Trying to plan where to be when? Check out these festivals in South East Asia in October!
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival – Thailand
Despite the rather misleading title of this festival, for spectators this world renowned event is a feast for the eyes rather than the stomach! The Phuket Vegetarian Festival occurs over 10 days with a series of celebrations through the streets of Phuket’s Old Town in South Thailand. It’s the sixth day that has long been a favourite of photographers the world over. On this day, devotees partake in incredible feats of body piercing, as well as acts such as walking barefoot on hot coals or climbing ladders made of blades. During such self-torture, it is said that gods can enter the body and evil spirits are dispelled from town.
The festival dates back to 1825 when a Chinese Opera came to town. When the troupe became ill, they turned to a vegetarian diet used in conjunction with ancient rituals to cure themselves. Locals were astounded as each one was miraculously healed and thus became converts to ritual vegetarianism. Since that day, the Thai-Chinese people of Phuket have celebrated the festival annually with the belief in its power to invite good fortune. Participants must not eat meat for a number of days in order to purify the mind and cleanse the soul. This festival should be high on the list of priorities for action hungry travellers this month!
Bang Fai Phaya Nak (Naga Fireball) – Thailand
Astounding miracle or elaborate hoax? This unusual spectacle that occurs in Nong Khai along the Mekong in northern Thailand on the border with Laos has baffled even the most sceptical onlookers. On the night of the full moon, at the end of Buddhist lent, hundreds of spectators congregate on the banks, eyes glued, as burning red fireballs ascend from the surface of the water into the night sky.
Locals believe this phenomenon occurs because of Naga, the great serpent of the underworld who dwells in the murky depths. Once a year, Naga sends a powerful sign to all villagers to remind them to respect the river and the life source it stands for. Researchers have tried to solve the mystery, but no one has been able to explain how or why this phenomenon takes place on the same night each year. Still dubious? Well there’s only one way to make your mind up!
Chonburi Buffalo Racing – Thailand
Mooching about in the muddy field with your mates chewing on clumps of grass? Pah. The buffalos of Chonburi have more serious things to do. Thanks to the efforts of some determined farmers Chonburi’s buffalos have been transformed from sluggish workhorses to lean, mean racing machines. Each year at the beginning of October, the Chonburi Buffalo Races are a series of highly competitive sprints taking place in front of the towns Municipal Office. Crowds of people gather to cheer their favourites to victory in an event that has been known to feature on the BBC and CNN.
Deepavali – Malaysia
Deepavali, often known as the ‘Festival of Lights,’ is one of the most important events in the Hindu calendar. Celebrated in Hindu communities throughout Malaysia, the festival signifies the triumph of good over evil and light over dark. Candles and lanterns are lit to guide souls of the deceased back to their loved ones during this time.
Many ancient stories are told to explain the origin of the festival, all of which symbolise the removal of evil with the replacement of benevolence. In Malaysia there’s a one day public holiday and in the run up to the big day, homes and temples are given a spring clean to symbolise renewal. They are then colourfully decorated and brightly lit to welcome the coming of, Devi Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Many Hindus pray, fast or observe strict diets during the weeks before the festival.
Thimithi (Fire walking ceremonies) – Malaysia & Singapore
Thimithi is an interesting Hindu ritual of fire walking which has its origins in South India. Its roots lie in the old Indian epic, the Mahabharata as the ceremony is said to commemorate an event where the main character, Draupadi walks over a bed of coals to prove her purity and emerges as a fresh flower. You will find Thimithi ceremonies occurring at local temples in Hindu communities of Singapore and Malaysia. Devotees walk over scorching hot coals as proof of faith to Draupadi and to show gratitude for the fulfilment of personal prayers. It is believed that a strong devotion will overcome the danger of getting burnt. You can witness the festival in parts of Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.
Awk Pansa, End of Buddhist Lent – Thailand, Laos, Myanmar
Awk Pansa literally means “leaving the period of rain” and is celebrated all over Thailand, Laos and Myanmar on the night of the full moon in October, marking the end of the Buddhist Lent. Rooted in agricultural tradition ‘Awk Pansa’ indicates the start of a new season and controls the planting of crops. In many parts of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, Awk Pansa is celebrated with a series of boat processions.
In Isaan province huge boats are filled with offerings of sticky rice parcels, flowers, candles and lamps and are launched on the river by local villagers. In Laos, in riverside towns such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet, boat races are held in a festival known as ‘Bun Nam’ or ‘Water Festival.’ Similarly in Myanmar, boat races take place in rivers and lakes all over, best observed at the beautiful Inle Lake.
P’chum Ben – Cambodia
P’chum Ben takes place on the fifteenth day of the tenth month in the Cambodian calendar. It is the time of the year when Khmer people believe that spirits of dead ancestors rise and walk the earth. Offerings are made at temples as early as 4 o clock in the morning as people go to give the spirits food to eat in an attempt to ease their suffering. Most commonly, sticky rice is thrown onto the ground for the spirits as it is said to be the easiest food for them to consume.