Embed a festival into any vacation for a truly immersive experience, rubbing shoulders with locals in the streets and getting fun, quick insights into a country and its customs. Often, these celebrations offer activities unique to the destination.
Ms Michelle Lee, 50, was among the revellers who converged on Pingxi in Taiwan for its annual Sky Lantern Festival last year.
Says the assistant finance director, who was in Taiwan with her husband and three daughters from Dec 25 to Jan 1: “It is our family tradition to spend New Year overseas, and we chose Taiwan for the nice weather, common language, and the beautiful Sky Lantern Festival. After buying a sky lantern at Shifen Old Street in Pingxi and releasing it to the sky together as a family, we felt that it was the most meaningful New Year we have had so far.”
The culture of releasing sky lanterns is for people to pray for blessings, and she noticed locals and tourists celebrating together. With the ability of such events to draw both local and international participants, more countries are conceiving their own themed festivals to attract more tourists.
Singapore alone has more than 40 listed contemporary events, which range from art and music to food and dance, not counting traditional celebrations such as Mid-Autumn Festival and Thaipusam.
Likewise, around Asia, there is a full spectrum of festivals that range from cultural commemorations to edgy and contemporary celebrations for the young at heart.
In this calendar listing for the year ahead, we recommend festivals that are either traditional or trendy, ethereal or quirky, that can enrich the next trip in Asia and beyond.
From the traditional to the finer things in life, these festivals are palate pleasers.
Icheon Rice Cultural Festival
Where: Icheon, South Korea
When: October to to November
What: Celebrate the humble beginnings of an Asian staple, rice, and the local agricultural practices in Icheon. For 2,000 won ($2.50), join the unique “Two Thousand People, Two Thousand Won” event, one of the biggest highlights in the annual tradition. A huge cauldron of Icheon’s specialty rice sits on the festival grounds and is big enough to feed the lines of thousands of people.
Fringe events include a parade, traditional folk games, music and dance.
Admission is free. For more information, go to tour.icheon.go.kr/site/tour/en/index.jsp.
Tip: Not to be confused with the larger Incheon city, Icheon is a two-hour ride away from Seoul by public transport.
Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival
Where: Hong Kong
When: October to November
What: For a more refined food festival, revel in the festivities of Hong Kong’s month-long celebration of fine dining and wine. An opening party from Oct 22 to 25 will kick-start the series of events, featuring street carnivals, wine-themed tours, wine-pairing classes and fairs.
Notably, there is a wide array of premium wines at the event co-organised by Bordeaux International Wine and Dine Festival Organization.
Admission is free. For more information, go to www.discoverhongkong.com/eng
Tip: The festival is a good opportunity to catch offers and promotions at more expensive restaurants.
Live out dreams of a winter wonderland with these snowy celebrations.
16th Harbin Ice and Snow World
Where: Harbin, China
When: January and February
What: For a twist on the usual snowy white sculptures, the Harbin Ice and Snow World is a beautiful night exhibition with brightly illuminated life-size and themed ice buildings and slides.
Apart from the grand structures at the world’s largest ice and snow art exhibition, there are festival-specific sports such as ice rock-climbing, ice golf and ice archery.
The night exhibition is part of the 31st Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, and is open past the festival period. Other events include theatre performances, art fairs and sporting tournaments and competitions.
Tickets cost from $35 to $65. For more information, go to www.harbinice.com.
Tip: Check out local travel agencies such as Dynasty Travel and CTC Travel, which organise itineraries with the Ice and Snow World and Harbin’s other attractions.
66th Sapporo Snow Festival
Where: Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
When: Feb 5 to 11
What: Most visitors to this annual snow festival do not know of its humble beginning in 1950, when only six snow statues by local high school students were displayed in Odori Park.
As one of the largest and most well-known winter events in Japan now, the three locations of the festival – Odori Park, Sapporo Community Dome, and Susukino’s main street – are lined with various impressive and detailed ice and snow sculptures. There is also the 42nd International Snow Sculpture Contest with teams from all over the world participating.
There are also various snow sliding and rafting areas.
Admission is free. For more information, go to www.snowfes.com/english/index.html.
Tip: Toilet paper is not provided at many public restrooms so keep small packets of tissue paper handy.
Get a change of scenery from city lights and be immersed in these spectacular light shows.
Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival
Where: Pingxi, Taipei, Taiwan
When: March 5
What: Although the custom of releasing sky lanterns is observed elsewhere in Asia, the mountainous region of Pingxi, with its low light pollution in the sky, is ideal. It presents the sea of luminous lanterns more beautifully and distinctly and is just an hour away from Taipei. Within Pingxi, the Old Street in the town of Shifen is packed with stores selling local snacks, souvenirs and lanterns – which visitors can purchase to symbolically send wishes to the heavens.
Admission is free. For more information, go to eng.taiwan.net.tw
Tip: Shuttle buses leave from Taipei Zoo and Shiding Access Road to Pingxi.
Winter Light Festival
Where: Kuwana City, Mie Prefecture, Japan
When: January to March
What: Marvel at the winter illuminations of botanical park Nabano No Sato. While the vast flower gardens and giant greenhouses are a sight to behold by day, the night sees more than seven million LED lights running through the entire park grounds, creating gorgeous light scenes according to the year’s theme.
The famous Tunnel Of Light completely envelops the reveller in a winding passage of sparkling lights.
The park also features open-air bath facilities in the hot spring, and various restaurants, including the Nagashima Beer Garden.
Tickets cost $16 each. For more information, go to www.nagashima-onsen.co.jp/index.html.
Tip: The park is a popular spot among locals and tourists, so be prepared for large crowds.
If you do not mind getting a little wet or dirty, go local with these fun and free street celebrations.
Holi Festival of Colours
Where: New Delhi, India
When: March 6
What: In this joyous celebration popular in and outside India, the ancient Hindu spring festival sees families, friends and strangers chase and adorn each other with brightly coloured powder or water in the streets. Join in the singing and dancing during the bonfire and share Holi delicacies such as Gujiya, a traditional sweet pastry with dry fruits, with the locals.
Tip: Be careful with electronics as they can be damaged by the powder or water.
Where: Bangkok, Thailand
When: April 13 to 15
What: To usher in the New Year, the Thais enjoy a three-day festival with street parties, family reunions, and the highlight of it all, friendly water fights along the streets of Bangkok.
Dousing each other with water symbolically washes off the past year’s misfortunes to welcome a fresh start for the new year.
Tip: Try Silom or Khao San Road for a more youthful and vibrant party, and Phra Pradaeng District for a more traditional take.
Boryeong Mud Festival
Where: Boryeong, South Korea
What: Originally conceived to market Boryeong’s mud cosmetics since 1998, the annual summer festival at Daecheon Beach is now a hot attraction among locals and foreigners for its wide range of activities such as slides, massages, health and beauty treatments, mud skiing competitions, live music and dance performances, parades, a marketplace, and a big fireworks finale.
Tip: With Boryeong located only 200km away from Seoul, public transport is readily available to Daecheon Beach from bus terminals there.
Celebrate the change in seasons with these anniversaries.
Tet Nguyen Dan
Where: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
When: Feb 22 to 27
What: With the strong affinity of the Vietnamese to land and food as farmers and fisherman, the celebration of the arrival of spring and the start of a new year is the most important event of the year.
Rejoice with the locals with traditional folk games and Vietnamese delicacies, such as Banh Tet (cylindrical glutinous rice dumplings) and whole boiled chicken. The beautiful blooms from the Tet Flower Market will also brighten the day while you stroll around.
Admission is free.
Tip: The sleepless city slows down in the first few days of Tet, so take this opportunity for a quiet stroll around the city and catch holiday discounts from the few open stores.
Ahirkapi Hidrellez Festival
Where: Istanbul, Turkey
When: May 4 to 9
What: Richly historical Turkey offers the perfect setting for this festival that celebrates the first day of early summer.
Walk down the streets filled with joyous music and dance performances and booths selling Turkish spring food such as pilaf (rice with chickpeas) and baklava, a rich and sweet pastry made with nuts and honey.
Take part in an old Turkish tradition by jotting down your wishes on a piece of paper and attaching it on a Nahil, a symbolic wish tree, towards midnight.
Admission is free.
Tip: For those concerned about personal safety, the hotel staff are generally dependable, so turn to them if you have any problems.
These regional music festivals can give some of the big international ones, such as Coachella and Glastonbury, a run for their money.
Fuji Rock Festival 2015
Where: Niigata, Japan
When: July 24 to 26
Summer Sonic Festival 2015
Where: Tokyo and Osaka, Japan
When: Aug 15 and 16
What: Both rock music festivals may be staged in Japan, but they are each distinct.
Held high up in the mountains at Naeba Ski Resort, the more laid-back Fuji Rock Festival is set against a picturesque scene of a forest boardwalk trail and a natural hot spring spa, apart from the main show: local and international musicians performing on five different stages.
Summer Sonic Festival boasts a carnival-like atmosphere with a bigger line-up taking nine stages. There is a mini casino, Japanese and international food booths, and celebrity meet-and-greet sessions. Fringe events include shows by Japanese comedians and idols.
Ticket prices are not released yet but can range from $144 to $441. For more information on Fuji Rock Festival, go to www.fujirockfestival.com.
For more information on Summer Sonic Festival, go to www.summersonic.com/2015
Rainforest World Music Festival
Where: Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
When: Aug 7 to 9
This annual international music festival stands out with its diverse line-up and wide coverage of different genres of music.
Ease into the festival with its afternoon programme of workshops, ethno-musical lectures, jamming sessions and mini concerts, or visit the festival site with booths for food, drinks, arts and crafts, souvenirs and CDs.
The evening will close with performances on the main stage.
Ticket prices are not released yet but can range from $34 to $129. For more information, go to rwmf.net
Tip: The festival is located at the heart of Sarawak’s cultural village and it is worth taking a quiet stroll among the lush greenery and farmhouses nearby.
All-encompassing art festivals can satisfy both the casual art lover and the connoisseur.
George Town Festival 2015
Where: George Town, Penang, Malaysia
When: Aug 1 to 31
What: Unlike other art festivals which can be intimidating to the uninitiated, the down-to-earth vibe of this annual month-long celebration throughout George Town will make anyone feel welcome.
There is a good mix of free street performances, local and international art installations, performances and exhibitions in unique venues such as colonial shophouses and sidewalk galleries.
Ticket prices are not released yet but can range from $8 to $84. For more information, go to georgetownfestival.com.
Tip: George Town also bustles with street art and good food places, so take your time to explore the area.
Where: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
When: March 18 to 21
What: Boasting a diverse line-up of about 90 galleries and 500 artists from the region and beyond, the annual international art fair has been lauded for its strong collection of both local and international art.
The festival also features one of the largest education programmes for students and art lovers worldwide with Campus Art Dubai, an art school, and Forum Fellows, a fellowship programme.
Tickets cost $18 for a one-day pass and $29 for a four-day pass. For more information, go to www.artdubai.ae.
Tip: Check out the grungy Street Art Gallery at Jumeirah Beach Road.
These dynamic sporting events will charge up your holiday.
Yueyang International Dragon Boat Festival
Where: Yueyang, China
When: June 10 to 14,
What: As the birthplace of the sport of the dragon boat, Yueyang’s annual Dragon Boat Festival will not disappoint. The grand festival is of such cultural importance that the Chinese celebrate it as a public holiday.
Join the locals in their custom of eating rice dumplings, drinking realgar wine (Chinese cereal wine), and hanging items such as Chinese mugwort to ward off diseases and purify the air. There are also painting exhibitions and traditional performances.
The main highlight is the dragon boat race, which sees over 20 teams worldwide competing for glory.
Admission is free.
Where: Ulan Bator, Mongolia
When: July 11 to 13
What: Watch the Mongolians hold some spectacular festivities in their biggest festival of the year. Dubbed The Festival Of Three Manly Sports, the event kicks off with a colourful parade of monks, musicians, athletes, soldiers and people dressed as ancient warriors.
Among the many music and dance performances, do not miss the tournaments and races of the country’s most popular sports of horse racing, archery and Mongolian wrestling. Admission is free.
Tip: It can rain a lot in July in Mongolia, so bring an umbrella for this largely outdoor festival.
These exotic word festivals boast a rich cultural background.
Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2015
Where: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
When: Late October
What: Ubud, the cultural heart of scenic Bali, houses one of the most renowned cultural and literary festivals in the region.
On top of regular workshops and exhibitions, the 12th edition of the annual festival includes a more light-hearted and intimate progamme of craft workshops, market tours, cooking and language classes and games.
Ticket prices are not released yet, but can range from $34 to $430 for a one-day pass to a four-day pass. For more information, go to www.ubudwritersfestival.com.
Tip: To navigate bad traffic, find lodgings within walking distance of the festival grounds, or keep an eye out for the shuttle bus routes that are subject to change every year.
Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2015
Where: Jaipur, India
When: Jan 21 to 25
What: Hailed as Asia’s largest literary festival and a cultural meeting point for debut and veteran writers alike, the festival, now in its 10th edition, features readings, discussions, debates and workshops with a guest list of some 250 prominent figures in the literary world, such as 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner and novelist Adam Johnson, and best-selling foreign policy author and journalist Ahmed Rashid.
Held at Diggi Palace since its first run in 2006, the opulent architecture of the royal palace, which has since been converted into a heritage hotel, is aptly inspiring.
Tip: Admission is free, but registration is required. For more information, go to jaipurliteraturefestival.org
Ditch the usual city-bound trips for a chance to get closer to Mother Nature.
5th Suncheon Eco International Walking Festival
Where: Suncheon Bay, South Jeolla Province, South Korea
When: April 25 and 26
What: Originally conceived as an initiative to encourage walking by the Korea Athletic Promotion Association, this relatively new festival is a hidden gem, given its location.
With a wide variety of wildlife and beautiful endless reed fields, Suncheon Bay Cyber Ecological Park offers natural beauty and rich biodiversity, and is Suncheon’s top attraction on TripAdvisor.
Participants can select 5km, 10km or 25km scenic walking courses that wind through the coastal wetland. Other attractions include the Nakan-eupseong folk village, Songgwang temple and the film set used in the Korean drama East Of Eden.
Tickets cost $53 each. For more information, go to www.suncheonbay.go.kr/?r=ENG
Tip: Recommendations of other scenic locations to visit in Suncheon by Korea Tourism Organization are the Seonamsa Temple and Suncheon Municipal Deep Rooted Tree Museum.
Santubong Nature Festival
Where: Santubong, Sarawak, Malaysia
When: Nov 9 and 10
What: For your next nature appreciation trip, try this annual two-day event co-organised by the Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch and Permai Rainforest Resort.
Featuring photography workshops, guided walks for children, dolphin watching, intense races with kayaking, swimming, climbing, mountain biking and running, and more, the extensive list of activities will pack the two-day event with excitement and fun.
Admission is free. For more information,go to santubongnaturefestival.blogspot.sg.
Tip: Registration is required for popular activities with limited spaces, such as dolphin watching.
This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on January 11, 2015. For similar stories, go to http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.