peng) the sky is filled with luminous lanterns which brighten up the night. This festival is celebrated in Chiang Mai on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month every year. Residents believe that during this time the rivers are the fullest and the moon the brightest. Thousands of lanterns float to the clouds as a sign of letting go of all hardships and misfortunes in the past year.
Throughout this festival, locals decorate their homes with colorful lanterns and flags. You can also see traditional Thai dance shows and official parade in the city. There’s also live music and many more activities. Tickets for this breathtaking event in the past have cost approximately up to $100.
3. Ati-Atihan Festival – Philippines
Another festival which combines religion and culture is the Ati-Atihan Festival. It is on the third Sunday of January in honor of the Santo Niño (Infant Jesus). It takes place in the island town of Kalibo, Aklan in the Philippines.
The history of this festival is quite interesting. In 1200 AD the Ati people, the tribes of the Panay Island, granted a settlement to a group of Malay chieftains called Datus. After some time the Ati people faced a problem with a bad harvest. They had to ask the Datus for help. They agreed to give them food. In return, the Ati people danced and sang for them. Although initially a pagan festival, Spanish missionaries added a Christian meaning. Today, with feasts, music, dancing, a parade and more this festival is celebrated as a religious one.
4. Bali Kite Festival – Sanur Beach, Bali, Indonesia
During this beautiful and colorful festival, worshipers send signals to the Hindu Gods to ask them to create plentiful harvests. How do they do this? They use kites of different shapes, sizes, colors, and designs. Bali’s skies are filled with this spectacular celebration, where some kites are even 10 meters long.
Another interesting feature of this religious festival is a competition between teams. Teams for local villages battle against one another to see who makes the best lunch and longest flight. Also, throughout this event, there is live music and spectators from around the world.
5. Thaipusam – Malaysia
Another Hindu celebration is the Thaipusam Festival in Malaysia. Thousands of people gather in temples around Malaysia. They show their devotion to the deity Lord Murugan. The compelling story behind this occasion is a religious one. Parvati was the goddess of fertility, love, and devotion. She gave Murugan a Vel (which is a spear) so he could defeat the evil demon Soorapadman.
During this festival, people walk barefoot for more than 200 steps to reach the temple. They pierced their bodies as a sign of devotion. Although almost two million people in Malaysia are ethnic Indians, this festival brings them all together. They all have a common celebration.
6. Bon Om Touk – Cambodia
The Cambodian Water Festival, also known as Bon Om Touk, is a festival in Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Other towns and provinces also take part in celebrating this glorious festival. It is celebrated in November and it marks the reversal flow of the Tonle Sap River. It also commemorates the end of Cambodia’s rainy season.
The festival lasts 3 days and many activities take place. Some of which are: boat races, concerts, parades, fireworks and more. Three things that the most distinct from the festival are: Ak Ambok, Sampeah Preah Khae, and Bandaet Pratip. Ak Ambok is one of the main dishes during the festival. Sampeah Preah Khae is a ceremony in which the people of Cambodia make salutations to the moon. Bandaet Partip is an event in which the water is filled with illuminated boats which represent a government ministry of a state institution.
7. The Hungry Ghost Festival – Singapore
The Hungry Ghost Festival, also known as Zhong Yuan Jie, is a festival in which the ancestors of the Chinese are worshiped. It is also believed that there are souls wandering the earth, and worshipers make offerings to them. This festival is celebrated in various countries and cities such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam. Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and more also celebrate it.
In Singapore, the Hungry Ghost Festival is held throughout the entire seventh lunar month (usually around August). This festival originates from Taoist and Buddhist beliefs. Taoists believe that during this month, the gates of hell are open and many hungry ghosts are released to roam the earth to look for food. Buddhists believe that a container filled with offerings is necessary to save one’s ancestors from being suspended in suffering in purgatory.
The way people in Singapore celebrate this festival is by making offerings of food, candles clothes etc. to the dead. Another interesting activity is that of burning paper offerings which could be in the form of money, paper houses and more. Dinners, auctions and stage performances are also a part of this significant festival.
All of these festivals are a great way to dwell into a new world and discover new things. From bathing in sacred rivers to making offerings for souls roaming around the earth, experiencing any one of these festivals will give you a unique perspective on life. Meeting new people and learning about their stories and traditions is a great pleasure.
If you ever think of becoming part of one of these breathtaking festivals, a little tip for a great experience would be to get travel insurance. There are many things that can go wrong such as flights getting canceled or a medical emergency. If you are taking a connecting flight, and the next flight is canceled, it could cost a lot of money to come back home. Purchasing travel insurance will help you take care of incidents that are out of your control.