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Loi Krathong Festival

Must-See Southeast Asia Festivals

Why do we travel? To see the world, experience another culture or an exotic location? Probably all of the above.

Why travel to a festival in a far-off land? Perhaps because it’s an amazing way to pack weeks worth of these experiences into days or hours. Festivals condense cultural traditions and celebrate the diversity of our planet like no other occasion, and the festivals of Southeast Asia are truly must-see events.

Take a look at the list of our favorite Southeast Asia festivals below (listed in typical chronological order) and start planning a trip that incorporates one or more with the help of our Southeast Asia tour planning specialists by calling 877-454-3672.


VIETNAM: Boat Racing Festival

Celebrated in Hoi An

Originally organized to arouse a cheerful atmosphere for the new year and to pay tribute to the God of Water in hope that the God will give them a prosperous harvest, the Boat Racing Festival has since grown and boat racing has become a common sport usually played in local festivals to demonstrate collective efforts. Hoi An’s festival is one of the best from a visitor’s perspective.

2017 Dates – January 29
2018 Dates – TBC

VIETNAM: Giong Festival

Celebrated in Hanoi

The Giong Festival is one of Vietnam’s most famous festivals, celebrated annually in Hanoi’s outer districts. The festival commemorates the life of the mythical hero Saint Giong, who bravely defended Vietnam against foreign enemies. Vietnamese people believe that the festival brings hope for a prosperous harvest and good year ahead, with numerous processions and performances which further highlight many of the country’s colorful traditions.

2017 Dates – February 02
2018 Dates – February TBC

VIETNAM: Tet Festival (Tet Nguyen Dan)

Celebrated countrywide

Tet is the Vietnamese New year, following the Vietnamese Lunar Calendar. It is considered to be the most important celebration of the year and is a time when most Vietnamese travel home to celebrate with their friends and family. The holiday is marked by the first day of the Lunar calendar, but preparations start much further in advance. Traditionally, the purpose of the holiday is to thank the gods for the arrival of spring by giving a variety of flowers and trees that are available after the harsh temperatures of the winter. In the lead up to the holiday, houses are cleaned and decorated with beautiful flowers and accessories, and special dishes are prepared. The ancestors of families are acknowledged and ‘lucky money’ is handed out to children. This can sometimes be a tricky time to visit Vietnam due to many businesses and tourist sites being closed during the main festival days, however it is a wonderful way to see Vietnamese traditions and celebrations at their best.

Note: We have special touring options available for this festival.

2017 Dates – January 28 (New Year’s Day)
2018 Dates – February 16

CAMBODIA: ChubMet Music and Art Festival

Celebrated in Siem Reap

The ChubMet Music & Art Festival brings together an exciting blend of popular Cambodian and international artists in a celebration of different genres of music and art. New to the Siem Reap scene, this festival is growing fast and seeing an important growth in the interest and talents of the artistic communities throughout Southeast Asia and beyond. The 2017 festival will feature headliner Joss Stone closing out the festivities. Definitely one to watch!

Note: We have special touring options available for this festival, and you can find more information about this event on our blog.

2017 Dates – 17 February – 02 March
2018 Dates – February TBC

CAMBODIA: Giant Puppet Parade

Celebrated in Siem Reap

The Giant Puppet Parade, put on by the Giant Puppet Project, is a local community art project designed to give disadvantaged children a creative platform to express themselves. Each year, under the guidance of student artists and an artistic director, children create giant puppets with a theme to help promote cultural appreciation and environmental awareness, and these magical puppets are then displayed during a colorful parade through the streets of Siem Reap.

Note: We have special touring options available for this festival, and you can find more information about this event on our blog.

2017 Dates – 18 February
2018 Dates – February TBC

VIETNAM: Hoi An Whale Festival (Le Cau Ngu)

Celebrated in Hoi An

The traditional Cau Ngu (Whale) Festival in Hoi An (Cua Dai Beach) is unique and important to the coastal community. The fishermen here consider whales to be gentle giants that provide them with support and protection when they are out at sea. Legend holds that a whale once saved an Emperor’s ship at sea and prevented it from sinking, so every year, villagers decorate the whale temple (which houses whale bones) and give offerings. At the beginning of the ceremony, the community elders choose people to offer prayers for good fortune and safe passage. Following the ceremony, Cau Ngu continues with vibrant traditional games (tug of war, boat racing, etc.) representing the culture of the central coast of Vietnam.

2017 Dates – April 12
2018 Dates – April TBC

CAMBODIA: Khmer New Year (Choul Chnam Thmey)

Celebrated countrywide

The Khmer New Year follows the Buddhist lunar calendar and falls at the end of the harvest season. Celebrations include lighting candles and giving thanks to Buddha at the temples and often donating to charitable causes for good luck. Buddha statues and the feet of their elders are washed with perfumed water to bring good luck and prosperity. Special dishes such as Kralan cake are also prepared for the new year, and you may see the locals participating in traditional new year’s games. It is a very special time when family and friends come together to celebrate.

Note: We have special touring options available for this festival, and you can find more information about this festival on our blog.

2017 Dates – April 14 – 16
2018 Dates – April 13 – 15

THAILAND: SONGKRAN Festival

Celebrated countrywide

The Thai New Years celebration, Songkran is rich in traditions including, most famously, the water festival during which portions of town become huge waterfights.

Note: We have special touring options available for this festival.

2017 Dates – April 13-15
2018 Dates – April 13-15

VIETNAM: Danang Whale Festival (Le Cau Ngu)

Celebrated in Danang

From long ago, the fishermen of coastal areas have considered whales to be a rare kind of mammal that do not harm anyone and instead lend a helping hand when people unfortunately meet storms on their voyages. The whales are considered a sacred creature as well as the savior for fishermen. Fishermen go so far as to avoid referring to whales directly, instead invoking the title Ca Ong or Ong Nam Hai (Whale God) during this festival.

The Whale Festival begins with a morning ceremony with fisherman in traditional Vietnamese ‘coracle’ boats retrieving a Whale sculpture from the sea and bringing it to the temple with a special parade through the village. Guests can join in the procession through the village. A series of ceremonies and events take place throughout the day to honor the whale and bring good luck to the fishermen of the village, where guests can experience chanting and praying, local food, and meet and talk with local fishermen. The festival differs slightly to the Hoi An festival celebrations, with different dates, but the beliefs and overall aim of the festivals are the same.

2017 Dates – April 21
2018 Dates – April TBC

LAOS: Rocket Festival (Boun Bang Fai)

Celebrated in Luang Prabang

The Rocket Festival falls in the sixth month of the lunar calendar and celebrates rain and fertility. As the name suggests, the locals gather to launch rockets into the air containing prayers to the rain god, believing that by launching these rockets into the sky they will initiate the rainy season and bring relief to the country’s rice fields after the hottest months of the dry season. This festival takes place throughout the country but we feel the best place to experience it is near Luang Prabang where you can easily access a day or both days, and join in with local families to celebrate the festival.

2017 Dates –  May 09-10
2018 Dates – May TBC

LAOS: Boat Racing Festival (Boun Xuang Heua)

Celebrated in Luang Prabang

This festival brings people together with the ancient tradition of competing in races on the Mekong in boats that hold up to 50 rowers. Being highly competitive, this is the largest annual festival in Luang Prabang province, and differs slightly from other provinces which stick more closely to celebrating at the end of the Buddhist calendar, whereas Luang Prabang holds the festival earlier. In addition to the races, visitors can enjoy local performances of dance and music and other forms of entertainment throughout the day and evening.

2017 Dates – August 21
2018 Dates – August TBC

THAILAND: Floating Boat Festival (Pi Tee Loy Rua Sa Doh Kroah)

Celebrated in Sangkhlaburi

The seventh month in the Buddhist lunar calendar is said to be when spirits roam the earth. In parts of Thailand, the locals send gifts to these spirits via boats loaded with food that are launched into the river. The building and decorating of the boats is highly ceremonial, and this ceremony dates back hundreds of years. These traditions and celebrations are also meant to banish evil and bring good luck. This is a unique festival which is a great option to combine with a visit to the historic Kanchanaburi.

2017 Dates – September TBC

VIETNAM: Keo Pagoda Festival

Celebrated in Hanoi

This particular pagoda, located in the Thai Binh Province, is a National Monument in Vietnam, and is over 400 years old. Twice a year, there are large processions held around town and special Buddhist ceremonies take place at the Pagoda. The ancient pagoda dates back to the 11th century and is a fine example of the architecture typical of the Le dynasty, standing as one of northern Vietnam’s more striking and unique pagodas. People come together to worship the Buddhist priest Khong Lo-Ly Quoc Su and take part in a colorful procession which celebrates the life of this great monk who rendered great merits to people and the country. The festival can take place over three days and so it is important to check nearer the time about which day is most interesting to visit the pagoda.

2017 Dates – January 31 & October 01 (larger celebration)
2018 Dates – January & October TBC

THAILAND: Phuket Vegetarian Festival (Jia Chai)

Celebrated in Phuket

This festival is of Chinese origin, dating back to the attempts to appease the gods and ward off a bout of illness sweeping through the settlement. These attempts included a vegetarian diet along with a number of associated celebrations, which at the time seemed to point towards the reason behind the sudden return to health. These practices have since been adopted and the Phuket Vegetarian Festival was born. The celebrations pay homage to the Nine Emperor Gods and take place during the first nine days of the month, following the Chinese lunar calendar. During these nine days visitors can witness a number of extreme performances and acts of self-sacrifice, from fire walking and bathing in hot oil to body mutilations and piercings. Although it is hard to predict when certain things will take place during the nine days, if you happen to be in Phuket during this time it’s a must-see for anyone with an interest in extreme practices that date back hundreds of years. Shocking to some, the festival is a colourful and positive celebration of old beliefs.

2017 Dates – October 20 – 28
2018 Dates – October TBC

CAMBODIA: National Games

Celebrated in Phnom Penh

If you find yourself in Phnom Penh between the end of October and the beginning of November, check out Cambodia’s National Games! The Cambodian National Games are a national-sized Olympics for Cambodian athletes and feature 172 sporting events altogether, including badminton, basketball, bokator, boxing, football (soccer), gymnastics, petanque, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo, tennis, volleyball and wrestling among other sports. 2017 was the first year that the games were introduced and we look forward to seeing the enthusiasm and interest in sports grow throughout the country.

2018 Dates – October TBC

CAMBODIA: Water and Moon Festival (Bon Om Touk)

Celebrated countrywide

One of the most popular festivals and celebrations in Cambodia is undoubtedly the Water Festival, also known as Bonn Om Touk in Khmer. It is celebrated on the full moon of the Buddhist month of Kadeuk, which usually falls in the end of October or November. The Water Festival in Cambodia coincides with the end of the rainy season and reverses flow of the Tonle Sap River which is a unique phenomenon where the water pressure of the Mekong River causes the river to change its direction. The Water Festival also marks the start of the Cambodian fishing season and originates back to the reign of King Jayavarman whose navy celebrated it in order to keep the god of the river happy so as to supply a plentiful crop of rice and many fish.

There is no shortage of celebrations, with everything from boat races to fireworks displays, to temple ceremonies.

Note: We have special touring options available for this festival, and you can find more information about this festival on our blog.

2017 Dates – November 2-4
2018 Dates – November 23-25

THAILAND: Loi Krathong and Yi Peng Festivals

Celebrated in Chiang Mai and countrywide

Loi Krathong falls in November, on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month of the lunar calendar, an important Buddhist holiday. Thais also thank the Water Goddess for the rains, and symbolically let go of any anger, grudges or misfortune that they may have been holding by sending floating krathongs downriver. The largest celebrations take place in Chiang Mai and are typically accompanied by a grand parade and street parties. This is a truly magical celebration and definitely well-worth moving your dates around for.

At the same time as the Loi Krathong festival, another traditional Thai celebration – Yi Peng – is celebrated. Also scheduled around the full moon, the Yi Peng festival features swarms of sky lanterns (khom loi), which float gently into the sky like luminous miniature hot-air balloons. The khom loi are made from thin fabric, such as rice paper, stretched over a lightweight bamboo or wire frame, with a candle below the opening at the bottom. When the candle is lit, the warm air produced by the flame is enough to lift the khom loi into the sky. In addition to the floating marvel of thousands of candle-lit khom loi, Thais also decorate their homes, gardens and temples during the Yi Peng Festival with elaborate paper lanterns which add to the amazing beauty of the countryside during this special time.

Note: We have special touring options available for this festival, and you can find more information about visiting Loi Krathong on our blog.

2017 Dates – November 4
2018 Dates – November 23

LAOS: Awk Phansa – End of Buddhist Lent and Festival of Lights

Celebrated in Luang Prabang

The festival of Awk Phansa marks the end of the three-month Buddhist Lent, or ‘Khao Phansaa’ which commences at the full moon in July and falls during the rainy season. The first day of this festival is officially designated ‘Awk Pansa’ and is filled with more traditional and religious ceremonies. Local families head to the temple together in early morning to give alms to the monks, and later cook a big lunch to celebrate together. In the evening, the temples hold candle-lighting ceremonies, and you may see locals sending little ‘boats’ downriver as well. The second day of the festival is more celebratory with costumes and fire boat processions.

Note: We have special touring options available for this festival, and you can find more information about this festival on our blog.

2017 Dates – November 5-6
2018 Dates – November TBC

CAMBODIA: Angkor Photo Festival and Workshops

Celebrated in Siem Reap

The longest-running photography event in Southeast Asia, the Angkor Photo Festival & Workshops is a free international platform and educational resource for established and emerging photographers. The organization strongly focuses on supporting and promoting young Asian talent, and encouraging the development of photography in the region. Even if you are not a photographer, visitors can enjoy evenings of projections and photographic displays throughout the city.

2017 Dates – November/December TBC
2018 Dates – November/December TBC