Vesak Day / Visakha Bucha Day is a Buddhist holiday and one of the most important as it commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. It’s celebrated at different dates during the month in Hong Kong (30 April), Myanmar (6 May), Thailand (6 May), Cambodia (6 May), Laos (7 May), Vietnam (7 May), Singapore (7 May), Malaysia (7 May), and Indonesia (7 May).
The Sand Pagoda Festival (1 – 6 May) consists of three different districts in Mandalay that hold a festival to build stupas made of sand. The stupas are built over the course of a single night and consist of five parts which are positioned above one another, supported by bamboo mats and posts.
Cheung Chau Bun Festival (9 – 13 May) in Hong Kong is celebrated every year on the fifth to ninth days of the fourth lunar month. During this time people make papier-mache effigies of deities, wear costumes, bake buns and build a large bamboo tower for the ‘bun snatching’ competition.
In Cambodia, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony (10 May) consists of a colourful parade outside the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. Oxen racing and parades take place in villages around the country with locals sporting vibrant traditional dress.
Aoi Matsuri (15 May) is one of Kyoto's three most famous festivals. The festival's main attraction is a large parade in Kyoto in which over 500 people dressed in the aristocratic style of the Heian Period (794-1185) walk from the Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrines.
Sanja Matsuri (15 – 17 May) in Tokyo is a spectacular street parade full of elaborate floats that carry performers on a journey from Yanagi-dori to Asakusa Shrine. Over the course of three days, the festival attracts 1.5 to 2 million locals and tourists every year.
The Taki Noh or 'Bonfire Noh Performance' (31 May – 1 June) is one of the most ancient musical forms in Japan with performances taking place during the night at the Heian Jingu Shrinein Kyoto. Burning torches illuminate the stage with actors wearing lacquer coated wooden masks and dressed in period costumes.
Idul Fitri in Indonesia (24 – 25 May) and Malaysia (24 – 26 May) is one of the most important holidays for Indonesian and Malaysian Muslims. It is usually celebrated for a full week with locals travelling around the country to their hometowns. Roads can become heavily congested and many restaurants and sights will close. If possible, we recommend avoiding the Idul Firti period if travelling to the islands of Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi and Lombok.
The Harvest Festival, also known as 'Pesta Kaamatan' (30 – 31 May), is celebrated annually in Sabah, Malaysia. Once a critical part of village life, it is now a state-wide celebration.
Boun Bang Fai or 'Rocket Festival' in Laos and Thailand has its origins in pre-Buddhist, rain-invoking ceremonies. Parades, singing and dancing all lead to an explosive climax as huge, ornate, homemade bamboo rockets are blessed and fired into the skies to invite the rains.
Iron Man 70.3 Vietnam (10 May) is a legendary event taking place in Da Nang. Participants will be treated to a fast and scenic course that begins with a 1.9km ocean swim followed by a 90km bike course and ending with a 21km run.
The Grand Sumo Tournament takes place in Tokyo (10 – 24 May).
Singapore International Festival of Arts (15 – 31 May) is spread over an entire month, celebrating the arts with a smorgasbord of theatre, dance and music performances in the Lion City.
Huangyaguan Great Wall Marathon (16 May) includes a quarter race actually run on the wall and incorporates 3,700 steps – not a race for the faint-hearted.