Festivals & Celebrations in South East Asia

inspirational travel stories

Asian festivals are among the most exotic and spectacular in the world! The month of November in South East Asia coincides with the end of the rainy season, the harvest period, the beginning of the dry season, which involves a number of celebrations and when it comes to honouring the spirits, Asians do not skimp on the means! On the program: illuminations, parades, traditional dance demonstrations, boat races, etc.
It’s worth synchronizing your trip to Asia with one of these celebrations! So if you have the chance to travel to South East Asia before the end of the year, here is a list of Festivities not to be missed!


Thailande – Loy Krathong /   CHIANG MAI – yee peng 

Venue : November 

Every year in Thailand, Loy Kratong, also known as the Festival of Lights, is held where thousands of candlelit paper lanterns are released into the sky and onto the Ping River, one of the country’s most important cultural events. The festival takes place on the full moon of the 12th lunar month of the Thai calendar (usually in mid-November). The release of the lanterns symbolizes for the Thais the “letting go of all the bad spirits and misfortunes of the previous year”.
In Chiang Mai, the celebration of Loy Krathong is known as Yee Peng, again as part of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar, the 2nd month of the traditional calendar of the Lanna ancient kingdom.
Generally speaking, the festival is celebrated throughout the country for 2 days, in Chiang Mai, its duration can reach up tp one week during which many presentations and events take place, including parades, fireworks, sound and light shows, the Lanna style decoration contest, but the most awaited of all is the famous beauty contest bringing together, all in one a parade, the most beautiful women of Chiang Mai province.

To celebrate the Festival of Lights, people from northern Thailand often use 4 different types of lanterns, which are called Khom. They are made from paper, inside which is placed a candle to illuminate the whole.
Khom Theua: is a small lantern that people wear during the parade. Later, it will be used to decorate temples.
Khom Kwaen: is a small lantern that is hung from temples as an offering to Buddha. They can take 4 forms depending on the context: the alms bowl, a star, a wheel and a basket
Khom Loy: Also known as Khom Fai, it is a cylindrical paper measuring 1m high, inside of which are placed some firecrackers and explosives that are supposed to explode once the balloon is thrown into the air. The launch of the Khom Loy in Chiang Mai is an exceptional event. During that time, the sky is covered with a mass of illuminated balloons whose reflection on the water provides a dazzling spectacle. It’s an emotionally rich experience that’s really worth a visit!
Khratong: (or floating light) It is made from banana leaves whose shape is closely related to that of the lotus. The Khratong contains a lit candle, some flowers to decorate and incense to perfume it. The inhabitants drop these small boats off along rivers and other water points, not only to thank the water goddess (this festival marks the end of the rainy season) but also to atone for the mistakes made throughout the year.

laos - boun ok phansa / boun lai heua fai

Venue: November

In Laos, Boun Ok Phansa is the holy day marking the end of Buddhist Lent and the end of the rainy season; the next day is Boun Lai Heua Fai: the festival of boat lanterns (taking place the next day) which pays tribute to the Mekong and the dead, it is one of the most important celebrations in the country ! Traditionally, Boun Ok Phansa is an opportunity to honour the spirits of the Mekong. We think that disease, bad luck and all that is negative can be carried away by the river. In the weeks before this festival, novices and monks decorate the temples with paper lanterns and villages make their boat lanterns out of bamboo and paper. The temples are all nicely lit, so that everyone walks from temple to temple at night. On the big day, the lanterns of the big boats are lit and are marched along the main street to Wat Xieng thong where they descend into the Mekong. People buy or make lanterns from banana tree trunks and flowers, light them, make a wish and put them in the river. The whole river seems to be lighting up, it’s a spectacular night. 

cambodia – water festival / boat race

Venue: November

Bon Om Touk, also known as the “Water Festival”, is an annual Cambodian celebration that takes place mainly in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, but also in Angkor. Bon Om Touk is a celebration of the end of the rainy season at the full moon of the Buddhist month of Kadeuk. The full moon is considered a good luck charm that can lead to an abundant harvest. On the Western calendar, Bon Om Touk falls in October or early November.
Heavy monsoon rains cause the Mekong River to reverse its course and push back into the very large Tonle Sap Lake, far upstream. The lake therefore overflows its normal limits, which provides a lot of water for the main event in Bon Om Touk, the annual pirogue race. Once the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap River, which connects the Mekong River to Tonle Sap Lake, begin to flow back to the sea, you know it is almost time for Bon Om Touk. The withdrawal of the water also leaves rich sediments that will help local farmers in the upcoming year. However, be aware that in years of low water, the annual boat race can be cancelled.
For three consecutive days, the celebrations continue, with people from all over Cambodia coming to Phnom Penh to take part in the festivities. Day and night, the celebration continues. Activities include music concerts, traditional dance demonstrations and Aboriginal food feasts. The regatta often includes up to 400 racing boats, each decorated with bright colours and rowed by about forty men, who are usually monks. There are prizes for the winners, and dancers and drummers on board that keep the rowers in the right rhythm.

myanmar - hot air balloon festival - taungyi

Venue: 17-22 November 2018

The festival takes place every year, during the full moon of November, this year, from 17th to 22nd November in Taunggyi, capital of Shan State. This is an important month that marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of winter. The “Hot Air Balloon” festival is one of Burma’s most popular events, each year balloons are sent to the sky as a sign of offering to the good spirits and as a tribute to the Sulamani Pagoda.
The Tazaungdaing festival takes place over a week: 5 days of qualifying and two days of finals. It ends on the day of the full moon in November. The teams, representing the different districts of Taunggyi, are preparing for a year of competition. The objective is to successfully fly the most elaborate and decorated balloon. Hot air balloons are made of paper, by hand. They are decorated with fireworks, firecrackers and candles. Every evening, music and parades accompany the placement of the balloons on the central lawn.

vietnam - Ooc Om bok

Venue: November 

Ooc Om Bok is one of the liveliest festivals in the Khmer calendar. The Vietnamese of the Mekong Delta take this opportunity to thank the god of the moon for the good rice harvests and abundant fish catches, and to celebrate the end of the Khmer year. Fruits and vegetables are offered as an offering to the gods at midnight. Thousands of visitors gather to attend boat races, and ethnic dance and music are guaranteed. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the dry season.
The harvest period is very important and this is one of the main reasons for the celebration. If you travel to Vietnam, the harvest period is extremely interesting. The rice fields that were flooded when the rice was planted are now dry and the golden rice gives the rice fields a completely different appearance.