Hong Kong’s annual Dragon Boat Festival—one of the city’s most festive and fiercely competitive events—is celebrating its 40th anniversary on June 9. It’s always exhilarating to watch from the sidelines, but if you’re a culturally curious traveler looking for an insider’s perspective, make sure to stay at the Peninsula Hong Kong during the week of the races.
On June 8 and 9, the hotel is offering an immersive, hands-on experience surrounding the event, with access that will impress even the most seasoned Hong Kongers. The Year of the Dragon Boat itinerary, complimentary to any guest staying at the hotel that week, includes a four-hour training session on June 8 at the Shek Mun Dragon Boat Training Centre in Shatin, a special one-time arrangement with the Hong Kong China Dragon Boat Association, thanks to the hotel’s well-connected and gracefully persuasive General Manager, Rainy Chan (the center isn’t normally open to the public). The training culminates in a competition between two dragon boat teams made up of staff and guests, and then on June 9, participants go to Aberdeen to watch the actual races.
Apart from the festive mood that permeates the city, the thing that makes the Dragon Boat Festival so special to Hong Kong’s cultural landscape is the fact that its origin story dates back 2,000 years. Also called Tueng Ng, the race falls on the fifth day of the fifth month according to the Chinese lunar calendar (it’s also a public holiday). It celebrates the legend of Qu Yuan, a beloved poet and state official who committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River after the city of Chu, his capital, was conquered. Locals mourned his death and never found his remains, so to preserve and protect his body, they paddled up and down the river to keep evil spirits and river monsters away. Today, the festival can be found in one form or another all over the world, from California to Australia, but Hong Kong is widely considered the birthplace of modern dragon boat–racing.
If you’re ready to go all-in, ask the guest relations team to sign you up when you book your room at the Peninsula—and come prepared to work up a sweat.