Dragon Boat Festival: how it is celebrated and the best spots to watch it from

Dragon Boat Festival: how it is celebrated and the best spots to watch it from

On Monday, thousands of participants and tourists will make their way to the many harbours in Hong Kong to take part in one of the city's oldest festivals

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The team gives the practice their all, even when it means getting soaked
Photo: Thomas Leung/SCMP

On Monday, thousands of tourists and locals will flock to the many beaches in the city, to witness one of Hong Kong’s biggest festivals: the Dragon Boat Festival.

The history behind the festival

The annual festival celebrates the life and death of Qu Yan, a famous Chinese poet.

Perceived as a threat to court officials, due to his intellect and wisdom, Qu Yan was framed for conspiracy and eventually exiled by the king. During this period, he wrote extensively about his anguish and sorrow, before eventually drowning himself by jumping into the Miluo River at the age of 61.

Villagers hurried to the water with boats to save him, banging drums to fend off evil spirits, while throwing sticky rice dumplings, zongzi, into the water to keep fish away from his body. Though they were unsuccessful, the events leading to his death have been immortalised in the form of the Dragon Boat Festival, as dragon boat racers mimic the villagers’ furious paddling, while zongzi is still eaten on the day of the festival.

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It’s all about the team work

The South China Morning Post team at their weekly practice in Tai Po.
Photo: Thomas Leung/SCMP

South China Morning Post Sales Director, Cindy Tsui, took part in a dragon boat race for the first time five years ago due to a love of outdoor activities, and a desire to experience the famously strong team spirit. She is now the coach of the SCMP Dragon Boat Team, and lead her colleagues to Kunming, China, last November to take part in the World Nations Championships.

“I keep feeding them the latest dragon boat and race information. Of course, good food and getting to have a laugh at get-togethers after training helps too,” says Tsui, emphasising that team work is the key to motivation.

She also shared that the festival has given her the opportunity to grow closer to co-workers from different departments, allowing her to form good friendships along the way. 

“I saw it as just a public holiday before; but now, it has become a day of fun with my dear teammates, fighting for one common goal.” Cindy and her team will be competing in Tai Po on Monday.

The traditional family business of crafting a Tuen Ng festival dragon boat

Where to watch the festival

Thousands of spectators flock to Stanley for the festivities.
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP

There are a number of harbours hosting dragon boat races in Hong Kong. The largest and busiest, the Dragon Boat Carnival, will take place in Victoria Harbour over the course of three days, from June 22 to 24.

The races have international and local teams competing against one another, invoking fierce competition in the water.

The Singapore Dragon Boat Association dominated last year, racking up a total of eight wins in the Standard Boat 400m and Small Boat 200m categories.

The atmosphere on the shore is much less tense, though just as hectic, with festival goers participating in water games, grabbing snacks from the many food trucks, and enjoying the Sunset Concert, which will showcase a number of local bands and performances.

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You can catch the races from the Promenade Event Space by the Central Harbour starting next Friday.

The harbour at Stanley is also an excellent spot for viewing the Dragon Boat Races, attracting over 30,000 visitors. This particular location has gained a notorious reputation as the “party central” due to the raucous crowds.

But if you prefer something a bit smaller and more local, Aberdeen is the place to go. Watch the races underneath the shelter of riverside bamboo stands, for which tickets can be bought on the day. And with refreshment stalls nearby, you are always within arms’ reach of the famous zongzi.

Regardless of where you choose to go, the Dragon Boat festival is always going to be an exciting experience asone of Hong Kong’s oldest festivals.

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