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Myanmar / Philippines / Thailand

Celebrating Dragon Boat Festival Around Southeast Asia

With the influences of the Chinese culture, Dragon Boat Festival, often known as Dunwu in Mandarin, is celebrated in many places around the world. Happening on the 7th of June this year, Dragon Boat Festival is a traditional Chinese festival commemorating an ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan. However, as the festival is widely celebrated in south Asian country, traditions and customs are carried on in different ways.

First things first: what you need to know about Dragon Boat Festival

To know about the origin of Dragon Boat Festival, you need to know the Chinese poet Qu Yuan. Regarded as one of greatest poets in Chinese history, he had completed many masterpieces and showed devotion to his country.

Read more about the history of Dragon Boat Festival

However, not willing to see his country invaded, the patriotic poet drawn himself in the river in despair. The locals paddled down in the river trying to save him, but in vain. People then threw rice dumplings, which is also known as “zongzi” nowadays, into the river so that the fish wouldn’t feed on his body. Over 2000 years, it has become the two main traditions: eating zongzi and racing dragon boat.

Now, have your paddle ready, MyProGuide is taking you on a dragon boat setting off to Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines and Cambodia.

Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar: bringing zongzi to the next level

In Thailand, the size of zongzi can be both large and tiny. The stuffing of the zongzi is mainly sticky rice and meat, which is similar to the zongzi in southern China. Interestingly, there is another type of zongzi in Thailand: dessert-like zongzi.

They are sweet, and the stuffing is usually made of coconut, black bean, taro and sweet potato. One special feature is that the glutinous rice is soaked in the coconut milk before it is made, giving it a unique taste.

Sweet zongzi from Thailand
(Credit: eltatv)

In addition to Thailand, in Vietnam, people also eat Zongzi during the Dragon Boat Festival as a symbol for praying for harvest. Also celebrated on the fifth day of the lunar calendar.

Vietnamese believe that eating zongzi can bring good weather and harvest. Unlike the traditional Zongzi from China or Taiwan, the Vietnamese Zongzi is wrapped in banana leaves and has both round and square shapes. They believe that the round shape represents the sky, the square shape represents the earth.

Vietnamese zongzi named Banh Chung
(Credit: flickr)

The Essential Travel Guide to Vietnam

In Myanmar, Zongzi has a different name: the cloth bag zongzi. Getting the name from how it is made, it is stuffed with sticky rice, red bean, jujube. Oh and, don’t forget to peal before eating. 

Burmese zongzi in Myanmar
(Credit: nictanwen)

The Essential Travel Guide to Myanmar

Philippines: the thrilling international game at Boracay

Dragon boat racing in Boracay, Philippines
(Credit: govph)

As Philippines is widely known as a country of islands with water, it is popular for water sports, boats and swimming. Every year in the island of Boracay, taking place from April to May, the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation hosts teams all around Asia to compete for the title of best and fastest dragon racers.

Cambodia: Splash some water during Bon Om Touk

(Credit: travelcambodiaonline)

Bon Om Touk, also known as Cambodian Water Festival, is a three-day holiday celebrated during the full moon of October or November. It got its similarities to Dragon Boat festival, which focuses mainly on boat races. Celebrated over centuries, it’s a way to give thanks to the river, a celebration of the ending of the rainy season, and the changed flow of the Tonle Sap River.

Bon Om Touk or the Water Festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
(Credit: travelcambodiaonline)

Bon Om Touk is said to be the most fun at its capital, Phnom Penhyou. Visitors can join the free concerts at Sisowath Quay in the evening and have a great view of the boat race.

Apart from boat racing, there are three ceremonies for an entire Bon Om Touk.

Loy Pratip: 

(Credit: travelcambodiaonline)

It’s an evening parade on the river, featuring delicate and beautiful boats lighting up the waterways. The boats are decorated with lights and crafts, and interestingly, government institutions sponsor each of the boats on parade. What’s more, visitors can enjoy the breath-taking fireworks while the boats are floating.

Sampeas Preah Khe:

In some Asia culture, the full moon is mostly a good sign for the coming harvest, this is why the locals gather at the river and make sure to give thanks to it on Bon Om Touk. The locals believe this salutation to the moon can bring a bountiful harvest in the future.

Auk Ambok:

During midnight, people gather at temples to eat ambok (“flattened rice”), a kind of dish like zongzi which is also made of sticky rice. This simple dish is made with sticky rice mixed with banana and coconut.

It’s interesting to see how boat racing and the customs of eating zongzi are celebrated differently in countries in Southeast Asia. Still, the core values of these customs never change: being grateful to our ancestor, to our environment, and to all the good things happening around us.

Attending festivals is a great way to immerse yourself in local culture. Next time when stopping by Southeast Asia, remember to save the date for Dragon Boat Festival, the international dragon boat race, and the Cambodia Water Festival!

Check out 2019 Dragon Boat Festival in Taiwan:
2019 Dragon Boat Festival in Taiwan | History, Traditions, Top 5 Dragon Boat Racing Spots