LivingTravelTraveling during Ramadan in Asia

Traveling during Ramadan in Asia

No, you will not go hungry while traveling during Ramadan in Asia!

Non-Muslims are not expected to refrain from eating during the daylight hours of Ramadan, however you should certainly be considerate of those around you who may be fasting.

Regardless, Ramadan could impact your trip in a number of different ways. Businesses may close or be busier than usual. Mosques can be off-limits to tourists for a while. Restaurants are busiest at night, but you can find numerous specials and sales in shopping malls and buffets.

Most importantly, you need to know how to behave when traveling during Ramadan by following some simple rules of etiquette.

A little about Ramadan

Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, is when all capable Muslims are expected to refrain from sex, eating, drinking and smoking from sunrise to sunset. After sunset, people often gather in large groups to break the rhythm and enjoy the occasion. Of course, the rules on details vary from country to country.

Although energy, and sometimes patience, during the day can be low, Ramadan is actually a festive time in Asia with nightly bazaars, family gatherings, games, and special treats. Shopping centers and restaurants offer sales and discounts. Tourists are often welcome at evening gatherings and parties; someone can invite you to their house. Instead of avoiding travel during Ramadan, take advantage of the time and enjoy some of the festivities!

How long is Ramadan?

Ramadan lasts from 29 to 30 days, depending on the sighting of the new moon. Event start dates are also based on the moon and change annually.

The end of Ramadan is a celebration known as Eid al-Fitr’s “fasting festival”.

What to Expect During Ramadan in Asia

Depending on where you are traveling in Asia, you may not even notice that Ramadan is in progress! Even Muslim majority countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have a mix of religions and ethnic groups that you will always find restaurants open during the day. The region you travel in often makes a difference (for example, the south of Thailand has a larger Muslim population than the north, etc.).

Many Muslims travel home to be with their families during Ramadan. Some shops and restaurants may be closed until sunset or for consecutive days while the owner is away. Long-distance transportation could operate on a modified schedule due to fewer drivers and higher demand. Accommodation is rarely affected during Ramadan, so there is no need to plan any further in advance than usual.

As the sun approaches the horizon, large groups of Muslims gather to break the fast for the day with a festive meal known as iftar . Special desserts, performances, and public gatherings are often open to the public. Don’t be afraid to wander through a tent in a public space to greet and interact with the locals.

Discounted prices for gifts, sweets, and souvenirs can be found at Ramadan bazaars. Even large shopping malls host special events, entertainment, and sales for Ramadan. Look for the small stages and then ask for a schedule.

Be polite. It is understandable that locals observing Ramadan who haven’t eaten all day have a little less energy to handle complaints or inquiries. Refraining from smoking all day sometimes puts pressure on your nerves. Be a little more patient with people, especially if you make a complaint about something.

Indonesia during Ramadan

Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world, has the largest Muslim population of any nation. Islam exists to varying degrees throughout the archipelago. Places like West Sumatra are extremely devout. The evenings during Ramadan are marked with numerous prayers broadcast from the mosque, particularly on Fridays.

On the other hand, Bali, Indonesia’s main destination, is predominantly Hindu. The only way you can tell that Ramadan is in progress is because some of the rumah makans (restaurants) operated by Muslims may not open until later. The normally busy island can be a bit quieter as local Muslims travel to other places to be with their families.

Ramadan elsewhere in Southeast Asia

Brunei, the small independent nation that separates Sarawak from Sabah in Borneo, is the most observant of Islam in Southeast Asia. About two-thirds of the population are Muslim. Although many local restaurants may be closed during the day during Ramadan, Chinese-owned restaurants and those catering to tourists will remain open.

Some predominantly Muslim islands in the southern Philippines, such as Mindanao, are also particularly observant.

Will I be hungry during Ramadan?

Non-Muslims are not expected to fast, however many shops, street food carts, and restaurants may be closed for the entire day. In places like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Penang, where large Chinese populations exist, food is never hard to find.

Chinese and non-Muslim-owned restaurants remain open for meals during the day. Only in very small towns with few options will you have a hard time finding food during the day. Alternative survival solutions include preparing food and snacks that can be eaten cold during the day (eg, hard-boiled eggs, sandwiches, fruits). Quick fixes like instant noodles (available from any minimart) can save the day.

Don’t eat, smoke, or drink in front of people who are fasting! Be discreet if you need to.

Hotels and restaurants can organize special Ramadan meals and buffets. Plan ahead for dinner a bit – most people choose to go out every night to eat and socialize during Ramadan. Restaurants get busier and go later than usual.

How to behave during Ramadan

Ramadan is more than just fasting. Muslims are expected to purify their thoughts and focus more on their religion. Mosques get very crowded. As a traveler, you may be the recipient of random acts of kindness and charity.

Go the extra mile to be considerate of others while traveling during Ramadan:

  • Avoid eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing gum on the street in public during the day.
  • Wear conservative clothing. Cover the shoulders and legs whenever possible. Avoid tight “workout” clothing such as yoga pants.
  • Avoid wearing clothing with religious themes.
  • Never photograph people during prayers or performing their ablutions before prayer. Even photographing the worshipers queuing to enter a mosque is rude.
  • Mosques are normally open to visitors, but may be closed to the public during Ramadan. Ask first before wandering inside.
  • Don’t play loud music or party near mosques.
  • Don’t drink alcohol in public.
  • Ramadan is considered to be an auspicious time to give to charity or do good deeds.
  • Be patient. Fasting people may not move too fast without food or water. Smokers can be irritable after abstaining all day.

When is Ramadan?

The dates of Ramadan are based on the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The start date “walks” backward each year a little earlier. Dates are not fixed to any day or month on the Gregorian calendar.

The beginning of Ramadan depends on the traditional observation of the crescent moon with the naked eye. Predicting the dates of Ramadan with complete precision is impossible in advance; Sometimes the dates vary even a day or two between countries!

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