The many spring festivals in Asia are diverse and exciting, but they’ll definitely affect your travel plans in the region.
Smart travelers know to either arrive early and enjoy the fun or steer clear until things calm down. Don't pay inflated prices for flights and hotels without getting to enjoy the fun!
Songkran in Thailand and Golden Week in Japan put a lot of strain on the travel infrastructure in both places. Many other smaller spring festivals in Asia include planting ceremonies and a variety of celebrations observing Buddha’s Birthday.
India’s Festival of Colors is the messiest festival in India and one of the wildest spring festivals in Asia.
Holi is rowdy, messy, and completely unforgettable if you’re brave enough to arm yourself with powdered dye and join the fray. Rowdy crowds in the streets dust each other with colorful powders in a good-natured blessing. In old times, the colored powders were made from neem and other Ayurvedic medicines that helped prevent infections.
Holi is the celebration of good’s victory over evil. A frenzied throng dances in the chaotic streets as colors are thrown.
Dates for Holi vary from year to year because they are based on the Hindu calendar. The festival usually falls between the end of February and middle of March.
- Where: India, Malaysia, Nepal, and anyplace with a sizable Hindu population
- When: February or March; see the dates for Holi
Known as Nyepi, the annual Balinese Day of Silence literally shuts Indonesia’s busiest island down — airport included!
For one day, the drone of motorbikes is silenced, bars stop the thumping music, and Bali’s tourism machine grinds to a halt.
The Day of Silence is strictly enforced; Western travelers aren’t exempt. Tourists are expected to stay on their hotel grounds during Nyepi, dim the lights, and speak in hushed voices. You may need a break after the noise, fireworks, and rambunctious party the night before Nyepi anyway!
The day is considered New Year according to the Balinese saka lunar calendar.
- Where: Bali, Indonesia
- When: In March or April; dates are based on a lunar calendar and change each year
Songkran began as a tradition of sprinkling water on each other as a blessing. Buddha statues are brought out for the new year in a procession to then be washed by worshipers.
Modern Songkran has evolved into dumping buckets of ice water and blasting strangers with big water cannons. You are guaranteed to get wet during Songkran; holding a phone or laptop is no excuse.
Love it or hate it, there’s only one way to survive Songkran: embrace the fun and arm yourself with a bucket — or stay far, far away!
Backpackers traveling along Southeast Asia’s Banana Pancake Trail absolutely love the party but so do locals! Songkran is certainly not just a tourist party. It's a good time to playfully interact with local Thais.
Thailand experiences the hottest temperatures in April (often over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), so being sprayed with water isn’t as bad as it sounds.
- Where: All over Thailand, but Chiang Mai is the epicenter. Smaller celebrations can be enjoyed in Luang Prabang (Laos) and Myanmar
- When: Official dates are April 13 to April 15, but unofficial celebrations often start earlier
Reunification Day in Vietnam
The fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese troops on April 30, 1975, is celebrated with small festivals throughout Vietnam. The day is observed as "Reunification Day" because North and South Vietnam were connected and the Vietnam War ended.
Stages are erected in streets and public parks for musical performances. Military parades march in the streets to flag waving.
Reunification Day isn't very disruptive in other parts of Vietnam, but traffic will be blocked in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).
- Where: Saigon is the epicenter, but small festivals are held throughout Vietnam
- When: April 30
Scores of Japanese take time off of work to travel, causing big delays in transportation. The lines in transportation hubs become staggering and everyone is trying to go somewhere else. Public parks, malls, and popular attractions become even busier than usual with large crowds.
Although Golden Week implies that the holidays stretch for around seven days, the impact is actually closer to 10 days or more.
Tourists visiting Japan find Golden Week to be restrictive. By simply waiting a week or two after the holiday to visit Japan, you'll enjoy a lot more personal space and a lot less traffic!
- Where: All over Japan
- When: Golden Week begins with Showa Day on April 29 and wraps up with Children’s Day on May 5
Hanami, the appreciation of flowering cherry trees, is a big deal in Japan. Spring is already a great time to visit Japan, but the blooming flowers are an excellent bonus — assuming you move on before Golden Week begins.
The beautiful blossoms appear sometime between March and May, depending on the latitude and warming climate. Hordes of Japanese flock to parks for picnics, drinking sessions, and family time. Some offices organize picnics and parties for workers in the parks.
The cherry blossoms don't last long and are revered as a symbol of fleeting beauty.
The Cherry Blossom Festival coincides with Golden Week in some places, adding to the crowds.
- Where: All over Japan; the Japan Meteorological Agency actually tracks moving blooms
- When: Depending on temperatures and latitude, but between mid March and early May
Known as Vesak Day, the observed birthday of Gautama Buddha is celebrated in different ways on different dates throughout Asia. Many countries observe the day in spring, usually May.
Vesak Day is observed with religious rites and sincere attempts to be more gentle, eat vegetarian food, and keep Buddhist teachings in mind.
Travelers are rarely affected by observations of Buddha’s Birthday other than being inconvenienced by the halting of alcohol sales in places such as Thailand.
- Where: Throughout Asia
- When: Dates change from year to year and country to country, but almost always in May
Mainly observed in Sarawak, Gawai Dayak is a celebration of the indigenous people (the Dayak) who call Borneo home.
"Dayak" is a collective term used to refer to more than 205 ethnic groups, many of which once practiced headhunting.
Although Gawai Dayak is technically June 1, celebrations begin the night before.
- Where: Sarawak, Borneo; tourists can enjoy events in Kuching
- When: June 1, however, parades and celebrations begin up to a week before