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 held in September, October, and November. Like other big holidays and festivals in Asia, pretty well all of these fall festivals attract a crowd — locals and tourists alike — who compete for flights, overland transportation, and hotel rooms.
Arrive a few days early to these celebrations for a great travel memory, otherwise steer clear completely until things calm down and 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 made the Mid-Autumn Festival a public holiday.
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.
Mooncakes could be called Asia's answer to Christmas fruitcakes. They make easy 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. Some districts, Beijing included, want to tax people who receive mooncakes — some are so luxurious they are considered taxable income!
- Where: The epicenter is China, but the festival is observed throughout Asia — especially places with large ethnic Chinese populations.
- When: Dates change; usually in September
The start date for the 2019 Mid-Autumn Festival is Friday, September 13.
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: Annually on September 16
This festival isn’t just about diet choices — some devotees pierce their faces with swords and skewers! Some piercings are extreme, to say the least.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival (officially the Nine Emperor Gods Festival) is a nine-day Taoist celebration that is vividly observed on the island of Phuket, Thailand.
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 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: Dates change; usually the end of September or beginning of October
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2019 begins on Sunday, September 29.
National Day in China
China’s most patriotic holiday is National Day on October 1. Concerts, patriotic gatherings, and evening fireworks mark the 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 Tienanmen 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: Annually on 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 Independence Day).
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: Annually on 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 well over 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: Dates change; usually in late fall
The dates for the 2019 Pushkar Camel Fair are roughly from November 4 – 12.
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 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: Dates change; usually end of October or early November
The estimated start date for the 2019 Diwali festival in India is Sunday, October 27. Some regions in the south may begin a day earlier.
Loi Krathong and Yi Peng, both usually celebrated together, are quite possibly 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 usually without the Yi Peng sky lanterns. Smaller celebrations are seen in Laos and Burma/Myanmar.
- When: Dates change; usually in November
The start date for the 2019 Loi Krathong festival in Thailand is estimated to be November 13.