Dragon Boat Festival & Race in Malaysia

Dragon Boat Festival in Penang, Malaysia
Dragon Boat Festival in Penang, Malaysia | Source

Duanwu Festival

Duanwu or Dragon Boat Festival, a Chinese ritual with over 2000 years of history, began as an event to ward off evil spirits and diseases, which were then very rampant during summer.

This is one version of the many stories about the origins of Dragon Boat Festival. Another version is associated with the patriotic poet Qu Yuan.

Zongzi, Xionghuang Wine, and Dragon Boat Race

When Qu Yuan drowned himself in the river, the villagers used zongzi to distract the fish from eating his body. Zongzi, a traditional Chinese food made of glutinous rice stuffed with various fillings and wrapped in bamboo leave is hence, associated with the Dragon Boat Festival and eating zongzi is, therefore, part of the rituals during this festival.

Drinking xionghuang wine or realgar wine, a Chinese alcoholic drink made with realgar is another activity associated with this festival. This is believed to turn away evil spirits.

However, the main activity and highlight of the Dragon Boat Festival is the dragon boat race.

In this race, competing teams will paddle their boats forward to the beat of thumping drums, to the finishing line. This race originated from the action taken by the villagers who beat their drums to scare away the fish and paddled their boat frantically looking for Qu Yuan's body. Why is it in the shape of dragon?

In another version to the origin of Dragon Boat Festival is the worship of dragon, the god in charge of water. Therefore, during Duanwu Festival, people will entertain the dragon god by racing in wooden boat with colorful dragon head and tail, and offerszongzi, in exchange for a good weather and agricultural produce.

This vibrant and rich ritual of dragon boat race and eating zongzi has continued to be in practice for centuries until today.

Zongzi, made of glutinous rice stuffed with various fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves, eaten during Dragon Boat Festival period
Zongzi, made of glutinous rice stuffed with various fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves, eaten during Dragon Boat Festival period | Source

Dragon Boat: Paddle or Row?

In Dragon Boat Race, participants will face forward in the boat and will use a paddle and not an oar. Hence, they paddle. Rowers on the other hand, face backwards and use an oar.

Dragon Boat Race in Other Parts of the World

Dragon boat race is now a major sporting event in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, Singapore, and Malaysia. The popularity of dragon boat festival has spread to other parts of the world and you can now find the event in the USA, England, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canada, Philippines, Russia, and Turkey.

The popularity arises from the dragon boat race, which is now one of the fastest growing water activities. The annual dragon boat races held in these countries have attracted a lot of international competitors vying for the prized trophies.

Dragon boat race in Penang
Dragon boat race in Penang

Dragon Boat Festival in June and July

Dragon Boat Festival is usually held in the month of June and July. In some countries, it may even be held in August and October. However, in China, it is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, which is June.

In China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau, this festival period is a public holiday, but unfortunately, it is not the case in other parts of the world!

Dragon Boat Festival in Malaysia

In Malaysia, Dragon Boat Festival and the Dragon Boat Race used to be organized and participated by the Chinese communities. Now, it not only attracts other ethnic groups in Malaysia, but also international participants.

This festival is also an annual event and is held in the state of Penang, Putrajaya, Malacca, and Sabah.

All dragon boat races that are organized in Malaysia will comply with the 'International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) Competition' regulations and the IDBF Rules of Racing.

Dragon Boat Race Categories

For the Malaysian Dragon Boat Races, the smallest dragon boat is for 12 crews and the longest, for 22 crews inclusive of paddlers, one steerer and one drummer.

Standard categories are for the under-23, the over- 40, and teams comprising of all-men, all-women and a mixed men and women.

There is also the special category for the cancer/breast cancer survivor team for the races in Putrajaya and Sabah.

The shortest distance is the 200 meter sprint. Then, there are the standard 500 meter and 800 meter distance.

Poster for the Penang International Boat Race 2014
Poster for the Penang International Boat Race 2014 | Source

Dragon Boat Race in Penang

The Malaysian dragon boat race was first introduced and held in Penang, and was participated mainly by the locals and teams from government department. It was then held at the waterfront along Gurney Drive.

Then in 1979, it started to invite teams from outside Malaysia and had since attracted rowers from more than 60 countries.

With over 30 years of experience in organizing this event, the International Dragon Boat Race is now a major water sport in Penang. The race covers distance of 200 meters and 500 meters straight course only.

It is a two-day event held in June and has now moved to the picturesque and beautiful Teluk Bahang Dam. It is about 45 minutes from Georgetown, Penang's colorful capital city that was awarded UNESCO World Heritage City in 2008.

Even though the event starts at 9:00 am and ends at 5:00 pm, do come early to get a spot with good viewing vista.

If you have a binocular, bring it with you as the actual event may be far from where you are seated. If you do not have one, this is a good excuse to buy one! For the camera, do not forget the telephoto and zoom lenses to snap photos of the dragon's head, the adrenaline charged paddlers and the scenic beauty of the venue.

Also, do not forget to check out the weather forecast for the day. It can be unpredictable though, so bring along a good sunshade and umbrella, to be doubly sure.

Do not worry about food as you can buy various choices of food from the food stalls at the event venue, and Penang is Malaysia's gastronomic paradise!

Location for the Dragon Boat Races in Malaysia

show route and directions
A markerTeluk Bahang Dam, Penang -
Telok Bahang Dam, Tanjong Bungah, Penang, Malaysia
[get directions]

B markerPutrajaya Lake, PutraJaya -
Putrajaya, Federal Territory of Putrajaya, Malaysia
[get directions]

C markerLikas Bay, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah -
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
[get directions]

D markerMalacca -
Malacca, Malaysia
[get directions]

Putrajaya Water Sport Complex, venue for the Malaysia International Dragon Boat Race in Putrajaya
Putrajaya Water Sport Complex, venue for the Malaysia International Dragon Boat Race in Putrajaya | Source

Malaysia International Dragon Boat Race in Putrajaya and Malacca

The official Malaysia International Dragon Boat Festival organized by Malaysia Dragon Boat Association, is a Twin City Race held in Putrajaya and Malacca. This event has attracted a lot of entries and had exceeded 2,000 participants from over 25 countries each year.

Putrajaya, Malaysia's new administrative city is about 30 minutes from Kuala Lumpur city center and if you arrived from the International airport, it is about 20 minutes away.

Malacca is further south, about one hour drive from Putrajaya.

Malaysia International Dragon Boat Race 2014

The event will include not only local and international participants, but also teams from the breast-cancer survivor participants.

For 2014, this Twin City Race is on May 30th, 31st and June 1st, 2014.

The race in Putrajaya also includes the special category for Malaysia Inter-Corporate, Malaysia Inter-Government, Malaysia Inter-Uniformed Organizations, and Malaysia Beginners Race.

Dragon Boat Race in Malacca

The dragon boat race in Malacca is part of the itinerary in the month-long Melaka International River Festival and held at Melaka River.

At Putrajaya, the venue is at Putrajaya's Water Sports Complex in Precinct 5.

Due to the nature of the venue, the race is a short sprint of 500m in Putrajaya and 250m in Malacca.

If you bring your kids to the race, they can do other activities for a fee such as pony ride or jump around in the inflatable bouncy castle.

Then there are the food stall tents selling fast food, Malaysian foods, junk foods and kiosk that give away free coffee, if you are early and lucky enough.

The Malaysia International Dragon Boat Race will include the Breast Cancer Survivor Teams
The Malaysia International Dragon Boat Race will include the Breast Cancer Survivor Teams | Source

Sabah Dragon Boat Race

The annual International Sabah Dragon Boat Race is jointly organized by Sabah Tourism Board, Sabah Chinese Culture Association and Sri Pelancongan Sabah and is held at Likas Bay, a bay about four miles to the north of downtown Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah.

Sabah Chinese Cultural Association initially organized the race, but in 1996, Sabah Tourism Board and other travel agencies became their organizing partners.

As with the other boat races held in Penang and Putrajaya, Sabah Dragon Boat Race also attracts international participants. The event, however, is a much scaled down version of the race in Penang and Putrajaya.

It covers the 200 meter and 800 meter race distance, unlike in Penang and Putrajaya that had 500 meter as the longest race distance.

Although the smallest boat is for 12-crew team, the longest boat is for 20-crew team only, unlike the Penang and Putrajaya race that had 22-crew team.

In 2013, 76 teams took part in the race and they were competing in nine categories, which include the Breast Cancer Survivor Race category.

Sabah Dragon Boat Race 2014

In 2014, Sabah Dragon Boat Race will be on June 7th to June 8th, 2014, dates which are the same as for the International Penang Dragon Boat Race. On the first day it will be from 8:00 am to 11:00 am and on the second and final day, it will be from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm.

It is also in its 29th edition and is one of the major sporting events in the state, besides the Mt Kinabalu International Climbathon Adventure Series and Sabah Adventure Challenge.

Sabah Dragon Boat Race at Likas Bay
Sabah Dragon Boat Race at Likas Bay | Source

Visit One of These Dragon Boat Races in Malaysia

If you happen to be in Malaysia around this period, make a point to see at least one of these International Dragon Boat Races. There is no entrance fee; all you need to do is to travel to these venues. My recommendation is to either go for the Penang or Putrajaya race. You can skip Malacca, which is part of the Putrajaya twin race, if you are short for time.

See you there!

Link to More Info on Dragon Boat Races in Malaysia

If you need more information on the Penang and Sabah Dragon Boat Races, click on their respective web-sites below:

Penang Dragon Boat Race 2012

© 2014 Mazlan

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Comments 9 comments

greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 15 months ago from Malaysia Author

Hi livetech. That sounds like fun. You should join the other dragon boat races as well. I believe there's one in the UK at Bewl Water sometimes in the early part of September. Check it out.

Thanks for dropping by and sharing your experience.


livetech profile image

livetech 15 months ago from United Kingdom

Awesome hub! I took part in the dragon boat race earlier this year in China - in a city called Hangzhou. I was in a team with other foreigners, working together to get our boat to finish first! We ended up in third place and celebrated by capsizing the dragon boat!


greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 2 years ago from Malaysia Author

@Eiddwen, thanks for the kind words. Have a great weekend.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

A brilliant hub and thanks for sharing. Now looking forward to so many more by you.

Eddy.


greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 2 years ago from Malaysia Author

@ kidscrafts, do you know that the largest dragon boat race outside Asia is held in Vancouver, Canada? Probably due to the large Chinese population there. It started way back in the late '80s. The breast cancer survivor teams are very active in this race and participated in most of the dragon boat races around the world. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.


kidscrafts profile image

kidscrafts 2 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

We have a lake (a small one) in Ottawa where people practice that kind of race :-) I find that fascinating!

I think that there is a team of women who are breast cancer survivor who participate to that!

Thank you for sharing that special festival in Malaysia!


greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 2 years ago from Malaysia Author

@teaches12345, the TV sports channels are the best place to watch all the sporting activities around the globe and I am glad you saw Dragon Boat Races on TV. I watched the video on training for dragon boat race and boy, it looks tough! Thanks for the visit and your comment. It's so good to see you again.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

I have watched these type of races on TV and know it takes great strength and training to paddle these boats. I found your post educational.


WiccanSage profile image

WiccanSage 2 years ago

Very exciting; great images! Nice work on this hub. I didn't know much about boat racing but this looks like such a fun and exciting event.

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