Immersing yourself in a festival celebration can often be one of the most unforgettable experiences to be had in a foreign country. Speaking of unforgettable, some celebrations are so weird and wonderful that you won’t believe it ‘till you see it with your own eyes.

Bring an open mind (and perhaps a strong stomach) – here are six of the most unusual festivals celebrated in Asia.

(*Warning: may contain graphic content, please continue at your own discretion.)

 

Shock level: Mild

Celebrate the belly button at the Hokkai Heso Matsuri Festival, Japan

Every July, the quiet town of Furano comes alive with a colourful parade of painted bellies. This is Hokkai Heso Matsuri, a festival that looks like it came straight out of a wacky Japanese cartoon.

Hokkai Heso Matsuri began in 1969 as an effort to unify the people by gathering them in Furano. Affectionately known as the “belly button” of Hokkaido, Furano’s central location in Hokkaido inspired the idea of painting one’s heso (belly button) to create a face. Today, thousands of performers transform their belly buttons into faces of superheroes, traditional kabuki (a form of traditional Japanese theatre) and other characters to participate in a massive dance-off. The atmosphere and performances are so infectious, you’ll be tempted to paint your belly and join in too!

Website: https://ohmatsuri.com/en/articles/hokkai-heso-matsuri

Location: Furano City, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan

 

Watch devotees scale massive bun towers at the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, Hong Kong

If you are travelling to Hong Kong in May, you have to catch this incredible sight – 12 contestants scrambling up a massive, 18m-tall bun-covered tower in an exhilarating contest to collect as many buns as possible.

The contest may last all of three minutes, but witnessing this daredevil feat amidst the chaos and excitement will definitely be something to remember for a lifetime.

Fret not, the whopping 9000 buns covering the tower are not real buns but plastic replicas to minimise food wastage.

 

‘Lucky’ buns from Cheung Chau

You can also buy real steamed buns stamped with the Chinese characters ‘平安’ to eat.

If watching the contest makes you hungry, you can buy real steamed buns and choose from a selection of sesame, lotus seed or red bean paste fillings from the shops to eat. These ‘lucky’ buns are stamped with the Chinese characters ‘平安’ (pronounced píng ān and meaning peace) because the festival is a symbol of peace and health. It is also a continuation of customs for the locals of Cheung Chau.

Website:  http://www.cheung-chau.com/bun-festival.html

Location: Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong

 

Shock level: Medium

Participate in a nation-wide water fight at Songkran Festival, Thailand

Tourists in Songkran festival

Tourists from all over the world flock to Thailand to take part in the Songkran festival every year.

Get ready for a massive water fight beyond your wildest imagination. Songkran is Thailand’s biggest and most famous annual celebration marking the start of the traditional Thai New Year in April. Since getting doused in water is considered an auspicious way to start the year, locals will hold nothing back to ensure good luck all around – even if that means bringing out the big guns like turbo-powered water guns, giant buckets and garden hoses to the streets.

In Bangkok, the biggest water fights can be found along the 5-km stretch of Silom Road. The crowd of soaked dancing folks and loud rock music will be sure to feel like a beach rave party. Keep off the streets if you don’t want to be soaked – staying dry will be quite the challenge!

Website: http://songkranday.com/

Location: All major cities throughout Thailand

 

Jump into the biggest mud party of the year at the Boryeong Mud Festival, South Korea

Activities at Boryeong Mud Festival

The first Mud Festival took place in 1998. By 2007, the festival had attracted more than 2 million visitors to Boryeong.

If a water fight seems too mainstream, head to Boryeong, South Korea, for the biggest summer event of the year – a giant mud party by the beach. Every July, the powder-fine sand of Daecheon Beach transforms into a massive mud pit with thrilling activities like a mud pool slide, a giant mud bath, a mud-filled obstacle course and even mud massages!

 

Splashing mud at Boryeong Mud Festival

Boryeong mud is well-known for its nutrient-rich and age-defying qualities, so cover yourself in it to make the most of its benefits!

Initially conceived to promote cosmetics made from Boryeong mud, the Mud Festival has since evolved into an invigoratingsummer party where locals and international visitors from all over the world meet for a splashing good time!

Website:  http://www.mudfestival.or.kr/

Location: Daecheon Beach, Boryeong, South Korea

 

Shock level: High

Witness a fire-walking ceremony at Thimithi Festival, Singapore

Walking on fire is not a myth. About 4,000 Hindu devotees walk barefoot over a pit of burning coals at the Sri Marimman Temple in Singapore every year, typically during October or November, one week before Deepavali. Celebrated worldwide by South Indian communities, Thimithi is a ceremony held to honour the Hindu goddess Draupadi.

An increasing number of devotees perform this ritual every year in exchange for a blessing granted by the Hindu goddess Draupadi. Serious injuries are rare; devotees believe that their faith protects them from getting hurt. An extraordinary ceremony to watch, this cultural experience is sure to leave a lasting impact.

Website: https://heb.org.sg/festivals/fire-walking.aspx

Location: Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore

 

Only if you have a strong stomach: Vegetarian Festival in Phuket, Thailand

Spectators at Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Don’t be fooled by its mild name; the Vegetarian Festival is one of the most astonishing festivals in Asia and perhaps the world.

If you’ve always associated Phuket with palm trees and tropical beaches, you might be surprised to know that it is also home to one of the most shocking festivals in Asia. At the annual October Phuket Vegetarian Festival, devotees puncture their cheeks with skewers, knives, guns and even larger objects such as umbrellas and musical instruments, and embark on a religious street procession.

The devotees believe that their purity and faith in the gods will protect them from blood loss and scarring. During the entire period of the festival, believers wear only white and abstain from alcohol, meat and intercourse.

Website: http://www.phuket.com/festival/vegetarian.htm

Location: Phuket, Thailand

 

Moving forward from the weird and the wonderful, all festivals are opportunities to learn about a culture’s values and roots. Most locals will be more than happy to share their customs and beliefs, so keep your mind open and bring a ready smile – you may be surprised by how much there is to learn from the most unusual festivals in Asia.