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Dragon Boat Races: Where To Watch Them And How To Get There

Kids on Dragon Boat
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An action-packed day watching Dragon Boat races with the kids

With heart-pumping races and colourful festivities surrounding the Dragon Boat Festival, you can’t live in Hong Kong without witnessing this event at least once. The Tuen Ng Festival’s tragic roots trace back to the suicide of Chinese scholar Qu Yuan as a protest to the government 2,000 years ago by drowning himself. The locals tried to save him by furiously paddling down the river and by tossing zongzi (sticky rice dumplings) to the water as offering while beating drums loudly to ward off evil spirits. Qu Yuan wasn’t saved. Despite the sad ending, the Chinese commemorate his death through the Dragon Boat Festival, which has now become a modern international sport with a worldwide audience, and is definitely a fun day out for the family.

We’ve outlined the major races happening this year, and we didn’t leave you hanging (would we ever?!) because we list everything from how to get there, places to eat (because, kids) and where to let the littlest ones burn off some energy (you’re welcome). From energetic races in Stanley to religious parades in the middle of traditional stilt houses in Tai O, here’s the lowdown for a guaranteed exciting day out with the kids.

Women racing boats

Sun Life Stanley International Dragon Boat Championships

Expecting to attract more than 200,000 spectators and over 6,000 paddlers from local and international teams, the Sun Life Stanley International Dragon Boat Championships is always huge, energetic and fiercely competitive. Get psyched as the drumbeat sounds begin and witness this sleepy seaside village on the south host one of the world’s most spectacular dragon racing events.

Day Trip: If you made your way there early in the morning, go for breakfast at any of the many bustling waterfront cafès.  Locals love Stan Cafè and Stanley Cave for artisanal pastries and croissants. The Stanley Plaza’s playground is great for the kids to run around in while you sit and sip your coffee. For lunch or dinner, book Henry’s (formerly Lucy’s, serving its loyal fan base for 23 years until Lucy went back to the UK in 2017 and Henry, the original chef, took over to continue operating the excellent restaurant). Try Spiaggia for fine dining in a casual atmosphere at good prices.

Sassy Mama Tip: Want an exciting preview of the main event? Catch the 13th Sun Life Stanley Dragon Boat Warm Up Races on 26 May at the Stanley Main Beach. It’s the same lively spectacle on a smaller scale (18 paddlers instead of 22 and a shorter course) from 8am to 5pm. If it is an afterparty you are looking for, then don’t miss the 17th Sun Life Stanley Dragon Boat Short-Course Races, a 200-meter course race to be held in the same venue on Saturday, 30 June at the same time.

When: 18 June 2018, 8am to 5pm.
Where: Stanley Main Beach
How to get there: Aqua Luna/ Bus/ Minibus/Taxi/ Junk Boat
Aqua Luna: Take a cruise with the family on a traditional Chinese wooden boat with the iconic three red sails, embarking from Central Pier 9 at 11am and from Tsim Sha Tsui Pier 1 at 11:15am. Marvel at harbour views and take in the Hong Kong skyline as you enjoy a buffet lunch by Hutong, included in the cruise. The Aqua Luna heads back to Central Pier 9 at 6pm and Tsim Sha Tsui Pier 1 at 6:15pm. No worries if you’d like to stay a bit longer in Stanley, one-way tickets are also available, then you could just take a bus or taxi back as you please.
By bus: Hop on bus no. 6, 6X, 63, 65, 73, 260, 973 or 14 to Stanley Bus Terminus and then a take short walk to the beach.
By minibus: No. 40, 52 or 16 get off at Hoi Fung Path and walk to the beach.
By junk boat: Watch all the action from the comforts of your own junk, here’s our list of Hong Kong’s most family-friendly junks to help you plan a perfect day out to see the races.

Three teams racing boats

The Water Parade in Tai O Fishing Village’s Dragon Boat Festival

Observe a religious tradition called “Deities Parade” where members of three fishermen associations in Tai O load deity images to small boats towed by three dragon boats. Witness the boats travel through various water channels as stilt house residents burn incense when the deities pass by, offering burning (fa yi) for the ghosts in the water and for blessing of the deities. Fast-paced dragon boat races are also held during the day.

Day Trip: Tai O is known as one of last few remaining fishing villages in Hong Kong. The historical south side of Lantau retains its unique character with many points of interest such as criss-crossing stilt houses, ancient temples, salt pans, the Tai O infinity pool, a rock formation called General Stone, and, always a fave, pink dolphins. With so much to see, a fun-filled day trip is sure to be had! For coffee, visitors swear by So Lo Coffee Shop, and Espace Elastique for food and beers. However, the street food in Tai O is also an attraction, so do save room for egg waffles, doughnuts, fish balls, dried fish and many other treats which are available in every corner of Tai O. The old police station (built in 1902!), turned into boutique Tai O Heritage Hotel, has a restaurant that offers a BBQ at $280 per person and $168 per child. Add $88 and enjoy free flow beer and wine.

Sassy Mama Tip: Tai O is known for it’s captivating sunset, stay for it but be aware that crowds there are big on holidays and weekends, so plan accordingly!

When: 18 June 2018, 8am to 2pm.
Where: Tai O Waterfront
How to get there: Take the ferry to Mui Wo from Central pier, then hop on bus #1 to Tai O
Alternatively, take the MTR to Tung Chung, then take bus #11 to Tai O

Man leading boat

Aberdeen Dragon Boat Races

What sets the Aberdeen Dragon Boat Race apart from the others is the use of “long boats” which are 90 feet long, with 48 paddlers seated in 24 rows of two, and are double the size of the medium boats commonly seen in other races. In terms of scale, it is the largest of its kind in Hong Kong, and one of the most significant long dragon boat races worldwide. This year, there will be DIY paper dragon boat workshops, face painting and balloon twisting for the little ones from 10am to 4pm, free of charge!

Day Trip: Walk along the promenade and stop for breakfast in any of the local restaurants and bakeries. This is a perfect place to observe the magic that is Hong Kong – where the old and new co-exist. You’ll see modern yachts next to traditional boats in the fishing village, old ladies in their sampans, and a whole lot of trading going on. Aberdeen is where one-third of Hong Kong’s fishing trade takes place. For lunch, practice your Cantonese at Aberdeen Fish Market Yee Hope Seafood Restaurant or try the floating seafood restaurants. For insider info on kid friendly restaurants and what else to do in the area, check out our neighborhood guide to nearby Wong Chuk Hang.

Aberdeen Fish Market Yee Hope Seafood Restaurant, 102 Shek Pai Wan Road, Aberdeen, Hong Kong, 2177 7872

When: 18 June, 8:15am to 4pm
Where: Aberdeen Promenade
How to get there: bus/taxi/ Aqua Luna Dim Sum Tour* (*determined by Aqua Luna 14 days before the event)
By Bus: Take the Bus 70 from from the Exchange Square Bus Terminal (Hong Kong Station MTR Exit D)

The Cheung Chau Dragon Boat Festival

Famous for it’s super fun Bun Festival (happening on 19 to 23 May) which includes a wacky Bun Scrambling Contest where competitors climb a tower of – yes, you guessed it, buns – as well as unicorn dances, parades and Kung Fu demos, Cheung Chau also hosts its very own lively and colourful dragon boat race worth taking the trip for.

Day Trip: With historical caves, beaches, temples and scenic hikes, it is easy to spend a day in Cheung Chau. For food, the main star is the seafood followed by yummy street food delights such as frozen watermelons, mango mocha, and fishballs. For Italian fare, head to Slow Life Café where you can also order organic and fair trade produce. For lunch or dinner, New Bacarrat is a Cheung Chau staple for seafood – freshness guaranteed! We also have a handy guide for this island, so be sure to check it out before you go.

Slow Life Café, G/F, 83 San Hing St, Cheung Chau, Hong Kong
New Baccarat, 9A Pak She Praya Rd, Cheung Chau

Sassy Mama Tip: There are slow and fast ferries to Cheung Chau, with a travel time difference of 20 minutes. If the weather is nice, try the slow ferry and take delight in picturesque views of the harbour (p.s: most places accept cash only, so go prepared!).

When: 18 June, 10am to 4pm
Where: Cheung Chau Typhoon Shelter
How to get there: Take a ferry from Central Ferry Pier No. 5

Blue team boat race

Sai Kung Dragon Boat Festival

Another excellent place to witness some gripping dragon boat racing is in family favourite Sai Kung. The races happen in the morning and the whole town will be full of festivities afterwards. Go early!

Day Trip: Dine alfresco in many seafood restaurants along the promenade where you can sit, relax, people watch and dog watch. Fully groomed pets are on display in Sai Kung on weekends. For detailed info on cafes, restaurants, things to do in Sai Kung, be sure to read our Ultimate Neighbourhood Guide to Sai Kung.

When: 18 June 8am to 4pm
Where: Sai Kung Town Waterfront
How to get there: From Central or Tsim Sha Tsui take the MTR to Choi Hung Station, then take the Green Minibus 1A to the harbour or take the MTR to Diamond Hill Station, then Bus 92 to Sai Kung or take the MTR to Tseung Kwan O Station, then Bus 792M to Sai Kung
From the New Territories: MTR to Heng On or Wu Kai then Bus 99 to Sai Kung

The Discovery Bay Dragon Boat Races

Happening a day before the actual dragon boat festival, the spectacular Discovery Bay Dragon Boat Races have a track record for being super entertaining, so much so that it even has fantastic cheerleading performances, inflatable water slides, and a giant bubble show – a day kids (and adults) will surely enjoy.

Day Trip: Aside from hiking and the beach, there is so much more to enjoy in Discovery Bay! And as we’ve done for the other islands, our guide will sort you out if you need to take the kids for a mid-race snack (or a cheeky drink for you)!

When: 17 June 8am to 3:30pm
Where: Tai Pak Beach, Discovery Bay
How to get there: Ferry/ bus/ taxis
By ferry: From Central Pier 3
By bus: From Tung Chung Citygate bus station, take the Bus DB01R from MTR Sunny Bay Station, take the Bus DB03R from Terminal 2 of Hong Kong International Airport, take the Bus DB02R
By taxi: From Terminal 2 of Hong Kong International Airport take the Urban and Lantau taxis.

Men racing

Tai Po Dragon Boat Races

In line with the dragon boat festival, you can now book a full day of adventure in Tai Po to watch the dragon races comfortably in reserved seats. Visit the Hong Kong Heritage Museum (an absolute hit with the kids!), and check out the Man Mo Temple all in one awesome day.

When: 18 June 8am to 1pm
Where:  Tai Po Waterfront Park
How to get there: Bus/ MTR/ taxi
By bus: From Central take bus 307
Other buses that head to Tai Po: 71K, 71S, 72A, 73, 73X, 74K, 75K, 75X, 271, 275, 275R, 275S, K17
By MTR: From Kowloon Tong or Hong Hum station take the train to the Tai Po Market Station.

Day Trip: Local fare is a must try in Tai Po! Our trustworthy born-and-raised Tai Po source recommends Chan Hon Kee for claypot rice, rice rolls and congee, Sam Dor for deep fried chicken and 亞婆豆腐花 (Grandma’s Pudding) for tofu pudding to die for. Choi’s Noodle Shop (look out for this signage: 蔡潤記) for fishball noodles, beef brisket noodles and if you can take spicy, add its famous chilli oil!

Chan Hon Kee, G/F, No. 91B Wan Tau Street, Tai Po, 2658 2277
Sam Dor, G/F, 29A Pak Shing Street, Tai Po, 2651 6113
Choi’s Noodle Shop, G/F, 7 Tung Cheung Street, Tai Po
亞婆豆腐花 (Grandma’s Pudding), Shop 2A, Tai Kwong Lane, Tai Po

Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival

If you’re away on a holiday (lucky you!) or simply unavailable on the actual day of the Dragon Boat Festival, don’t sweat it. A three-day dragon boat festival is happening the following weekend – and its much more accessible than the one in Stanley – where you can watch the intense races, enjoy beers and local and international dishes from food trucks while you listen to live music and DJs as the kids play in the games booths.

Sassy Mama Tip: If you hop aboard the AIA Wheel, you get an amazing view of the races! There will also be 14 food trucks catering to the event.

When: 22 to 24 June
Venue: Central Harbourfront
How to get there: MTR/ Star Ferry/ taxi
By MTR: MTR Admiralty Station, take Exit A and walk 10 minutes, or MTR Central Station, take Exit A and walk 10 minutes, or MTR Hong Kong Station, take Exit A2 and walk eight minutes.
By Star Ferry: From Tsim Sha Tsui to Central and walk two minutes.

Featured image, image 1, 2, 3 and 6 by Joe Wong via DragonBoat.Org.HK; image 4 by Donald Chin via DragonBoat.Org.HK; image 5 by Tim Wong via DragonBoat.Org.HK;

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