Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter
Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - Experience Colorful Holi Celebrations in India
Of all the lively festivals celebrated across Asia, few match the sheer exuberance and joy of Holi in India. This ancient Hindu festival marks the beginning of spring and the triumph of good over evil. It's an occasion for people to come together, let loose, and literally throw color at one another in a symbolic expression of freedom and unity.
While Holi is observed by Hindus everywhere, the best place to experience it is in North India. Cities like Mathura, Vrindavan, and Barsana host some of the biggest and most famous Holi celebrations. These places are said to be the playgrounds of Lord Krishna and Radha, where the divine love story between them is believed to have unfolded. It is in their memory that Holi is celebrated with such enthusiasm here.
As Holi approaches, markets across North India are flooded with special colors made from organic or herbal ingredients. People stock up on gulal (powder colors), abeer (colored water), and pichkaris (water guns) for the festivities. Homes are cleaned and decorated with flowers and rangoli floor art. There is a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation in the air.
When the main festive day arrives, people gather in public spaces like parks, streets, temples, and college campuses. At the stroke of midday, the playing of Holi begins. Friends, families, neighbors all unite as they dance, sing, and soak each other in color. It's a scene of incredible energy and chaos, with color clouds filling the air as people run amok. You'll see saffron, pink, green, purple and more smeared over faces and clothes. Even strangers join in the revelry.
For women, Holi holds special significance in places like Barsana. Here, they get to playfully beat up men with wooden sticks and pelt them with colors as part of lathmar holi. It's a playful role reversal that allows women to assert themselves. In other towns, Holi is celebrated with dancing, devotional singing, and the lighting of bonfires the night before.
No doubt, as a visitor, joining in a local Holi celebration can be overwhelming. But it's also immensely fun and gratifying. The welcoming spirit of the people and the inclusive ethos of the festival make it easy to participate. Just be prepared to get drenched in color from head to toe! When the playing winds down, people clean up, then visit friends and family to exchange sweets.
What else is in this post?
- Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - Experience Colorful Holi Celebrations in India
- Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - View Stunning Lantern Displays at Taiwan's Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival
- Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - Join in the Fun at Thailand's Flower Festival
- Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - Marvel at Floats and Spectacular Costumes in Bali's Galungan Festival
- Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - Feel the Excitement at Singapore's Chingay Parade
- Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - Try Unique Street Foods at Hong Kong's Chinese New Year Festivities
- Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - See Elaborately Decorated Elephants at Myanmar's Elephant Festival
- Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - Dance the Night Away at Vietnam's Da Lat Flower Festival
Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - View Stunning Lantern Displays at Taiwan's Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival
Of all the festivals that light up Asia's night skies, none compare to the sheer magic of Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival in Taiwan. Time your visit right, and you'll get to witness a mesmerizing display of giant, glowing paper lanterns floating gracefully up towards the heavens. For many travelers, it's an incredibly moving experience and a highlight of their Taiwan trip.
The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival takes place each year in Pingxi District, a rural township about an hour's drive from Taipei. Its origins trace back to the 19th century, when locals would release sky lanterns to signal to hometown soldiers that the town was safe. These days, the festival pulls in visitors from around Taiwan and beyond, all eager to be part of this symbolic tradition.
The main festivities center around Pingxi Old Street, an atmospheric lane lined with shops, food stalls and historic buildings. But the real action happens at several launch sites just outside town, where crowds gather with their lanterns, patiently waiting for the chance to set them adrift. When the time is right, the countdown begins and hundreds of illuminated lanterns are released in synchronous glory. Watching them rise and float away, with the moon and mountains as a backdrop, is an incredibly cinematic sight.
One of the best ways to experience the magic is to design and launch your own special lantern. Stalls sell paper and wire frames, which you can decorate with paintings, poems or blessings for the new year. Writing your hopes and dreams on your lantern makes its flight even more poignant. Lantern sizes range from small to triple XL. Join other travelers in lighting the fuel cell and releasing your creation together.
The Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival takes place over a number of days leading up to the first full moon of each lunar year. That means the specific dates vary annually, but it's generally held in February or March. Check online for exact timings. Weekdays tend to be less crowded than weekends.
Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - Join in the Fun at Thailand's Flower Festival
Of all Thailand's colorful festivals, few celebrate the vibrancy of nature quite like the Flower Festival held annually in Chiang Mai. Time your visit right and you'll get to experience floral floats, beauty pageants, and more in a vibrant celebration of northern Thailand's horticultural bounty.
Unlike the raucous water fights of Songkran or chaotic madness of Yi Peng, the flower festival vibe is more family-friendly and relaxed. You'll see plenty of traditional costumes, dancing, and cultural performances. But vibrant parades of flower-adorned floats are the highlight for many.
The festival's origins trace back to the 1960s, when Chiang Mai hoped to boost tourism numbers during low season. Agriculture officials, flower growers, and the TAT tourism authority came together to create a new floral event timed with the blossoming of tulips, roses, and lilies in northern Thailand.
Today, the Chiang Mai Flower Festival runs for three days starting on the first Friday of February each year. The festivities center around the 100-year-old Suan Buak Haad City Park. This green space explodes in color as horticultural groups create stunning floral displays all through the grounds. The vivid colors and fragrances are a photographer's delight.
One definite highlight is the flower-float parade which takes place on Saturday afternoon. Intricately decorated floats wind through the streets, each sponsored by a different commercial floral grower or association. You'll see floats piled high with every type of bloom imaginable, from orchids to chrysanthemums. Most feature young beauties in traditional costume acting out scenes from Lanna history and culture. The energy and photo opportunities are incredible.
Sunday features the flower-bedecked procession of Chiang Mai's beauty ambassadors. This lively parade sees Thailand's loveliest women representing their home provinces in ornate floral costumes as they make their way to the central festival stage. It's a perfect blending of flowers, beauty, and traditional culture.
The festival also hosts a Miss Chiang Mai Flower contest. If you've ever wanted to see a floral fashion show, this is your chance! Contestants creativity design and model the most elaborate ensembles of flowers possible. The winner even goes on to represent the city at Miss Thailand.
Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - Marvel at Floats and Spectacular Costumes in Bali's Galungan Festival
Of all Bali's colorful Hindu festivals, Galungan stands out for its elaborate rituals, spectacular costumes, and vibrant parades. Time your visit right and you'll get to experience Bali's unique take on the victory of dharma over adharma. For travelers, it offers a window into the island's living culture and traditions.
Galungan celebrations revolve around the ancestral spirits called Hyangs. Balinese Hindus believe the Hyang descend from heaven to visit earth once every six months. The festivities allow people to show gratitude to the spirits and gods for blessings received. They also mark the time when the eternal struggle between good and evil is symbolically tipped in favor of good.
The preparations for Galungan are extensive across Bali. Ten days before, Balinese families begin creating shrines within their compounds called Penjor - these are basically long bamboo poles festooned with woven coconut leaves, fruits, and flowers. Meanwhile, women craft elaborate Canang Sari religious offerings from palm leaves, which will be placed around homes and temples.
When Galungan arrives, celebrants dress in their finest traditional clothes. The men don udeng (headwraps), white shirts, and sarongs. The women look resplendent in vivid kebayas (blouses) and shimmering sashes. Before heading to the temple, families review their ancestral records, ensuring they know which spirits to honor.
At the temple, colorful parades and ceremonies unfold as people create sacrifices for the Hyangs. The festive highlight is usually the Pecaruan parade - men balance tall, heavily decorated penjor across their shoulders and walk them through the streets. Women follow behind with Canang Sari offerings. The processions are accompanied by the gamelan orchestra, hushed prayers, and clouds of incense.
After temple rituals are complete, the celebrations continue at home. Families and neighbors visit each other to share blessings and festive foods like lawar (minced meat and veggies). There are performances of the traditional Rejang dance, where dancers symbolically vanquish evil. And kids in dragon costumes merrily frighten away bad spirits.
Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - Feel the Excitement at Singapore's Chingay Parade
Of all the vibrant parades and street festivals across Asia, few can match the sheer scale and visual spectacle of Singapore’s Chingay. Time your visit right, and you can join locals in ushering in the Lunar New Year through this lively street performance extravaganza.
Chingay first began in 1973 as a modest parade to celebrate Singapore’s racial harmony and cultural diversity. Fast forward five decades and it has evolved into one of Asia’s grandest street festivals, drawing some 200,000 attendees each year. The parade features over 10,000 performers representing a kaleidoscopic mix of cultures. You’ll see Chinese stilt walkers and lion dancers, Indian bhangra troupes, Malay drumming bands, Japanese cosplayers, and more.
The parade snakes its way through the streets surrounding the F1 Pit Building in downtown Singapore. As a viewer, you’ll have the chance to get up close to the spectacular floats and performers. The pumping rhythms, elaborate costumes, and sheer exuberance make for an electrifying experience. You can feel the energy and pride pulsing through the cheering crowds.
Crowd favorites include the Peach Blossoms contingent with their swirling, flower-adorned costumes. The Japanese group Hanagumi impresses with their anime-inspired choreography. And the flamboyant costumes of the Myanmar student troupes never fail to dazzle. The parade builds to a heart-thumping climax with mass dance performances bringing thousands of performers together to move as one.
Beyond the street parade, Chingay also features international contingents who perform on an outdoor floating platform on Marina Bay. Past years have seen groups from Brazil, South Korea, Russia, Indonesia, and beyond showcasing cultural dances from their homeland. For 2023, Chingay will be bringing in performers from over 10 countries.
Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - Try Unique Street Foods at Hong Kong's Chinese New Year Festivities
Of all the bustling metropolises across Asia, none celebrates the Lunar New Year quite like Hong Kong. When the festivities arrive, the city explodes in color and craziness. Lion dancers roam the streets, firecrackers echo between skyscrapers, and temples fill with incense smoke. But the real highlight for many is the chance to graze on Hong Kong's unique street food creations. From savory pineapple buns to sugar-dusted fortune cookies, the options satisfy all appetites.
Hop on the MTR metro and head to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, where the sprawling Chinese New Year Market hums with energy. The air hangs thick with aromas emanating from sizzling food stalls. This is street food central, with both classic Lunar New Year nibbles and Hong Kong-style fusion creations. Don't miss the sweet and sticky ber (glutinous rice balls) stuffed with sesame, peanut or red bean paste. Locals believe eating them brings prosperity for the coming year.
Then there's the crunchy, deep fried youtiao – essentially massive fried donut sticks perfect for dunking in soy milk or congee. Other snacks like sugared candied fruits and aromatic ginger candy beckon those with a sweet tooth. Savory options include siu mai dumplings bursting with pork and shrimp. For a truly local experience, try the fishballs – minced fish blended with flour and egg then boiled. Served with spicy curry sauce, they make a perfect handheld meal.
Not to be missed are Hong Kong's famed egg tarts – mini pastry shells filled with silky egg custard, baked to just the right wobble. The lines always form early outside bakeries like Tai Cheong for these melt-in-your-mouth treats hot from the oven. Then there's Hong Kong-style French toast, amped up with peanut butter and condensed milk for local flair.
As the Lantern Festival approaches on day 15 of the New Year, don't miss the chance to try scrumptious tong yuen. These sticky, sphere-shaped rice flour dumplings come stuffed with things like black sesame paste or peanut butter. Their round shape symbolizes family togetherness for the new year.
The array of flavors and cooking styles reflects Hong Kong's cultural diversity. From fiery Sichuan peppercorns to Portuguese egg tarts, the local Chinese New Year cuisine fuses tastes from across China and Europe. It shows how years of immigration have shaped Hong Kong into Asia's undisputed food capital. Even better, most snacks and desserts cost only a few dollars, making sampling easy on the wallet.
Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - See Elaborately Decorated Elephants at Myanmar's Elephant Festival
Of all Myanmar's colorful festivals, few offer an experience as special as the Elephant Festival held annually near Taunggyi. Time your visit right, and you'll get to witness these magnificent creatures celebrated in all their painted, ornamented glory. For elephant lovers, it's an unforgettable experience.
The festival traces its origins to the mid-1800s, when elephant capture and domestication became a symbol of royal power in Burma. Kings and rulers would host elaborate elephant festivals and competitions to showcase their military might. British colonial rulers continued the tradition as a way to promote Burmese culture.
These days, the festival provides a rare chance to admire Myanmar’s deep and abiding love for elephants. The giant yet gentle beasts have worked alongside locals for centuries – hauling teak in the forests, transporting royals, even battling in wars. They're considered harbingers of good luck.
The festival spans several days in late February or early March at venues around Taunggyi. Visitors rise early and make their way out to the viewing stands, eager to see the arrival of the elephants. At first light, a processsion of around 60 to 100 emerges from the mists. Each is elaborately outfitted in vivid patchwork blankets, sequined headdresses, and bells. Many wear cloth dolls on their backs or elaborate bamboo and paper structures depicting pagodas and temples.
The most thrilling part is watching the elephants play polo. Handlers put the animals through their paces in a dusty arena, steering them to pass a ball back and forth with their trunks and knock it into a goal. The dexterity and training is impressive. Other competitions showcase the bond between handlers and their elephants as they perform synchronized maneuvers.
The festival also features elephant dance performances. Dressed in vibrant costumes, the elephants shimmy, twirl, and nod in time to music led by their mahouts perched atop their necks. It's an incredible sight to behold.
Visitors can get up-close-and-personal with the elephants during feeding times. You'll get to feel the touch of their trunks as they gracefully accept bananas or sugarcane from your hand. The chance to interact with these gentle giants, even briefly, stays with you for a lifetime.
Dance, Feast, and Celebrate: 5 Must-See Festivals in Asia This Winter - Dance the Night Away at Vietnam's Da Lat Flower Festival
Of all Vietnam’s lively festivals, few can match the explosion of color and festivity that is the Da Lat Flower Festival. Every two years, the city of Da Lat in Vietnam’s Central Highlands transforms into a floral wonderland as part of this week-long celebration. For travelers in Vietnam, it’s a joyful event that provides a window into the region’s culture and natural abundance.
The origins of the festival date back to 2005, when the local government sought to boost tourism numbers by showcasing the area’s horticultural highlights. Timing the event to coincide with the flowering season was key. Da Lat sits at an elevation of around 4,800 feet, giving it a temperate climate ideal for growing all manner of blossoms. Roses, chrysanthemums, orchids, and more thrive in the region’s rich volcanic soil.
During the festival, floral floats and displays transform the city. Imagine gigantic structures covered in vivid orange marigolds or delicate lavender wisteria. The creativity and artistry shine through. There are blossoms crafted into animals, mythical creatures, famous landmarks, and more. Of course, you can also expect plenty of flower-adorned models, beauty queens, and traditional costumes adding to the cheer.
But it’s the evening festivities that really amp up the energy. As dusk settles, locals and visitors alike gather for concerts, cultural shows, and parade performances. Vietnam’s ethnic minorities bring their traditional music and dances to center stage. You’ll see gong ensembles, bamboo xylophone orchestras, and upbeat lion dancers. As the night rolls on, the atmosphere becomes celebratory.
Travelers consistently highlight the vibe of joy and inclusiveness that permeates the Flower Festival. The Vietnamese eagerly invite foreigners to get in on the action, teaching simple dance moves and urging everyone to join the fun. Before you know it, you’ll be linking arms with smiling strangers, laughing together as you try to mimic the steps. The experience of dancing the night away amidst new friends is magical.