Festival Hopping: Southeast Asia's Festival Backpack Trail

Festival Hopping: Southeast Asia's Festival Backpack Trail

As the winter months approach, festival revellers reluctantly hang up their raving gear and go into music festival hibernation until the next summer season. But as this is happening, the music festival scene actually picks up in Asia. Whereas normally temperatures can easily reach beyond 45 degrees Celsius, from December to February temperatures drop to just above half, making it ideal conditions to host music festivals across the region.

If you are looking to beat the cold and have been looking for an excuse to explore Southeast Asia’s travel highlights and best music festivals, then join us on this unforgettable festival travel path, kicking off in early December 2019 and finishing in early February 2020.

Landing in The City Of Angels

Begin your journey in Bangkok, Thailand. One of the world’s biggest backpacking destinations, and for good reason. The city boasts a number of renowned cultural attractions and is sprawled with an incomparable number of nightlife and entertainment options. Two criteria of high priority on any backpackers list of course.

If you want the full traveller experience stay on the infamous Khao San Road. A hotspot because it is conveniently located in relation to the main tourist spots including the Grand Palace, Wat Arun and Wat Pho which you should absolutely not miss out on. It is also completely geared towards tourists looking to dabble in the habitual backpacker antics. Crammed with street food sellers, bars selling buckets filled to the brim with local whisky, tattoo shops, massage parlours and more. You can do just about everything on that Thailand travel bucket list of yours just within that area.

Live, love, wonder at Wonderfruit


12-16th December 2019 – Pattaya, Thailand

Your first festival destination on this trail is Wonderfruit, Thailand’s biggest music festival and one of the region’s most talked about events of the year. In 2018, the festival welcomed 13,000 attendees from all over the world, and this year is looking to be bigger and better than ever before. Situated at Siam Country Club, a mere thirty minutes from Pattaya, or two hours from Bangkok. The site can easily be reached by taxi or by minivan from one of Bangkok’s main bus terminals.

Wonderfruit is a celebration of art, food, fashion, lifestyle and music, all tied together with a strong belief and determination to promote sustainability, and in educating people on how to make a positive difference in their lives for the planet. Expect performances from globally and regionally acclaimed music acts, art installations, workshops, talks, activities and banquets hosted by some of the best chefs in the world. There is so much happening at this festival, there really is no other event like it. Just let yourself roam and be taken away into the wondrous world of Wonderfruit, you never know what you will encounter.

Swap music for ruins and temples in Cambodia

With ten days between Wonderfruit and the next festival adventure, you have more than enough time to visit some of Cambodia’s most famous sites. Daily buses leave from Pattaya and go directly to Siem Reap, the gateway to the famed ruins of Angkor and Cambodia's ancient civilisation. When you arrive, try to organise a sunrise tour with a local agent – it is definitely worth waking up at 4am for – where you will witness some spectacular views. And remember to negotiate the fee before agreeing to anything with your guide.

From there you can journey south towards Phnom Penh, the country’s capital. Stopping off in a few unique locations including Battambang to discover more colonial sites, or Krakor where you can spend a couple of days living in a floating village on a lake. The Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum and Wat Phnom are amongst some of the main attractions in Phnom Penh. But the capital has been marked by some of the recent historic tragedies, leaving behind some truly compelling and very real stories that you can explore at the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeng Ek Killing Fields. Though it is quite sobering, it is truly eye-opening and worth experiencing. Part of travelling is to get a better understanding of other parts of the world after all, and these sites really give you a clearer insight into the culture and what the people of Cambodia had to go through.

If you have a few days to spare, hop on a bus or local minivan to Sihanoukville for some classic fun in the sun or to Kampot to explore pepper plantations and salt fields, which sounds completely random but this little town has so much to offer, you will become completely entranced by its quaint and peaceful atmosphere.

Sun, beach and electric vibes at Epizode


27th December 2019 - 7th January 2020 – Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Next, travel onwards to Phu Quoc in the south of Vietnam, an idyllic island destination that boasts pristine beaches and also happens to be where Epizode takes place each year. The journey from Cambodia is totally doable, and your best bet is to figure out your options with a local travel agent as your options will vary depending on where you are departing from.

With three extremely successful first editions under their belt, Epizode has become one of the most sought-after electronic music festivals in the world. It runs from the end of December right through the first week of January, an epic eleven days of partying on one of the most incredible beaches in Southeast Asia. Some people actually make it from start to finish. Daytimes are usually quite relaxed, and are spent lazing around in the sun and frolicking in the sea, recovering and recharging to prepare for more spectacular underground and electronic music showcases by night. The perfect balance between a relaxing beach holiday and a wild festival experience. This event definitely ticks all the boxes for an unforgettable New Year’s Eve celebration, and definitely not a bad way to kickstart your 2020.

Feel revitalised by the sights, smells and sounds of mainland Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh is one of the fastest developing cities in the whole of Asia. Bustling is an understatement for how quickly this city moves, it is absolutely invigorating. Coming from Epizode you can either get a ferry across to the mainland and then a bus, or simply take the plane straight there. Thrive off exploring the city’s vibrant streets and replenish your body with incredible food. There is nothing like a few bowls of traditional Pho soup to get yourself feeling good as new.

Equally as interesting and encapsulating is the smaller town of Hanoi, up in the north of Vietnam. Both cities capture so much of the country’s history, both in terms of French colonial occupation and then more recently the Vietnam war. This lovely little town is also a culinary superpower and hosts a number of incredible coffee shops where you can sample the local coffee. Watch out though it's very strong, so is not for the fainthearted.

After exploring some of the historic points of interest it's time to have some fun. Vietnam is home to a number of adventurous thrills which are peppered around the country, between both of those cities. Head to Mui Ne where you can sandboard down enormous sand dunes or travel to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park to explore their renowned caving sites. Or if you prefer something a bit more down-tempo, Hoi-An is a nice stop along the way to the north. It's a gorgeous little town which used to be a port city, and is now famed for its lanterns and charming streets.

Free yourself in the hilltops at Jai Thep Festival


31st January - 2nd February 2020 – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Jai Thep Festival is set against the stunning backdrop of mountains and tree tops that lay just behind Chiang Mai. From Hanoi you can simply get on a plane to Chiang Mai, or for the real backpacker experience take the bus and do a quick stop in between in Vientiane, Laos to break up the long journey. Nestled in the heart of nature, the site is so peaceful, there is even a small stream that runs through it. Simply heavenly, it is one of the most comfortable and tranquil festival locations in Asia. Being outside and being in the sunshine puts everyone in such an incredible mood to share and spend moments together. The atmosphere is pretty surreal – you get welcomed into a fun-loving community, so you will immediately feel right at home.

The music is definitely a highlight and they cater to every music listener. Ranging from jungle to psytrance, soul, reggae, indie rock and more, the festival offers one of the most inclusive and diverse lineups across the region. A safe place to let your body and mind wander through workshops, activities, and talks. Being in nature really allows you to let go and try your hand at new things. The entire programme has a strong focus on consciousness and wellbeing. An undoubtedly unforgettable and life-changing experience. Not to be missed.

Explore the temples and hills of the North of Thailand

Chiang Mai is renowned for its temples, cute coffee shops and eclectic art scene. Definitely worth spending a few extra days there to explore the town. The night markets are pretty legendary, you can eat well for close to nothing and stock up on some gifts and souvenirs to take home.

If you have more time, head further north by car or bus to Chiang Rai to take a peek at Wat Rong Khun, which is more commonly known to travellers as the White Temple. The inside of the temple is intriguing. Normally walls would be adorned in red and gold prints, but here you will find interesting caricatures of modern political, historical and celebrity figures. Chiang Rai is also a great vantage point to get to the Golden Triangle, a location in the north where you can see the borders of Myanmar and Laos across from Thailand.

Start to wind down your adventures and begin to make your way back to Bangkok, to return home…but not without making one more stop in Pai. Ever wanted to try your hand at Muay Thai? There are a couple of reputable schools who teach this form of boxing in Pai. When you are not in the ring, you can also go tubing down the river or get lost climbing cliffs and trekking paths in Pai Canyon. End these monumental trails with an exceptional view from the top of the hill where the White Buddha sits, on a clear day you can see over Pai and way beyond into the countryside.

Unfortunately, all good adventures have to come to an end (until the next one). But you will surely be going back to reality with a few good memories and some crazy stories to tell your friends and family.

Need more detailed information on how to reach each of these festival destinations? Head over to The Nitty Gritty Guide to Festivals for in-depth guides on travelling to music festivals across Southeast Asia.

Words by Charlotte Houareau, a Festival Travel Blogger


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