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May 30, 2011

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Dragon boat races and zongzi make for a wonderful holiday

THE Dragon Boat Festival is held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. This year the festival falls on June 6.

The festival is in honor of Qu Yuan, a famous scholar in the Chu State during the Warring States Period (476-221 BC).

According to the legend, Qu jumped into the Miluo River to show his loyalty to the king of Chu State.

As soon as locals heard the news, they got into boats and tried to save him. They threw rice balls into the river to prevent fish from eating his body.

This legend is the origin of both dragon boat races and zongzi, the dumplings which are popular during the festival.

Besides zongzi, people eat other traditional foods during the festival such as cucumber and preserved egg to pray for peace and love.

With this year's festival a three-day holiday over the weekend, it's the perfect time for families to get outdoors, watch some dragon boat races or attend some folk performances.

In Shanghai, there will be a small-scale dragon boat race in Songjiang District and a zongzi-themed tourist event in Binjiang Forest Park, Pudong New Area.

Outside the metropolis, there are more options.

Jiaxing City

Zhejiang Province

Jiaxing is famous for its zongzi and the tasty snacks are available practically everywhere. With a bit of luck, you may spot an elderly lady making zongzi in front of her house. These women are usually quite friendly and enjoy chit-chatting with passersby.

After chatting, buy some hot zongzi. Gently untie the cotton thread and slowly strip off the lotus leaf. Then take a bite.

Jiaxing holds many events, most based on zongzi, during the Dragon Boat Festival. These include a Zongzi Production Show, a zongzi wrapping competition and a zongzi-themed museum tour.

People in the city describe Jiaxing as a place full of peaceful rivers and streams.

Since Xitang, one of China's most famous ancient towns, is close to Jiaxing, you may also make a further excursion to take a stroll there.

How to get there:

There are frequent buses between Shanghai and Jiaxing. The ride takes about two hours. Or, you may take a train. The shortest ride by high-speed train departing from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station takes only 23 minutes to reach Jiaxing.

Xin'anjiang River

Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province

Early summer is the best time to visit the Xin'anjiang River area and its lush green forests.

The area's biggest claim to fame is drifting along the river on dragon-shaped bamboo rafts.

The characteristic scenery owns beautiful green trees with clean water, and there are many famous historical spots among the mountains.

The average temperature of Xin'anjiang River's water is around 12 to 17 degrees Celsius, making it quite refreshing on a hot summer day. Tourists here can join a dragon boat race if so inclined.

How to get there:

There are two daily bus shuttles between Shanghai and Xin'anjiang. The first bus departs from Shanghai Long Distance Bus Station at 7:50am and arrives at Xin'anjiang around 12pm. The second shuttle departs from the Shanghai bus station at 1:50pm.

Drifting Tips:

The rafts are a bit flimsy so take care when getting on and off.

Wear a life jacket at all times.

Wear sandals if possible as your feet are likely to get wet.

Protect your camera from the water.

Ticket: 75 yuan (US$12) per person for about a one-hour trip.


Guangdong Province

Reputedly, Zhanjiang has hosted dragon boat races for more than 400 years. It has now moved the race to sea.

At the fifth China International Dragon Boat Competition to be held in Zhanjiang on June 6, there will be a total of 15 teams with more than 400 athletes competing. Among the participants are those from Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy.

Besides the boat race, Zhanjiang has amazing natural scenes on offer. Among them is Huguang Scenic Area, which is only 18 kilometers from downtown Zhanjiang. It features volcanic landforms and a 2.3-square-kilometer lake and is a national 4A scenic zone. The area's East Sea Island has a beach and a famous lighthouse. The lighthouse is one of only two crystal prism lighthouses in the world.

How to get there:

Planes and trains are available from Shanghai to Zhanjiang.

Fenghuang ancient town

Huaihua City, Hunan Province

Surrounded by mountains and rivers, Fenghuang ancient town, is situated in the western part of Hunan Province and is known for its famous stilt houses along river banks.

Taking a boat cruise allows you to get a look at these houses that are packed together tightly.

Fenghuang used to be called "Wugan" in ancient times and its history traces back to the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC).

Fenghuang means phoenix. According to a local legend, two beautiful phoenixes flew over the town one day. They loved it so much that they decided to stay forever, hence the town became known as Fenghuang.

Dragon boat races are held here annually during the festival.

How to get there:

Take a train to Jishou City, and transfer to a bus to Fenghuang. The bus takes one hour. Or fly to Zhangjiajie City, and transfer to Jishou by train or bus, then to Fenghuang ancient town.


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