These big fall festivals in Asia are exciting and widely celebrated—further proof that fall is an interesting time to travel in Asia!
Expect some potentially large gatherings at these events in Asia held every September, October, and November. Like other big holidays and festivals in Asia, pretty well all of these fall festivals attract a crowd of locals and tourists alike who compete for flights, overland transportation, and hotel rooms.
Arrive a few days early to these exciting celebrations for a great travel memory, otherwise steer clear completely until things calm down and prices return to normal.
Check your itinerary dates! Many of these fall festivals are based on lunisolar calendars, so dates change annually.
Also known as the Chinese Moon Festival but more often called the "Mooncake Festival" by travelers, the Mid-Autumn Festival is an annual harvest celebration. The event is observed throughout Asia; Taiwan and Hong Kong observe the Mid-Autumn Festival as a public holiday. The Moon Festival is a very commercialized event with, you guessed it, many types of mooncakes for sale.
Aside from buying mooncakes, the Mid-Autumn Festival is about enjoying a brief respite from work to have reunions with family, friends, and loved ones. Mooncakes are exchanged with someone special.
Perhaps unfairly, mooncakes could be called Asia's answer to Christmas fruitcakes. They make cute gifts, but whether or not the dense, high-calorie little cakes get eaten or not—that's another story.
Commercialization hit this fall festival hard: Some of the mooncakes for sale are made from exotic ingredients (gold leaf, anyone?) and can cost hundreds of dollars. Beijing's taxation on mooncakes received created outcry and controversy—some mooncakes are so luxurious they are considered taxable income!
- Where: The epicenter is China, but the festival is observed throughout Asia.
- When: Usually in September but sometimes October
The start date for the 2020 Mid-Autumn Festival is Thursday, October 1.
Not to be confused with Hari Merdeka, Malaysia's celebration of gaining independence from the British Empire on August 31, Malaysia Day is a patriotic celebration to commemorate the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.
The day is celebrated with patriotic festivities along with a military parade, flag waiving, and speeches. Malaysia Day is an exciting time to travel in Malaysia.
- Where: Throughout Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, with the epicenter in Kuala Lumpur
- When: September 16
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival isn’t just about diet choices—some devotees pierce their faces with swords, skewers, and household items such as fans!
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival (officially the Nine Emperor Gods Festival) is a nine-day Taoist celebration that is vividly observed on the island Phuket, Thailand, and to a lesser degree, Chinatown in Bangkok.
The scene is one of absolute chaos in some places. Firecrackers are thrown (many at head level) during processions that carry shrines and images of gods. Devotees in varying states of trance pierce their bodies, most often the face, with sharp objects. Voluntary self mutilation sometimes includes slashing the tongue with a sword!
The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is also observed by Chinese communities in Malaysia and Indonesia.
- Where: Phuket, Thailand, is the epicenter.
- When: September or October
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2020 is from October 16 – 26.
National Day in China
China’s most patriotic holiday is National Day on October 1. Concerts, patriotic gatherings, and evening fireworks mark the busy occasion.
The day also kicks off one of China’s Golden Week holiday periods, meaning that things get way busier in Beijing, a place already renowned for being busy!
Hundreds of thousands of people living in the far reaches of China head into the capital for a rare glimpse of Tiananmen Square during their time off work.
Attractions such as the Great Wall and the terracotta soldiers in Xi'an become inundated with traveling locals. Hotels and public transportation fill up. The first week of October is the busiest time to visit China—be prepared!
- Where: In big cities throughout China, with the epicenter in Beijing
- When: October 1; lasts approximately one week
Mahatma Gandhi is known as the "Father of the Nation" in India and his birthday is celebrated worldwide on October 2.
The Gandhi Jayanti celebration, as it is called in India, is particularly special. Gandhi's Birthday is one of only three national holidays on the subcontinent (the other two are Republic Day and India's Independence Day on August 15).
An International Day of Peace was already observed on September 21, so in 2007, the United Nations declared Gandhi's Birthday as International Day of Non-Violence.
If you aren't in Delhi for the event, don't worry: There are many other fall festivals in India.
- Where: Throughout India, with the epicenter in New Delhi
- When: October 2
Whether you're into camels or not, there's something fun for everyone at the Pushkar Camel Fair (or simply just the "Pushkar Fair"). The event attracts more than 100,000 locals and tourists who come to see, sell, or race more than 50,000 camels! It's certainly the largest festival in Rajasthan. A small carnival is erected on the edge of town.
The small desert town of Pushkar gets stretched to its limits; attendees set up camps in the desert. If you don't book accommodation in time, a tent may be the only option, too!
Games, sales, competitions, traditional dances, and other spectacles fill the days. After the festival, continue on to Jaisalmer to try riding a camel on a desert safari.
- Where: Pushkar in Rajasthan, India
- When: Usually in late fall
The dates for the 2020 Pushkar Camel Fair are from November 22 – 30.
India's Festival of Lights is an important holiday celebrated with plenty of colorful lights and noisy fireworks used to frighten away evil spirits. Homes are decorated with lights, and ghee lanterns are burned everywhere. Fairs and gatherings are scattered throughout during the week.
Diwali (also spelled as Deepavali) is a beautiful spectacle in some parts of India, while you may not even know it's going on in others. The holiday is about peace, reunions, religious rites, and special meals with family. A lot of interesting traditions take place during the Diwali holiday.
Each year during Diwali, Indian and Pakistani soldiers symbolically meet at the border to exchange sweets in a rare gesture of goodwill.
- Where: India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, and other places with large Hindu populations
- When: Usually the end of October or early November
The estimated start date for the 2020 Diwali festival in India is Saturday, November 14. Some regions in the south may begin a day earlier.
Loi Krathong and Yi Peng, both usually celebrated together, are quite possibly some of the most visually stunning festivals in all of Asia. Thousands of candle-fired lanterns fill the sky while candlelit boats float on the river beneath. The lanterns fly so high they appear to become new stars. Fireworks often add to the visual.
Although the festival is often collectively referred to as "Loi Krathong," krathongs are the little boats that are floated on water. The lantern celebration that mesmerizes tourists is Yi Peng.
For fire safety, lanterns may not be launched in Bangkok. Although you'll still find many cultural celebrations in the capital city, get to Northern Thailand for the most spectacular celebrations.
- Where: Throughout Thailand, with Chiang Mai as the epicenter. Bangkok celebrates but without the Yi Peng sky lanterns. Smaller celebrations are seen in Laos and Burma/Myanmar.
- When: Start dates get firmed up shortly before the festival, but usually during the full moon in November.
The start date for the 2020 Loi Krathong festival in Thailand is estimated to be November 1.