Festival mania: 33rd Penang International Dragon Boat Festival
This inimitable island has become the go-to-place for festival lovers over the last few years and James Lochhead clues you in on the ones that you should make time for
One of the most famous festivals established in Penang festive calendar is the Dragon Boat Festival. It started in 1979 and has been organised every year since. So get yourself to the beautiful surroundings of Teluk Bahang Dam, beyond Batu Ferringhi, and check out the 30-odd teams from around the world racing their dragon-boats across the lake. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and you’ll walk away knowing that you’ve seen something weird and wonderful.
This festival is a must-watch because of the crazy colours and decorations on the boats – each of which will have a carved dragon head as its prow. The atmosphere becomes more exciting as the frenetic paddling goes on – boats will have between eight to 20 paddlers, depending on the category of race, all standing and paddling furiously – and the incessant beat of the drums from each boat, beating out the rhythm for the paddlers and creating an awesome sound that echoes round the hills and across the water.
The event is fun yet serious. Its history stretching back 2,500 years is steeped in communal, ceremonial, ritualistic and religious traditions. Originally part of the harvest cycle, it was an event to celebrate rice planting and venerate the celestial dragon. Now teams comprise all sorts from all over the world: women and men, young and old. Why not get a team together? Penang’s Festival is part of a circuit of Dragon Boat racing festivals, under the International Dragon Boat Federation, that is supported by the Penang State Government. As Danny Law Heng Kiang, State Exco for Tourism Development and Culture says, ‘It is an exciting, international event held in a beautiful environment. We are proud to host the thousands of competitors and supporters, and look forward to a wonderful event again this year.’
When June 30 – July 1
Where Teluk Bahang Dam, Penang Island
For info on the 33rd Penang International Dragon Boat Festival, see listing.