Author: Pamela MacNaughtan

Festivals and Holidays in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is one of the best regions in the world for festivals, there is something for everyone, and in some cases there are options for travellers to choose between attending a traditional festival, or a tourist version – and while I think there should not be a need for festivals to have a tourist version, I can understand why they happen; unfortunately not every traveller is respectful of local beliefs and traditions, and are just looking for another excuse to party.

Whatever your preference; traditional or party animal, I’ve compiled a list of some of the BEST festivals in Southeast Asia that you won’t want to miss in 2016.


SEA fest ati atihan
Where: Kalibo, Philippines
When: January 17, 2016

Nine days of costumes, drumming and dance in the streets of Kalibo, with performers, their faces painted black, wear bright feathered headdresses and animal bones. A masquerade ball is held, and a torchlight procession honoring Santo Ni tilde o – a Spanish ship which anchored in the Philippines carrying an idol of Santo Ni tilde o, which Catholic missionaries used to heal faithful tribe members, who then celebrated in the streets.


SEA fest thaipusam
Where: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
When: January 24, 2016

Always celebrated on a full moon, Thaipusam is the remembrance of Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war. Thaipusam is a three-day festival which includes a chariot carrying a statue of Lord Murugan being carried from Sri Maha Mariamman temple, through the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Participants also walk barefoot on a pilgramige to Batu Caves (about 9 miles in distance), and on the last day the chariot is returned to the temple. Similar to Thailand’s Vegetarian Festival, Thaipusam also has several displays of self-mutilation.

Tet Nguyen Dan

SEA fest Tet
Where: Ho Chi Minh, Viet Nam
When: February 8, 2016

Vietnamese celebration of the arrival of spring and the new year, Tet Nguyen Dan is when locals clean and decorate their homes and shops to get rid of bad luck, and make sure debits are paid before the new year begins. Easily one of the most exciting times to be in Saigon, the fireworks are stunning, food is delicious, clothing is new, and there are plenty of drums, gongs, games that promote good fortune.

Balispirit Festival

SEA fest balispirit
Where: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
When: March 29 – Apr 3, 2016

If you’re a yoga-lover, than the Balispirit Festival is a celebration you should not miss. While yoga is a big focus at this particular festival, music and art also play a role, as well as tours of local temples and sacred sites, nutrition, and activities for families. Quite possibly one of the best festivals for those looking to relax and and rejuvenate while traveling.


SEA fest songkran
Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand
When: April 13 – 15, 2016

Celebrating Thai New Year, Songkran is a time when locals douse statues of Buddha with scented water, build small sand pagodas outside temples, and the use of water to wash away the evil of the previous year, making themselves clean for the New Year. Songkran is also know as the biggest water fight in the world.

During Songkran the Old City is overrun with locals and backpackers carrying everything from super soakers to buckets of ice water. While some locals merely pour a little water on you, most backpackers will not hesitate to completely soak you with the coldest water they could find – which can be a bit of a shock to your system!


SEA fest Waikam
June 2016

Celebrated at the world’s largest Buddhist monument, Borobudur, Waisak is a fascinating festival that celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. If you’re looking for a festival that celebrates local belief and culture, without having to dodge party-animals, then Waisak is a good choice.

Rainforest World Music Festival

SEA fest rainforest
Kuching, Malaysia
August 5-7, 2016

A three-day music festival in the jungle, the Rainforest World Music Festival is easily one of the coolest music festivals in the world featuring world fusion and contemporary music. This is the place to visit if you’re interested in the traditional music of indigenous people. Keep an eye out for the fantastic bamboo striking instruments made by a tribe outside of Kuching.

Vegetarian Festival

SEA fest phuket
Phuket, Thailand
September 2016

A nine-day festival celebrating abstinence and purity, the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket is also filled with gruesome displays of self-mutilation including hooks, spears, guns, and more. Don’t miss the fire walking ceremonies in the evenings, or the parades in each individual village, put on by the various temples. This is a festival that must be seen to be believed, and is definitely not for those with a weak stomach!

Yi Peng and Loy Krathong

SEA fest Yi Peng
Chiang Mai, Thailand
November 2016

One of the most famous festivals in Thailand, Yi Peng and Loy Krathong attracts thousands of travellers every year. While there is a traditional ceremony and lantern release, the tickets for this event are $100 each and sell out quickly. That being said there are plenty of public celebrations throughout the old city that you can participate in for free.

There are many festivals throughout the year in Southeast Asia, but the above are the more common ones. When attending a festival it’s important to remember to respect local customs and traditions. Locals are a great resource, before going to a festival ask them for tips on how to dress and behave, this will show tremendous respect for local culture, and the locals will respect you in return.

Which festivals will you be visiting in 2016?