In case you missed my recent stroke of luck – which I seriously doubt seeing as though I’ve not stopped talking about it – my 23-Month New Zealand WHS Visa has been approved! The Land of the Long White Cloud is now a massive part of my planned travel route for 2016-2017.
This is of course pretty awesome news and I can’t wait to get there and explore. The only thing is, I’m now going to have to fit in around 13 other countries in the space of just 6 months.
What’s The Rush
“What!? Why only 6 months?”, I hear you cry.
Well, New Zealand was always a part of the bigger picture. It was going to be the last place I would visit following my extended trip around Southeast Asia. It was also going to be somewhere that I would call “home” for a couple of years.
It still is. It just looks like it’s going to be “home” a little sooner than I’d first realised.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m so pumped about it all! But, I still want to experience the best that Southeast Asia has to offer on the way there. I’ve got just under a year to get to NZ and activate my visa so, in the meantime, I need to get cracking on my planned travel route for 2016-2017.
And, in all honesty, I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to really get away and see the world.
I’m aiming for touchdown Delhi, India, in the first week of August 2016 and will be making my way through this spiritual, mystical part of the world until February 2017. I’ll then be taking in the sights and sounds of Sri Lanka, Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea before NZ.
Now, I know as well as most that plans can change. And they also have a tendency to do so without much notice. This route is my ideal right now but it’s still a flexible one. After all, I may want to spend more time in some places and less in others. Not only that but I never know who I’m going to meet along the way and where I might end up with my new fellow travel buddies.
I’m fully prepared to swap things around.
It’s All Becoming Very Real
What I do know is that I’m so excited to finally be looking into it all in more depth. Having the NZ visa deadline has made it all very real and given me a date to work towards.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt recently, it’s to just go for it! As soon as you get that first date locked down – whether it’s your initial departure date or a visa deadline – everything starts to fall into place.
As cheesy as it sounds, dreams really do become a reality once you take that first step.
Yeah, I want to see the world and I want to see it now. Who doesn’t, right?
If I stick to the above plan then it only gives me around two weeks in each country. Just two weeks! Nowhere near enough time to truly experience and appreciate these cultures.
Maybe it’s best that I revisit my plan and prioritise the countries that are top of my list. By doing that, I can free up some valuable time and really enjoy my travels around Southeast Asia.
I’m going to have to be brutal with it though. I’m going to cut my route down from 14 countries to 7 – including New Zealand – so that I can spend one month exploring each one, dependent on their respective visas of course.
With that in mind, my planned travel route for 2016-2017 will look a little more like this.
Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia and New Zealand.
Not a bad deal after all.
Check out my route maps and let me know what you think. It would be great to hear of any particular places that you might have been to, that I simply cannot miss. Give me a shout with any location tips in the comments section below or feel free to message me on Facebook.
My 23-month New Zealand WHS Visa has been granted! 😀
I’ve now got six months of hard saving to do, followed by seven months travelling around southeast Asia, before heading to New Zealand in February 2017.**
Guy – one of my best friends in this world – is now a New Zealand resident. He’s been there for a while but is currently back in the UK for a couple of weeks visiting family and friends.
We always keep in touch on Facebook and Skype but it’s so cool to see him in the flesh for a man-hug and a beer and to catch up properly. He’s always got something new and exciting to tell me. He’s living the dream.
And who’d blame him? New Zealand is home to, arguably, the most picturesque landscape on the planet.
With my 30th birthday breathing down my neck – I know, I look so vibrant and youthful – I’ve decided that I’d best pull my finger out and get my New Zealand WHS Visa… before it’s too late!
You’d think it would be pretty straightforward. Well, it is, if you’re under 30 and only applying for the 12-month version.
Here’s how I got my 23-month New Zealand WHS Visa and why pushing 30 makes it that little bit more difficult.
What Is A New Zealand WHS Visa?
The Working Holiday Scheme allows foreigners to work in New Zealand for a period of 12 or 23-months.
It’s a specific type of visa for temporary visitors who wish to experience the working culture and supplement their travels.
The last time I needed a WHS Visa was back in 2011 when I took a trip to Australia. I was a mere slip of a man back then at just 25. I had no reason to believe that my age would be an issue and it wasn’t.
Then, that’s your lot! The New Zealand WHS Visa is available to all those aged 31 and under. Skilled workers can extend their time in the country but that’s a completely different story.
The idea here is to make sure you apply when you’re 30 – at the very latest – to give yourself the maximum amount of time available to get to New Zealand, activate your visa and enjoy your 12-months.
So, that’s 12-months sorted. But, what about 23-months?
23-month New Zealand WHS Visa
With a 23-month visa comes a few more requirements – good health being one of them – and at a slightly higher cost. Each applicant who intends to stay in New Zealand for more than 12 months needs to prove that they are fit and healthy.
It came as a bit of a surprise though to find that I would need to arrange for a full general medical exam – including a chest x-ray and blood tests – at my own expense. Typically, there are a select few doctors on their list that perform these visa medical examinations and they don’t come cheap.
The visa application itself was £98.
The visa medical with one of their approved panel physicians is, wait for it… £325!
I know what you’re thinking… “You crazy son of a mum!”.
£423 spent before I’ve even been approved to enter the country. But, I respect and understand the need for the medical entirely. In the words of Immigration New Zealand:
“To be able to enter New Zealand as a student, worker, or visitor we need to be assured that you and any family members with you have an acceptable standard of health. We impose this requirement to protect public health in New Zealand and to ensure that people entering New Zealand do not impose excessive costs and demands on our health and special education services. We also want to make sure that people who enter New Zealand are able to undertake the work or study for which they have been granted entry.”
Which Bridge Did I Have To Cross?
Having decided to apply directly to Immigration New Zealand, I filled out an initial online application. This is pretty much just a formality to register your details and give them an indication as to what it is you’re looking for.
I immediately received an automated email from “onlineservices@…” with a document attached outlining the following requirements. “Too good to be true”, I thought. “It HAS to be bad news.” But, why? I’d hardly been given a chance to show them how much of an upstanding – albeit, temporary – New Zealand citizen I would be.
Just to add to the suspense, the attachment wouldn’t open on my iPhone. They had mentioned this in the email as if to build upon my anticipation.
No worries, though. My initial application had been noted – so it was in fact, good news. However, it was only then that I found out what the damage was. I now had just 15 consecutive days to get the money together, arrange the medical, and send them my completed documents. Yeah, the ones that had to be signed by their approved panel physicians.
I had to take it on the chin. I’m pushing 30. If I didn’t just go for it and get on the working holiday scheme then I may never have the chance to do so ever again.
And so, I searched for my local panel doctors and booked an appointment for the following Thursday.
About two hours prior, I had printed out all of the forms I thought I would need to take to the appointment. It turns out that the UK is part of eMedical so everything is done digitally on the day anyway.
The Funny Thing Is
I’m convinced that I’ve actually SAVED myself money. By going directly via Immigration New Zealand and booking the medical myself, I am well on the way to getting my 23-month New Zealand WHS Visa.
The New Zealand Visa Bureau quoted me £189 for just 12 months. I’d expect the extra 11 months to also include a medical if I were to have applied through them and – more than likely – at a greater cost than Immigration New Zealand. Having said that though, their working holiday visa package includes access to the Platinum Programme, which features over NZ$700 worth of exclusive discounts.
I am finally back on dry land after my very first liveaboard trip to Egypt; 7 days sailing and diving the Red Sea aboard Blue O Two‘s “Blue Melody” with my dive club, London Scuba.
My head is still swaying as the pitching motion slowly wears off. It’s a strange, dizzying sensation similar to that of the first pint of Guinness or two down the pub. Certainly more of an unsettling souvenir to bring back with me than, say, a fridge magnet or a key ring. Being the responsible PADI diver that I am, there’s not a lot else that I could have brought back from the Red Sea anyway. I’m more than fine with that.
It was certainly an adventure to remember. A bit of a baptism of fire, in water, if you catch my drift. I’ve been through some pretty sticky moments, some absolutely incredible moments, and moments that truly took my breath away – which may sound quite disconcerting given that I was twenty-to-thirty meters below the surface – but you’ll all be pleased to know that I’m here, safe and sound, and ready to share my experience with you lovely lot.
Now that I’ve put your minds at ease, find out what life was like on the Blue Melody during my 7 days sailing and diving the Red Sea.
Living Life By The Bell
When my instructor told me “If the bell goes and your hair’s dry, then it’s time to go diving. If it’s wet, then it’s time to eat” I wondered what all the spare time would be filled with. I’d never lived this life before and was too used to feeling like I HAD to fill every second with something, regardless of how inane or unnecessary.
I guess that’s pretty much what we’ve been conditioned to do though, isn’t it? As 21st-century human beings, we seem to be losing both the “human” and the “being”. It sometimes takes a trip like this to get the fire going again inside you.
The truth is, there wasn’t really any spare time. It flew by without us even realising.
We’d be woken up for 6am most days with a gentle knock on our cabin doors followed by a softly spoken, “morning” from a member of the crew, to which myself and my roomie would mumble something that loosely resembled the same thing in response. We’d have half an hour to get up and dressed, grab a coffee and check our gear before the first dive briefing of the day. If we were sharp enough, we could make it upstairs in time to catch the sunrise over the horizon. We always made sure that we made it in time. It was far too beautiful to miss.
Time in between dives was spent enthralled in stunned exchanges of what we had all just gone through together but from each individual perspective. The things we’d seen and done; the historic wreck that we’d just penetrated, the Napoleon wrasse that drifted alongside us, the huge sea turtle that jumped out on us, the dolphins that answered the call of the quacker and came back to play.
Days merged into each other and the concept of time seemed to disappear. Nights were spent eating together and enjoying a beer on the deck with music and laughter.
I soon came to love life at sea.
Caught In A Current
It took just six dives for us to be shaken up and remind us all that things could quite easily take a turn for the worse if any one of us were to drop the ball at any given time.
We were excited and tense with anticipation as we jumped on to the zodiac from our main vessel to be carried across the reef to our descent point. It was another new environment to get to grips with, fast, as well as a whole new method of entering the water for our first wreck dive of the week. A negative entry backwards roll off the side of a small speed boat. Yes, it’s as dramatic as it sounds.
We were briefed in advance by the dive guides and we knew roughly what we had to do but, as with most things, actually doing it for the first time was a completely different story indeed.
“Three… Two… One… GO!” our rib driver hollered. Before having even caught our breath properly we tumbled backwards off of the zodiac into the churning blue sea. For those of you wondering what a negative entry is, it’s basically an immediate descent from the moment you crash through the surf. No coming up again to get your shit together; straight in and straight down.
Although, it was never going to be as easy as all that, especially as a number of us had never even scuba dived in anything as vast and unpredictable as the Red Sea.
I think back to that moment and can only compare it to how my smalls must feel when they’re being tossed about in the washing machine on the 30 cycle. A melee of bubbles and bodies, circling each other at speed, throwing all bearings out the window.
Dazed and confused, the second battle on the cards was to make sure that we hit the bottom as a group. Together and in one piece. But, the ocean had other plans. The current hit us like a freight train, tearing our band to pieces, picking us off one by one and spitting us out into the abyss. We all fought hard to get back to where we should have been. Blind panic was the driving force behind each frantic fin kick. No one wanted to be pushed any further away.
What could only have been a couple of minutes felt like hours of fighting the inevitable. Checking my air, I realised that enough was enough. We had to abort the dive and get out of there safely.
I drifted towards a group of three fellow divers who had linked arms in an attempt to stay together. Signalling to my buddy with my torch, I motioned for her to change tactics and join us. Within the blink of an eye, she was flying towards us, riding the current at speed, not too dissimilar to a scene from Gravity. We grabbed hold of each other and tagged on to the group. After a couple of deep breaths, we all agreed on the signal to ascend to five meters, perform our safety stop and deploy our surface marker buoy for the zodiac to locate us and scoop up our current-beaten bodies.
It turns out that the crew had underestimated the current that morning.
We had missed the wreck and lost the fight but we had lived to dive another day. It was an eye-opener to say the least.
Notes From My Log Book
After each dive, we’d take the time to fill out our dive logs. They’re a great way to look back and learn from your experiences while keeping track of the more technical considerations; date, location, gear and weights used, sea and weather conditions, start and end PSI and much more.
Check out the write-ups from my log book for the week.
Dive One – Poseidon “Struggled with buoyancy getting down, changed mask and assisted by Jason. All good after that! SAW A NAPOLEON WRASSE!”
Dive Two – Alternatives “Buoyancy spot-on with 12kg weight. Saw families of lionfish, butterfly fish and more. Large moray eel swam overhead.”
Dive Three – Jackfish Alley “Deep dive. GoPro. Cave… didn’t see much but dropped down to 39m (TOO DEEP!) but still completed Adventure Dive Deep 1.”
Dive Four – Beacon Rock “Peak Performance Buoyancy completion!”
Dive Five – Beacon Rock (night) “Night dive completion! Saw Moray eel, sea snake, shoal of Giant trevally, lionfish.”
Dive Six – Dunraven “Not the best dive! Pretty much missed the wreck due to crew underestimating the current. Too strong to swim against, stayed in a group and performed safety ascent with SMB.”
Dive Seven – Thistlegorm “Dived the Thistlegorm! Deep wreck dive complete. Full GoPro footage. Loads of sea life. Ran low on air during ascent, switching to 15l cylinder for next dive and dropping 2kg.”
Dive Eight – Thistlegorm “Deep Wreck dive 2. Noting layout and structural damage. Full GoPro footage again. SAW A HUGE SEA TURTLE!”
Dive Nine – The Barge (night) “Navigation dive, adventure. Wreck – The Barge. Completed another AOW spec!”
Dive Ten – The Barge “Wreck dive 3 with navigation skills. Spent some time filming a Parrotfish! Circled the wreck filming a black surgeonfish and got back to the group. Great dive!”
Dive Eleven – Carnatic “Wreck diver certification complete! Performed line laying and wreck penetration on Carnatic. Now qualified to dive wrecks without a guide!”
Dive Twelve – Chrisoula K “Awesome wreck! Form of the ship was really clear. Great GoPro footage of two penetrations, lots of sea life, inside the hull and workshop with lots of recognisable equipment. Covered most of the whole length of the wreck. Controlled breathing really well.”
Dive Thirteen – On Gosh “Night dive 3, darkness dive! Sat at the bottom, roughly 12.9 metres, and performed “lights out” skill. Saw a blue spotted ray and cuttlefish. Safety stop on line for 3 minutes. Also saw a squid!”
Dive Fourteen – Giannis D “Awesome wreck! Good descent, no problems. Adjusted BCD for buoyancy once we hit the wreck as slightly overweighted but comfortable. Penetrated wreck and explored corridors and engine room. Exited near ship’s funnel and explored coral garden on the funnel without a guide. Ascended slowly to 5 metres for a safety stop. Great dive!”
Dive Fifteen – Siyul Keber “Explored reef gardens and pinnacles. Saw a huge moray eel in the coral. Performed underwater arithmetic for Narcosis test. Also performed 8-minute deco stop with alternate reg. All skills complete, one more deep dive to do until Deep certified.”
Dive Sixteen – Dolphin House “Nice and easy bubble around Dolphin House but no sign of them. Explored coral reefs and concentrated on buoyancy and air consumption control. Bruno & Theresa saw Dolphins and called one back to play with them using a quacker. Video looks amazing!”
Dive Seventeen – Dolphin House (night) “Cool bubble around coral again for a night dive. Practiced buoyancy control and breathing techniques. Night dive certification complete!”
Dive Eighteen – Uum Gamer “Deep dive certification! Easy bubble around coral practicing buoyancy and breathing techniques, others went in overhang cave. Saw some lionfish box fish. Came back on current and performed safety stop before surface swim back to boat.”
Dive Nineteen – El Minja “Last dive of the trip! Descended along a line onto the wreck, continued along from the bow to the stern and back. Saw Parrotfish feeding and a Crocodilefish resting by the mast. Good buoyancy control throughout and great footage!”
Advanced Open Water Diver
By nature, I work hard to get the most out of everything that I do.
My thirst for knowledge and adventure resulted in booking extra courses in advance of the trip and it’s thanks to Jason and Gary of London Scuba that I passed each one. They were run in such a way that I barely even noticed the fact that I was being tested at the time. They were fun and exciting tasks that were built in to the daily diving plans. In most cases, we’d work to get them done early on so that we could then just enjoy exploring the wrecks and reefs around us.
I boarded as an Open Water diver with one specialty; Dry Suit diver, and alighted as an Advanced Open Water diver with four more specialties; Nitrox, Deep, Wreck and Night. This training, along with the pretty extreme change of scene and associated situations provided a strong step up for my experience. It was most certainly a steep learning curve with rapid progression and I would recommend it to anyone.
It doesn’t stop there though. I’m well on the way to my initial target of achieving Divemaster status and I am really looking forward to logging more dives and taking part in my Rescue and Emergency First Response courses along the way.
New Dive Buddies
I was amazed by how quickly bonds formed with the people that I shared my week with. Upon reflection though, it’s fairly obvious that this would be the case. After all, your life is pretty much in their hands when you’re 30-below, as theirs is in yours. It’s a fairly big ask but one that seems quite natural to scuba divers.
The buddy system means that connections are made extremely fast. You may or may not place this much trust in people if you were to have met on the surface, in every day life, but there’s something about fellow scuba divers that instantly settles the nervousness behind “will they stick by me or not?”. You just know that they are on the same level.
This can also be said for general day-to-day life on-board, even when you’re living on top of each other for a week. Mealtimes were spent all together in the dining room, chatting about the dives of the day and looking forward to the next adventure.
During my 7 days sailing and diving the Red Sea, not only did I come away with new certifications, but I also came away with new friends.
You know what they say…
“The family that eats together, stays together.”
**I’ve got some awesome GoPro footage to show you all very soon so keep an eye out for my Red Sea series of videos – subscribe on YouTube to be the first to see them as and when they’re posted!
With so much to see, do and experience in this wonderful world of ours, fitting everything into any kind of itinerary would challenge even the most seasoned of backpackers.
Yeah, you could go and see what you want, come back and plan some more, then head off again for your next cultural fix – wherever that may be – but it’s difficult enough to know what’s on and where at the best of times.
Which religious festivals should you check out? Which dates are celebrated and why? What about national public holidays?
You’ve heard of St. Patrick’s Day, Holi, and the Dragon Boat Festival but when are they? You won’t want to miss them, that’s for sure.
The answers to these questions could not only help you to decide where you would like to be at a particular time of the year but they could even help you to book your flights around them and avoid any potential delays in your trip.
Whatever your reasons may be, I’ve pulled together a fairly comprehensive list of multicultural events around the world – 25, to be precise – into one handy post to help you plan your travels in 2016.
I’ve made every effort to get the big ones down in chronological order but I’m sure I would have missed a few. Go ahead and leave a comment below with any that you think should be included and I’ll look to get them added asap.
Also, please know that I have researched these events in good faith with the intent being purely to provide information to fellow travellers and backpackers. If I offend anyone with incorrect or inaccurate information then please do let me know and I will correct it asap.
In the meantime… enjoy! 🙂
Friday, 1st January 2016 – New Year’s Eve/Day
Observed yearly on the 1st January, New Year’s Day is arguably one of the most celebrated public holidays in countries that have adopted the use of the Gregorian calendar. It certainly goes off with a bang across respective time zones throughout Europe and the world.
Be there: London, England – On New Year’s Eve, fireworks fill the skies above the mighty River Thames, lighting up the Embankment, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. A timely strike from Big Ben signals the beginning of the new year… and a few passionate moments as loved ones embrace. Be sure to take your own loved one with you for fear of getting grabbed by a stranger for a smooch!
Monday, 25th January 2016 – Burns’ Night
“Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!” Celebrate the birth of Scotland’s national poet and lyricist with all the haggis, neeps and tatties you can stomach, washed down with the finest Scotch whisky. The Scots really know how to put on a show so you can expect days – and nights – full of singing, dancing and laughter.
Be there: Edinburgh, Scotland – Where better to immerse yourself in Scottish culture than the medieval Old Town – and the glorious Georgian New Town – of Edinburgh? It’s an incredibly historic city with stories to be told on every street. Give yourself a few days to get around; you will not want to leave.
Watch this video by Yaya Travels and find out more.
Friday, 5th February 2016 – Rio Carnival
The glitz and glamour of the world famous Rio de Janeiro carnival is second to none when it comes to a rhythmic and riotous party atmosphere. The “greatest show on Earth” is a five-day samba swing with flamboyant, feathered dancers and sequin-studded floats parading their way through the streets of Rio, taking over all the bars, clubs and venues in its path.
Be there: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Join in on the fun in 2016 from Friday, 5th February to Tuesday, 9th February. The Rio Carnival website has everything you need to know to book your trip. From tickets to the Samba parades and the Carnival Ball, to your hotel and transfers… if there’s one party that you simply must go to in 2016 then make it this one.
Tuesday, 9th February 2016 – Mardi Gras
Shrove Tuesday, also called Pancake Day and Mardi Gras. The British name of “Pancake Day” comes from the tradition of making pancakes to use up all the food that could not be eaten during Lent. Festivities take place in many cities all over the world, including Mardi Gras in New Orleans, USA, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Venice, Italy.
Be there: New Orleans, USA – Mardi Gras – affectionately nicknamed “Fat Tuesday” by The Big Easy’s locals – is the last day of the Carnival season during the most popular time to be in town. Be sure to arrive no later than the 6th February to catch the best of the parades over the extended weekend.
Sunday, 14th February 2016 – Valentine’s Day
One for the love bugs out there… and what’s more universal than the language of love? Although, it is not classed as a public holiday – probably due to it being celebrated in so many countries – it is widely recognised as the day in which to express your true feelings to one another with cards, flowers, chocolates and gifts. A romantic trip to almost any city in the world would be an experience to behold for starry-eyed couples but there’s one that instantly springs to mind and it may not be the one that you’re thinking of…
Be there: Rome, Italy – That’s right; Rome. In the loving eyes of some travellers, The Eternal City is now seen as the world’s most romantic destination. A recent study suggested that 28% of people – only 2,000 people, but still – showed Rome serious some love. Why not take a few days, rent a car, and drive down the coast, from Rome to Naples, finishing up at the beautiful Amalfi Coast.
Monday, 15th February 2016 – Nirvana Day
Nirvana Day, observed primarily by Mahayana Buddhists, celebrates the day when the Buddha is said to have achieved Parinirvana, or complete Nirvana, upon the death of his physical body. Head to southern Thailand in search of Sri Vijaya sculptures from the eighth and thirteenth centuries.
Be there: Phuket, Thailand – Marvel at the majesty of one of the most revered Buddhist landmarks on the island; Phuket’s Big Buddha. At 45 meters tall, this mighty yet peaceful image sits atop Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata. It’s easy to spot from a distance but is most certainly worth the half-hour road trip from central Phuket.
Thursday, 17th March 2016 – St Patrick’s Day
The Irish certainly put the English to shame with their patron saint celebrations. St Patrick’s Day is always an experience to remember as locals and tourists alike don shamrocks and a variety of other green accessories to join in the national day of fun. It’s customary to let your hair down and enjoy a Guinness or three, dance, sing and laugh your way around the Irish capital of Dublin. St Patrick’s Day is also widely celebrated around the world, including the likes of Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand.
Be there: Dublin, Ireland – Let’s face it, everyone wants to be Irish on St Patrick’s Day! It’s now so much more than just a single day. It’s a full-on, 4/5-day festival showcasing Irish national talent, arts and culture. Why not make 2016 the year that you become an honorary Irish citizen? And if you don’t quite take to the taste of Guinness the first time around, then just have another. I know I will!
Holi is right up there as one of the most colourful festivals on the planet. During this Hindu celebration of spring and the triumph of ‘good’ over ‘evil’, crowds come alive by throwing coloured water and powder over each other. Friends, family, strangers, rich, poor, men, women, young and old… everyone’s invited to this party.
Be there: Mathura, India – Just four hours from the capital, Delhi, lies the birthplace of Lord Krishna; Mathura. Processions of colour, music, food and fun line the paths along the river from the temples to Holi gate. The sights and sounds of India are mesmerising at the best of times but Holi festival will blow your mind!
Sunday, 27th March 2016 – Semana Santa
Easter is the most important festival in the Christian calendar. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, three days after he was executed. The Easter story is at the heart of Christianity and is celebrated around the world in many different ways. Thousands line the streets of Seville, Spain, to see the highly decorated processions and marching bands pass by on candlelit floats as they perform their own version of the Easter story.
Be there: Seville, Spain – Easter Sunday falls on the 27th March in 2016 but I would most definitely recommend arriving the week prior to experience the Spanish fiesta at its very best. The cofradias (brotherhoods) release their processions from midday each day and you could see up to nine per day.
Remember those Super Soaker fights that you’d have as a kid during the warm summer days? Well, Songkran blows that out of the water! The Thai New Year celebrations fall on some of the hottest days in their calendar and this is marked with an enormous water fight. Water pistols, water balloons, buckets, hoses… anything that can leave you drenched can and will be used against you during this friendly mini-war and it sounds like so much fun. As with most New Year rituals, the concept of pouring water over one another is of course symbolic; wash away all your sins and bad luck for a new year and a new start.
Be there: Chiang Mai, Thailand – In Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, Songkran can last for anything up to a week. Be sure to wear as little as possible – while maintaining your dignity of course – so as not to ruin any of your favourite items of clothing through constant water bombing and friendly talc attacks. Oh, and watch out for the Elephant tanks! That’s right, they like to join in too.
Lailat al Miraj is the time for Muslims to commemorate the Prophet Muhammad’s nighttime journey from Mecca to the ‘Farthest Mosque’ in Jerusalem. It is from this mosque that Muhammad is said to have ascended into heaven and became purified. Muslim followers will attend special prayer meetings at mosques or will host more intimate affairs in their own homes with family and friends.
Be there: Istanbul, Turkey – The Al-Aqsa Mosque (farthest mosque) is known as the third holiest site in Islam and is located within the Old City of Jerusalem. However, my personal recommendation would be to visit the splendour of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. The calls to prayer in this historic city are simply hypnotic.
Sunday, 15th May 2016 – Wesak/Buddha Day
Wesak or Buddha Day is the major festival of the year for Buddhists from the Theravada tradition. Celebrated on the full moon, Wesak represents the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. It’s called Wesak after the month in which it falls in the Indian calendar.
Be there: Brickfields, Malaysia – Join in the spirit of Buddha as thousands of devoted followers bathe in the waters of the Buddha statue. Watch as they cleanse their souls and seek blessings. With parades beginning in the evening, you can expect a vibrant yet cultural, tranquil evening.
Thursday, 9th June 2016 – Dragon Boat Festival
An event of great significance to the Chinese people, the Dragon boat festival remembers the legend of Qu Yuan (340-278 BC). He was a minister and poet in the State of Chu. Rather than see his country become conquered by the State of Qin, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the river. Locals sailed their boats down the river in search of his body and this practice continues today – over 2000 years later.
Be there: Kowloon, Hong Kong – The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in Victoria Park, Kowloon, continues to attract some of the finest athletes – and discerning spectators – for one of the world’s best carnivals. It’s still a very ancient tradition but it has been given a modern twist and is a fun day out for all ages.
Thursday, 16th June 2016 – Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev
Guru Arjan Dev was the fifth of the ten Sikh Gurus and the first Sikh martyr. He laid the foundations of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India and gave it four doors to symbolise acceptance of all people.
Be there: Amritsar, India – Back to India once more but this time, Amritsar, to the holiest of Sikh gurdwaras; Harmandir Sahib.
Wednesday, 6th July 2016 – Eid al-Fitr
Eid al-Fitr is an important Islamic holiday for Muslim communities around the world. It marks the end of the month-long fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan. It’s one of the two major holidays in the Islamic year and is celebrated with prayer and thanksgiving to God, as well as feasting and gift giving. This event involves many Muslims waking up early and praying either at an outdoor prayer ground or a mosque. People dress in their finest clothes and adorn their homes with lights and other decorations.
Be there: Dubai, UAE – Celebrations are centered mostly in shopping malls due to hot weather. Parades and entertainers from all over the world join the festivities. A large fireworks display also takes place in the creek area and in Festival City. This is definitely a more glitzy way to experience Eid al-Fitr.
Tuesday, 19th July 2016 – Asalha Puja
Asalha Puja (Dharma Day) is observed among Buddhists worldwide as the day that their religion was established. Buddhists from the Theravada tradition celebrate the teachings of the Buddha, visiting their respective temples throughout the world to practice Dharma. They also give small donations to the monks and listen to sermons to remind them of this great beginning.
Be there: Central Java, Indonesia – The festival of Asalha Puja is centred around the ninth-century Mendut Temple, near Borobudur, in Central Java, Indonesia. It draws large crowds from in and around the area to witness the sermons.
Monday, 15th August 2016 – Feast of the Assumption
The Feast of the Assumption commemorates the death of Jesus’s mother, Mary, and her bodily assumption into Heaven. It is celebrated on or around August 15 in many countries, particularly in parts of Europe and South America. It’s also called the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God (in the eastern countries), or the Feast of the Assumption.
Be there: Mosta, Malta – In Malta, the Feast of the Assumption is known as the feast of ‘Santa Maria’. This religious ‘festa’ is celebrated in no less than seven Maltese towns and villages; Għaxaq, Gudja, Ħ’Attard, Mosta, Mqabba and Qrendi in Malta, and Victoria in Gozo. The party is well and truly on!
Thursday, 25th August 2016 – Janmashtami
At Janmashtami, Hindus celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna. It takes place during the Hindu month of Shravan (August-September). Krishna is one of the most powerful incarnations of Lord Vishnu and Hindus believe he came to free the Earth from evil.
Be there: Dwarka, India – Legend has it that Dwarka, the lost city, was built in just two days, although Lord Krishna was said to have spent a century there. The temple of Dwarkadheesh is renowned for its Krishnashtami celebrations as devotees from all over India and the world make the journey to take part.
Wednesday, 31st August 2016 – La Tomatina
Since 1945, locals of the Valencian town of Buñol have engaged in one of the biggest food fights known to man; La Tomatina. It’s purely for fun and entertainment and is most certainly nothing short of that.
Be there: Buñol, Spain – Join in the 20,000-strong tomato throwers from all over the world and test the Spanish produce for yourself. It’s a ticketed event which ensures that the 70-year tradition can continue so be sure to get yours early to avoid disappointment.
Saturday, 17th September 2016 – Oktoberfest
The Bavarian culture just wouldn’t be the same without this historic Volksfest. Held each and every year in Munich, Germany, over 6 million people attend the 16-day festival from around the world. It’s all about beer, music and fun with friends and family. What more do you need?
Be there: Munich, Germany – Catch the opening ceremonies on the 17th in the Schottenhamel tent. The Mayor of Munich gets involved by tapping the first keg of Oktoberfest beer which signals the start of drinking time! The fun doesn’t stop until the 3rd October but do your best to get there early and experience Oktoberfest from start to finish.
Head back to Valerie & Valise for a deeper insight into Oktoberfest.
Sunday, 30th October 2016 – Diwali
Diwali (or Deepavali, the “festival of lights”) is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn (northern hemisphere) every year. Diwali is the biggest and the brightest festival in India. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness. Over the course of one week, each day in Diwali represents a different reason to celebrate. How cool does that sound?
Be there: Delhi, India – A warm and friendly festival atmosphere with candlelit processions will get you in the mood to party. Expect a little raucousness though as things pick up with fireworks and firecrackers “upping” the noise levels. Ear plugs? Go hard or go home, right? No, it’s probably a pretty good idea.
Monday, 31st October 2016 – Dia de los Muertos
If there’s one place I’d absolutely LOVE to be during Halloween, it’s Mexico. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) looks absolutely unreal! Yeah, there’s plenty of fun to be had among the ghouls and ghosts but the whole point of the festival is so that families and friends can remember and respect their loved and lost – in the most eccentric yet poignant way possible of course.
Be there: Mexico City, Mexico – Don your best freaky outfits and get involved with the zombie march through Mexico City for, quite possibly, the best Halloween you’ve ever had. As a huge fan of The Walking Dead, I think I’m going to feel right at home.
Tuesday, 15th November 2016 – Loi Krathong
Loi Krathong, the Festival of Light, is a Thai family event held in November each year. The kids get involved with their parents in making krathongs; small, light baskets created from banana tree leaves and filled with incense and flowers. A lit candle inside the basket helps to carry the krathongs away. This is symbolic to the Thai people who believe that the krathongs take all of the bad luck away with them.
Be there: Bangkok, Thailand – The riverbanks of Chao Phraya is the place to be if you want to get the very best out of your Festival of Light experience. Stand in awe as locals and visitors alike release their krathongs, literally watching their bad luck float away, into the night sky and down the river. A wonderful time to be alive.
Saturday, 10th December 2016 – Mevlana Whirling Dervishes
Join the Turkish people in commemorating the death of Rumi and attempt to achieve your very own divine harmony – or at least watch the professionals achieve theirs – as they whirl away during this 10-day festival. They’ve definitely got plenty of energy with two shows a day so you’re pretty much guaranteed to experience this authentic event for yourself regardless of when you arrive. Just be sure to grab tickets!
Be there: Konya, Turkey – Just an hour’s flight from Istanbul, Konya is the home of Whirling and is known for holding on dearly to its traditions. As a visitor – and as I’m sure you would wherever you go in the world – be sure to respect their conservatism and dress appropriately. Having said that, layer up to keep warm as it can be quite nippy in the winter months with bitterly cold winds rolling in.
Wednesday, 21st December 2016 – Burning The Clocks
The funky, bohemian, seaside city of Brighton on the South coast of England is renowned for its variety of festivals and parties. Burning The Clocks is most definitely one of them. Created in 1994, it marks the Winter Solstice and brings people together from all religious backgrounds and walks of life to celebrate as one. It is also more recently known as a way to rebel against the commercialism of Christmas. Either way, it’s a pretty cool show as people set their lanterns alight to take part, culminating in a big Brighton beach burn-up!
Be there: Brighton, England – There are plenty of guesthouses and hostels in and around the beachfront and city center – not to mention hotels if that’s more your style – and Brighton is on the main train line from both London Victoria and Gatwick Airport. Nice and easy! Again, wrap up warm for a night at the seaside, especially in England. You can buy lanterns from certain event outlets which include entry wristbands as a package but, if you’re making your own, then be sure to get them verified and approved by the very same outlets.