The Dragon Boat Festival hosts exciting boat races that take place near Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. Colourful, dramatic, exciting and unforgettable, Dragon Boat Racing is celebrated annually on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month – sometimes referred to as ‘the double fifth’.

It was actually westerners who dubbed the competition, ‘Dragon Boat Races’ because of the way the 10-metre-long teakwood crafts are rigged out with a dragon’s head and tail. Typically a crew will consist of 20 rowers, together with 1 drummer at the helm and 1 ‘steerer’ at the rear end of the boat.

The paddling crew members sit facing forward and, unlike in other nautical racing craft, their oars are not rigged to the craft in any way. Race categories divide up into small boats, standard boats, open events, women’s events, and mixed categories.

Dragon Boat Festival - one of the highlights of 20 Best Things to Do on Hong Kong Island and Hong Kong Festivals (Read all about Hong Kong here)

photo by Wpcpey (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

Dragon Boats Racing Highlights

The international race at Victoria Harbour is where the hottest dragon boat action takes place. Rewards for team costumes are also handed out, and the entire day is a riot of colour and noise. If you miss this event, there are smaller but equally exciting dragon boat races taking place in the same month throughout Hong Kong.

photo by Chong Fat (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

Origins of Hong Kong's Dragon Boat Races

The annual event dates back over 2,000 years to honour Qu Yuan, a Chinese patriot who drowned himself to protest against corruption among officials. It’s said that villagers beat drums from their boats and threw dumplings into the sea so that the fish wouldn't eat Qu Yuan's body. 

The Dragon Boat Festival is typically held in mid-June, attracting people from all over the world who would cheer for their favourite teams. It’s also when the Chinese indulge in chang (meat-and-rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves). 

photo by Toby Oxborrow (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

Dragon Boat Festival

Location: Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong

Open: 5th day of the 5th lunar month (usually mid-June)

Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveller