Originally stemming from a tradition commemorating the death of famous poet Qu Yuan, the first “dragon boat races” were embarked upon by villagers who paddled out onto the river where he drowned. There, they dropped rice balls into the water, so that the fish would consume the rice and not Qu’s body. Since then, the story has morphed into an annual festival celebrated across East and Southeast Asia known as the Dragon Boat Festival, or as the Tuen Ng Festival, if you’re in Hong Kong. This year, the festival takes place on June 12.
The festival’s biggest spectacle is the numerous races taking place off of the coast throughout the city. Teams compete by rowing long, narrow boats decorated with dragon heads and tails to the rhythm of the drummer’s beats. Since the festival coincides with the onslaught of summer, it’s the perfect time to get outside, crack open a beer and cheer on the sides at one of the spots below.
The Aberdeen Dragon Boat Race
When: 8:40 a.m.
Where: Aberdeen Promenade
Getting there: Take a bus or taxi from Central
Competing: 65 teams
Ticketing: Entrance is free, but tickets need to be acquired in advance from the Public Enquiry Service Centre of the Home Affairs Department, G/F, Ocean Court, Aberdeen Praya Road, Aberdeen
The Sun Life Stanley International Dragon Boat Championships
When: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Where: Stanley Waterfront
Getting there: Take a bus from Central
Competing: More than 5,000 participants on 250 teams
Tai O Dragon Boat Festival
When: 9 a.m.
Where: Tai O
Getting there: Take the MTR to Tung Chung. Then take NLB bus 11 from Tung Chung, or take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car from Ngong Ping Village. Both trips from Tung Chung take around 50 minutes.
Competing: 13 teams
Tip: In addition to the races, the fishing village is also home to the traditional Water Parade.
If that’s not enough dragon excitement for you, watch out for the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races, which runs from June 21 to 23 at Victoria Harbour. Beginning as a humble event in the 1970s with just 10 teams, it has since expanded to include other fun activities, such as a costume competition and an after-party called the San Miguel BeerFest, which takes place every day of the races at the UC Centenary Garden in East Tsim Sha Tsui. This year’s fest will feature the first San Miguel Dry Land Dragon Boat Challenge, an landlubber version of the famous races where teams craft bottomless boats and run to the finish line.
Photos courtesy of Stanley Residents Association