Festivals offer a more a intimate glimpse and vivid experiences than other times of the year. Moreover, many national celebrations are timed with better weather, such as marking the end of the rainy season. Japan is prettiest during the Cherry Blossom season, Bhutan come alive with masked dancers in the fall, castles of ice rise in Harbin during the winter, and fire lanterns fill the night sky in Myanmar.
Experience a private, custom tour to these and other unique destinations, such as Mongolia's Nadaam festival or teh annual tshechu in Bhutan - each attended by only a handful of travelers.
JAPAN'S CHERRY BLOSSOM SEASON
Japan's Most Popular Festival
Spring ushers in enchanting colors, a thousand red and pink nuances filling the avenues and parks, a colorful phenomenon that blooms thoughout the country in busy cities to remote villages.
FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
Myanmar's Annual National Festival
Tazaungdaing Festival of Lights marks the end of the wet season with spectacular displays of fire lanterns, balloons, and kites.
Traditional Festival in Mongolia
Naadam Festival is the only one of its kind— a sophisticated and eloquent expression of nomadic culture of Mongolia.
Vibrant Festivals throughout the country
From Paro to Wangdue each Fall are large events to smaller, more intimate celebrations, highlighted by sacred masked-dances.
MYANMAR'S INLE LAKE
Fall's Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival
The Shan State's largest annual festival takes place over three weeks on picturesque Inle Lake.
HOLI IN INDIA
India's colorful Hindu spring festival
Experience an intimate view of Holi including time with a local host family.
Experience the Lunar New Year
For two weeks every January or February, the Vietnamese enjoy their biggest holiday of the year that is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's all rolled into one. Rich with tradition, rituals, and celebrations, Tet is is a fascinating time to visit.
HARBIN ICE FESTIVAL
China's magnificence in ice
The Harbin Ice and Sculpture Festival is an international event like no other, the world's biggest winter festival with massive buildings and sculptures lit in bright colors during the evenings
PUSHKAR CAMEL FAIR
Witness India's camel spectacle
Enjoy a camel safari as thousands of camels and traders descend on the small town of Pushkar for the annual camel fair each fall, fascinating and atypical experience, providing a vivid and immersive glimpse into traditional culture of the region.
Indulge in Japanese culture and visit the "must see" sites of Tokyo, Kyoto, Takayama & Kanazawa during the cherry blossom season. The Golden Triangle of Japan features national parks, culture, architecture, and "must see" sights of Tokyo, Takayama, Kanazawa & Kyoto. This itinerary also highlights flowering gardens and the best places to see cherry blossoms. The tour begins in Tokyo, following a route of mountainous scenes through coastal regions of Honshu island, and finishes in Osaka. Our private guides and drivers will help you navigate Tokyo's cultural landmarks, fashionable neighborhoods, and diverse shopping districts, and of course the best spots to celebrate the cherry blossom season.
Learn how to make your own sushi with a professional sushi chef and savor your delicious creations. Explore the city's most famous attractions like the Asakusa Sensoji Temple, Tsukiji Market, Imperial Palace, and Tokyo Tower. Enjoy Hakone's natural scenery over a ropewayride, and gaze at the famous Mt. Fuji. Stay at a ryokan (traditional inn), where you can unwind in the hot springs (onsen) and dine on gourmet kaiseki cuisine. Visit the dramatic Black Crow Castle (Matsumoto Castle) en route to Takayama, located amongst the Japanese Alps. Due to its remote location, the town is beautifully preserved and has developed its own culture that is unique from the rest of Japan. Travel to the charming village of Shirakawa-go and discover a gassho-zukuri architectural style is. In Kanazawa, stroll through the beautiful Kenrokuen Garden and see what six attributes make a perfect landscape. Spend two days in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan with centuries-old structures. Visit the city's most renowned gardens, temples, shrines, and specialty shops.
The gardens and temples on this itinerary have been selected for their reputation as the "best places to view cherry blossoms". Our travel group will also have the chance to experience a green tea ceremony, meet-and- greet with a maiko (apprentice geisha), and enjoy an exquisite kimono fashion show. Visit Arashiyama, located on the outskirts of Kyoto, famous for its bamboo forest and traditional Zen landscape garden at Tenryuji Temple. In Nara, be inspired by the intricate architecture of Japan's oldest wooden building and the towering Great Buddha statue. You'll understand why this city is considered the birthplace of Buddhism in Japan. From there, we will proceed to Osaka to experience the nightlife in Japan, where you will visit bustling entertainment districts illuminated with neon light signs. This tour lets you travel through time and experience the culture, traditions, and architecture that are uniquely Japanese during the most celebratory time of year.
WHEN: Every April and May
WHERE: Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Takayama and Kanazawa
If you cannot travel for dates for the Cherry Blossom season, please contact us about other festivals, including the annual summer festival, the Gion Matsuri, celebrated every July and is the most famous festival in Japan, dateing back over a thousand years.
Myanmar is said to be The Land of Festivals, for the country takes almost half the year off for holidays and celebrations. One of the most significant, and certainly most vivid, is Thadingyut, or Festival of Lights, held on the full moon day of the Thadingyut, the seventh month of the Myanmar calendar, is the end of the Buddhist lent.. The buildup to Thadingyut, celebrating the end of Buddhist Lent, falls around October every year. It's a pleasant time to visit, as the rainy season has now ended and cool weather prevails. Under clear skies, fall is the season of pagoda festivals, music concerts and weddings, with cooler winter weather just around the corner and is highlighted by the nationwide, three-day Thadingyut Festival of Lights. Pagodas and homes throughout the country are decorated with colorful electric lights, paper lanterns, candles and small ceramic saucers filled with oil and lit by the hundreds. Sacred sites such as Shwedagon Pagoda are busy with pilgrims lighting candles to pay homage to the Buddha and gain merit and the spectacle of thousands of small flames burning in the night is incredible to witness. On the streets, locals set off fireworks and release small hot-air balloons, which tranquilly ascend and drift slowly across the black sky.
Like many festivals in Asia, Thadingyut is also a time for street fairs with one of the largest is celebrated in downtown Yangon. For three days aromas of fried food and other traditional dishes waft through the area while street vendors ply blue jeans, wristwatches, sunglasses and the latest hip-hop gangsta-wear from China. There are street movies, dances, and stage shows, impossible-to-win ring-toss games, as well as sketchy Ferris wheels that are spun manually by acrobatic, death-defying carnies. Signboards are erected along the upper block of 50th Street and decorated with cartoons drawn by local artists, a tradition that dates back to 1932 when cartoonist U Ba Gyan set up an exhibition of his work on 13th Street in Lanmadaw township. After his death in 1953, young artists carried on the tradition in different locations around the city.
Thadingyut is also associated with paying homage not only to the Buddha and his teachings (dhamma), but also to the order of monks (sangha), parents, teachers and elder relatives. Visits are made to parents and elders to present gifts and to give thanks, and some people hand out food donations (satuditha) to friends, family and strangers alike. In a ceremony known as pawarana, monks ask their monastic brethren to reprimand them for any sins they may have committed.
Several areas around Myanmar have their own unique way of celebrating Thadingyut. At Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda in Mon State – popularly known as Golden Rock – pilgrims offer 9,000 lit candles and 9,000 flowers to the Buddha. In Shwe Kyin in Bago Region, located along the banks of the Sittaung River, the day after the full moon day is marked with a decorative boat competition and the launch of a Karaweik barge carrying images of the Buddha. After darkness falls, thousands of lotus-shaped oil lamps are lit and set afloat on the water.
This private, custom tour of Myanmar during the festival season enables you to explore the country's world-famous and lesser so sites, without the crowds. You'll have temples all to yourself and find a country in its most relaxed state. All of our Mynmar tours are fully tailored to your interests and specifications, with unique experiences dependent on when you travel. If you cannot make it during the dates of Thadingyut, consider other festivals such as the wondeful Phaung Daw Oo Festival (above), held on picturesque Inle Lake, or the spectacular Tazaungdaing Festival in Taunggyi, capital of Shan State not far from Inle Lake. Also known as the Festival of Lights or Fire Balloon Festival, this wild celebration features competition of large, colorful unmanned hot-air balloons and fireworks (below).
Read more about the Tuanggyi Fire Balloon Festival on iTravelChannel
DATES: Every October as the monsoons end. Thadingyut festival lasts for three days: the day before the full moon day, the full moon day (when Buddha descends from heaven) and the day after the full moon day.
WHERE: Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake
The UNESCO-World-Heritage-listed Naadam ("The three games of men") Festival is the only one of its kind; a sophisticated and eloquent expression of nomadic culture, honored celebration of a national independence, and spectacle of the arts and competitive sports tournaments. The core of the festival – the three traditional masculine sports competitions: wrestling, horseracing and archery – embrace many elements of arts, such as singing, dancing and performing. And nomadic Mongolians have alsways known how to throw a parties.
Naadam is the most widely watched festival among Mongols, and is believed to have existed for centuries in one fashion or another. It has its origin in the activities, such as military parades and sporting competitions such as archery, horse riding and wrestling, that followed the celebration of various occasions, including weddings or spiritual gatherings. It later served as a way to train soldiers for battle, and was also connected to Mongols' nomadic lifestyle. Mongolians practice their unwritten holiday rules that include a long song to start the holiday, then a Biyelgee dance. Traditional cuisine, or Khuushuur, is served around the Sports Stadium along with a special drink made of horse milk (airag). The three games of wrestling, horse racing, and archery are recorded in the 13th-century book The Secret History of the Mongols. During the Qing dynasty's rule, Naadam became a festival officially held by sums. Now it formally commemorates the 1921 Revolution, when Mongolia declared independence from China. Naadam also celebrates the achievements of the new state. It was celebrated as a Buddhist/shaman holiday until secularization in the 1930s under the Communist influence of the Soviet Union. The biggest festival (National Naadam) is held in the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, during the National Holiday from July 11 to 13, in the National Sports Stadium. It begins with an elaborate introduction ceremony featuring dancers, athletes, horse riders, and musicians. After the ceremony, the competitions begin. The competitions are mainly horseback riding. Naadam is also celebrated in different regions of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia in July and August. In the Tuva Republic, Naadam is on 15 August.
Naadam Festival is held in July, the most enjoyable month for travel in the country.
DATES: Every mid-July.
Nothing could be more striking than the pristine, haunting beauty of the landscape of Bhutan, or the atmosphere of peace and sacredness, which pervades the land from end to end. Bhutan is a place blessed with an almost magical power to transform the mind, as if being transported into a pure realm. —Sogyal Rinpoche
There is no better highlight during a visit to Bhutan than attending tshechu. The word “tshechu” literally means “an annual religious Bhutanese festival” and are held in each district on the 10th day of a month of the Bhutanese calendar. The dates and duration of the tshechu vary from one district to another, but always take place on or around the 10th day of a month—worth noting when planning your trip. Festivals are mostly held in the dzong (fortress) or local monastery in honor of Guru Rimpoche, one "who was born from a lotus flower" and brought the tantric Buddhism in Bhutan in the 8th century. By attending such festivals, it is believed that a person gains merits by seeking forgiveness for their sins in life. During the tshechu, mask and historical folk dances in colorful costumes are performed by monks and laymen including the Atsaras (Clowns), who amuse the audience with their antics. It is believed that it is very important to know the name of the dances and its significance. As one would expect, tshechu are also an important occasion for social gatherings; families, villagers, and peoples from throughout an area, attending dressed in their finest traditional clothes and jewelery.
Major festivals include the Thimphu , Paro, and Punakha tsechu, although we encourage and can arrange for you to attend less popular festivals which can be more intimate with fewer crowds (view a list of festivals).
WHEN: Most festivals occur from September through November
WHERE: Throughout Bhutan
NEED TO KNOW: Some finer hotels fill a year in-advance
Spring ushers in Japan's most enchanting colors, a thousand red and pink nuances filling the avenues and parks. Cherry Blossom season is the most popular time to visit Japan and the phenomenon stretches from bustling cities to remote villages. Visit from late March to early May to witness the transformation, when adorable landscapes emanate delicate beauty and alluring serenity. We've intimately followed the bloom for over two decades and this tour connects a huge array of sites, from world-famous spaces to parks tucked away in forgotten villages. Cherry blossom provides the focus on this handcrafted tour, something to sit and admire each afternoon. You'll also discover Japan's iconic and unknown destinations, each day of exploration taking you deeper into a country that always surprises.
The cherry blossom doesn't bloom in a single city or region of Japan. This is a country-wide sensation and this cherry blossom tour can be intimately customized to your wishes and preferences. We like to keep you away from the major crowds that can impact on the enchantment of the colors. Like all our luxury Japan tours, we'll handcraft an itinerary just for you.
India has 2,000,000 gods, and worships them all. In religion other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire. - Mark Twain
Holi, or the Hindu "festival of colors," marks the beginning of spring and is celebrated flamboyantly throughout the country. All about, groups of people dance and sing in groups shouting 'Holi Hai' but it is most well known from the extravagant use of colors, painted on faces and powders thrown about in the celebratory fever. For many, it is a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships. It is also celebrated as a thanksgiving for a good harvest . It also has a religious purpose and the night before Holi, bonfires are lit in a ceremony known as Holika Dahan (burning of Holika) or Little Holi. People gather near the fires, sing and dance. Markets are alive with shops selling colors and delicious sweets like the gujiyas, rasgulla, and malpua for the holiday.
WHEN: Every March (March 21, 2019, March 10, 2020, March 29, 2021, March 17, 2022)
WHERE: Delhi and Rajasthan
Our favorite time in Vietnam and a trip we've organized since 1995. Vietnam's Tét, or lunar new year, is the largest and longest holiday in Vietnam much like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's all rolled into one. Tét is a time for prayer, ritual, feasting, settling accounts, of spiritual renewal and good times. Celebrated during the period of transition from winter into spring, it also when new crops are planted in anticipation of an ever greater harvest. All over Vietnam traffic disappears as families stay home to prepare special gifts and foods. An energetic festival atmosphere fills the streets with vivid displays of colorful flowers and lenterns. People shop around markets to buy decorations for their homes, ingredients for cooking traditional Tet food, and new clothes for wearing when visiting friends at New Year.The bright sprigs of the yellow-blossomed Mai tree are displayed everywhere and kumquat trees bearing orange fruit are proudly carted home.
It is a wonderful time to travel in Vietnam, not only for the emptier roads and great weather, but also the joyous mood, welcoming and celebratory atmosphere. Witness the rush of modernization in Saigon and life in agrarian villages where little has changed in the last thousand years. Discover ancient wonder in Cham temple ruins, Buddhist pagodas and ancestor worship at the center of Vietnam's spiritual element. We'll encounter the legacy of French rule in the elegant colonial architecture and hotels, study the ancient Chinese influence on customs and food as well as the profound effect of the American period on Vietnamese culture, for better or worse. Ancient traditions, foreign influences and dynamic society make Vietnam a fascinating destination. Along the way we will observe the distinct personalities of Vietnam’s provinces, spending quality time in the fertile Central Highlands, pristine coastal regions and the pastoral countryside where vast stretches of rice paddies meet a jungle foliage that is a hundred shades of green. The trip provides authentic and immersive access to Vietnam’s greatest treasure — its people. Their warm greetings and smiles come naturally and their optimism and enduring spirit are inspiring.
The Vietnamese are happy to have visitors again, especially North Americans, who are now a novelty, yet historically familiar. We offer two routes that travel the length of Vietnam, from the stoic, socialistic capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, through the unique provinces on the way south to capitalist Saigon. The graceful, tree-lined boulevards of Hanoi recall the days when it was the French capital of Indochina, yet it is where a statue of Lenin makes its last stand.
WHEN: Every January or February
WHERE: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
One of the world's largest ice festivals dazzles visitors for over a month each winter featuring thousands of ice sculptures spectacularly-carved animals, plants, mazes, and an entire village of towering buildings. First organized in 1963, the festival was often interrupted over the years due to the Cultural Revolution but became an annual event in 1985, taking place in December, January and February. A competitive event, teams come from all over the world, including the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, South Africa, and France and features an exhibtion hall.
Each year has a different theme and in the past has featured the Beijing Olympics and famous Chinese and world-wide landmarks with sculptures of The Great Wall (which doubled as an ice slide), pyramids, sphinxes, terra cotta warriors, a Disney castle, towering pagodas, enormous Buddhas, and gardens, many brightly awash in colored-lights after sunset and on some evenings, fireworks light up the sky above the sculptures. Festival activities including a chilly swim in the Songua River, Yabuli alpine skiing, ice slides, ice-lanterns, ice golf, and ice archery. At night, the frozen city comes alive with bright neon lights, an ideal time can mingle with people from all over the world and witness the Ice Lantern Festival.
Russian is part of the local culture as Harbin was once the far eastern point of the Trans-Siberian Railroad (also called the China Eastern Railway) with many Russians who worked on the railway settling here after its complettion. Leanr about this fascinating aspect of Harbin's history visiting St. Sophia’s Cathedral, a former Russian Orthodox church, and the Russian-Sino market stocking goods from Russia.
WHEN: Every Winter
Every November in Pushkar brings the spectacle the Pushkar Camel Fair, a multi-day, massive camel fair and unique cultural fête. Held each November at the time of the Kartik Purnima full moon, the is one of India’s most remarkable travel experiences, a spectacle on an epic scale, attracting thousands of camels, horses and cattle and visited by nearly half a million people over a period of around two weeks. For travelers Pushkar is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the color, spectacle and carnival of one of the last great traditional melas, which brings livestock, farmers, traders and villagers from all over Rajasthan. Spirited performances by dancers, folk musicians, and magicians doing tricks, are everywhere. Unusual contests are held, including longest moustache and camel beauty contest, and others which travelers may participate in.
Of course, as the largest camel fair in the world, the central attraction are the camels of about 30,000 that will be present with competitions being a highlight of the fair.
WHEN: Every October & November