Asia’s numerous festivals can provide a fascinating insight into the region’s many cultures and traditions.
Traditional festivals in Asia are the perfect cultural experience for clients and provide a great reason to visit, with a number of tour operators offering trips that incorporate popular and lesser-known celebrations.
“Many Asian festivals have barely changed in hundreds of years and are a great opportunity to enjoy the local culture and meet the local people while they are in a festive mood,” says Ruth Hubbard, InsideJapan’s product manager.
She recommends booking early for clients, as these celebrations are popular with tourists and locals.
Here we round up Asia tours that visit some of the continent’s cultural festivals.
The Cheung Chau Bun Festival takes place in Hong Kong on the fifth to the ninth day of the fourth lunar month, which falls on the 27 April to 1 May in 2020.
It includes a series of events over a week such as Taoist ceremonies and music, a parade, lion dances, drum beating and a bun scrambling competition.
The festival is a good add-on to a city break, says Dawn Page, director of UK and Northern Europe at the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
“Cheung Chau Island is just a short 30-minute boat ride from Central [the business district], on Hong Kong Island, so visitors can combine the festival with discovering all that Hong Kong has to offer. For first-time visitors, I would recommend the Peak Tram for amazing views of the city, a ride on the historic Star Ferry and a trip to Lantau Island to see the Tian Tan Buddha.”
Songkran, also known as The Water Festival, is Thailand’s New Year’s Day, which takes place each April.
Locals take to the streets to splash or pour water on each other as part of a cleansing ritual to wash away the old year and welcome in the new one.
Nathalie Jones, assistant product manager for Asia at Gold Medal, says: “Phuket is buzzing with activity during Songkran. Recommend heading to the Patong Beach area in particular. Those looking for live music and traditional performances should head to Saphan Hin Park, where clients can enjoy the main focus of the festivities in Phuket Town.”
The Tokushima Awadori is a huge traditional dance festival that takes place in Tokushima on Shikoku Island, with tens of thousands of people dancing through the streets.
Held from 12-15 August in 2020, participants don traditional dress, with taiko drums and other instruments playing along.
Hubbard recommends booking at least three months in advance, as hotels and ryokans fill up quickly.
“However, in Japan the public transport system is second to none, so if Tokushima is booked up, it is possible to stay in surrounding towns and cities,” he adds.
One of Singapore’s most celebrated events is Chinese New Year. In preparation, many Singaporeans spring clean their homes and decorate them with touches of crimson.
If clients are travelling to Singapore this month, encourage them to get involved with the celebrations taking place from 25 January, with everything from parades to firework displays.
“Clients can experience a firework display at The Float @ Marina Bay daily between 23 January and 1 February, but they should be sure to check out the display times as they differ day to day.
Or they can experience live performances and countdown celebrations in the heart of Chinatown on 24 January,” says Jones.
Japan showcases its vibrant pink phlox moss at the Shibazakura Festival, held between April and May against the backdrop of Mount Fuji.
During the festival, Wendy Wu adapts its popular Japan Uncovered tour, replacing the Art Museum in Fuji visit with the festival so that no additional arrangements are required from clients.
John Warr, global sales director, advises booking early: “For 2019, our Japan Uncovered tour saw around 420 passengers. Already for 2020, Wendy Wu is seeing almost double this, with 730 passengers.
"Festival dates sell fast, so get ahead with at least six months advance when booking. We do have 2021 dates ready as 2020 is close to selling out.”
BOOK IT: Premier Holidays offers a five-night stay at Dorsett Wanchai Hong Kong in a premier room from £1,099pp including flights, private transfers and a city tour. Travelling 26 April 2020.
BOOK IT: Gold Medal offers eight nights at The Old Phuket on a B&B basis, priced from £769pp including flights. Valid for travel on 12 April 2020.
BOOK IT: InsideJapan’s 14-night Secrets of Shikoku self-guided trip costs from £2,470pp including 14 nights’ B&B accommodation, transport, car rental and some private guiding.
The trip can be tailored to coincide with the festival. Excludes flights.
BOOK IT: Five-nights at the Park Hotel Clarke Quay on a room-only basis is priced from £899pp. Includes flights and transfers.
Valid for travel on 23 January 2020. Packages for 2021 will also be available later this year.
BOOK IT: Wendy Wu’s 17-day Japan Uncovered tour is priced from £6,340pp including flights, domestic transport, accommodation, all meals and guides.
Departure dates between mid-April to May are best for the festival.