Asia's 5 Best Festivals In 2016

14 February 2016
Read Time: 2.7 mins

Being in the midst of a vibrant festival is one of the best ways to enhance any holiday. Asia hosts some of the most exciting and eclectic events in the world, from city-wide water fights to unbridled fireworks shows.

Here is a guide to five of Asia's finest festivals for 2016.

1. Songkran, Thailand

April 13-15

Perhaps the most enjoyable festival in Asia for tourists, the annual Songkran festival is one long water fight to mark the Thai New Year.

Step outside your Thai hotel or apartment during Songkran and you will soon find yourself being doused with water. During Songkran, everyone is a threat. Don’t be fooled by a child’s innocence or the gentle smile of an elderly local, because they will not hesitate blasting you with a water pistol.

Songkran, Thailand Prepare to get drenched at Songkran in Thailand (Image: Ronan O'Connell)

In every city, town and village across the country, the streets are filled with revellers wearing Hawaiian shirts. Often dancing by the roadside to loud music pumped out of homes or businesses, they party from morning to midnight, wetting anyone nearby.

Tourists are encouraged to take part and there are massive Songkran parties targeted towards Westerners in Phuket’s Patong Beach, Chiang Mai and Bangkok’s backpacker district, Khao San Road.

2. Momijigari, Japan

Late September to early December

The Japanese people have long been fascinated by the perfection of nature, which they have documented for many centuries in their art, literature and music.

Blessed with a lush, fertile environment, Japan is renowned for its seasonal blooms, the most famous of which is Sakura, the cherry blossom festival (February and March).

Momijigari The colours of Momijigari are absolutely mesmerising (Image: Ronan O'Connell)

Equally as spectacular, and even more colourful, is Momijigari, which revolves around its autumnal blooms. Starting in the country’s north in late September, this wonder of nature can be admired through to early December in Japan’s deep south.

Momijigari is a Japanese tradition of visiting parks and forests during this season to admire the vast palette of autumnal colours which paint trees, maples in particular. From pale yellow through to rich gold, burnt orange, light pink, bright magenta and deep red, the foliage is strikingly beautiful.

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3. Seoul Lantern Festival, South Korea

May 6-8

This celebration of South Korean independence sees the country’s capital illuminated by tens of thousands of lanterns, many of which are handmade and customised by residents.

Hundreds of large and elaborate lanterns are also placed on manmade islands along the one-kilometre length of Cheonggyecheon Stream, which cuts through Seoul’s CBD.

Seoul Lantern Festival The city is lit up like no other during Seoul Lantern Festival (Image: Ronan O'Connell)

With themes ranging from spiritual to historical and even whimsical, the lanterns light up this beautifully-landscaped strip of Seoul, attracting massive crowds.

Although it's an upbeat and aesthetically-pleasing festival, it does have grim origins, which can be traced back to the late-16th century. During the Japanese invasion locals would hang lanterns along the Namgang River to make it harder for Japanese soldiers to wade through its waters without being spotted.

4. Yanshui Fireworks Festival, Taiwan

February 21-22

The most hazardous festival on this list is also the most exhilarating. The Yanshui Fireworks Festival is an annual explosives free-for-all in the Yanshui district of Tainan City, a two-hour train ride south of Taipei.

Yanshui Fireworks Festival The mayhem is a blast at Yanshui Fireworks Festival (Image: Ronan O'Connell)

In the streets of Yanshui, massive amounts of fireworks are piled up before being set off, sending sparks flying in all directions. Thrill seekers who choose to stand close typically wear masks and other safety attire.

Viewed from a safe distance it is a truly compelling sight. Dating back to the Qing Dynasty era (1644-1912), the festival started when locals turned on a fireworks display to try to persuade the gods to protect them from an insect plague.

5. Full Moon Poya, Sri Lanka

Every full moon day

The beauty of Sri Lanka’s Poya festivals is that they are monthly events, making it easy to plan a trip around them. The Poya days occur on each of the year’s full moons, of which there are at least a dozen.

Poya festivals are deeply religious, linked to the Buddhist faith. Worshippers decked out from head to toe in white clothing gather at Buddhist temples to make offerings and take part in mass ceremonies.

Full Moon Poya Walk amongst the parades at Full Moon Poya (Image: Ronan O'Connell)

They do so believing Buddha told his followers that every full moon was a time when they should give thanks.

Poya Days are not entirely sober occasions, with street parades embellished by dancing, fire and traditional Sri Lanka costumes.

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Ronan O'Connell

Ronan has been a journalist for 12 years, including nine years at daily newspapers in Australia, and now is a freelance travel photojournalist. As a freelancer he has contributed to almost 20 different magazines and newspapers across Europe, Australia, Asia and New Zealand, including The BBC, The Guardian, Travel Talk Magazine, For the Love of Travel Magazine, The Australian Financial Review and The South East Asia Globe.