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The Quirkiest Festival You’ve Never Heard Of: Cheung Chau Bun Festival

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Well, maybe you’ve heard of it. After all, Time regards the Cheung Chau Bun Festival as one of the “Top 10 Quirky Local Festivals“.

Every year the Cheung Chau Bun Festival falls on the 5th – 9th days of the fourth lunar month. Leading up to this time, the locals of Cheung Chau–a small island fishing village, are busy preparing paper mache deities, sewing beautiful costumes, baking “lucky” buns, and creating sky-high bun towers.

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Although most people are unsure of this festivals origins, some say it began with a plague that was sweeping across Cheung Chau. Locals built an alter at the Pak Tai Temple while parading statues of various deities through the streets, praying that it would ward off the plague. Lo and behold the plague came to an end and the locals continue practicing these Taoist rituals even today.

One of the main events is the Piu Sik Parade, or floating colors parade. This is a reenactment of the ceremonial parade said to have driven out the plague– only instead of using statues, children dressed as deities or modern celebrities are hoisted above the crowd on poles.

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A traditional deity

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Portraying Lee Lai Shan, Hong Kong’s first gold medal Olympian

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A Cheung Chau Bun Scrambling participant

After the parade, we stopped by the famous Pak Tai Temple. This Taoist temple is one of the oldest in Hong Kong, built in 1783. It is also considered a Grade I historic building.

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Next to the temple, you could see the giant paper mache deities, including Pak Tai (also known as Yuen Tin Sheung Tai). Here people lined up waiting to show their respect with incense and offerings.

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Also adjacent to the Pak Tai Temple was a stage set up for various cultural performances. While we were there, a Cantonese opera performance started. They were performing Legend of the Purple Hairpin (紫釵記), which is a famous courtship story.

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Other performances included kung fu, lion dance and unicorn (qilin) performances. We were also lucky to see a unicorn dance parading down the street after we had left the Cantonese opera.

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The other highlight event would have to be the Bun Scramble Competition. 60ft tall bamboo structures are covered in 9000 buns. At one point the buns were actual steamed and blessed buns, but now they use plastic replicas so that food is not wasted.

At midnight on the final night of the festival, participants try their best to scramble up the bun tower and gather more buns than their opponents. And the higher the bun, the more points they’re worth.

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This event used to be a “free for all competition” allowing anyone to jump on and join the fun, but after a horrible accident injuring 100 people in the 70s, the event was cancelled. It was recently brought back in 2005 with stricter rules and harnesses for the climbers.

All week there had been qualifying rounds to see who would be in the championship, using metal structures without buns. This was the actual tower that the 12 participants would be climbing later that night.

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One of the best parts of any Hong Kong festival, is getting to eat festival foods. Stalls lined the narrow alleys of Cheung Chau selling traditional festival foods, like dragon beard, red bean cakes and fresh fruit on bamboo skewers.

During this festival, the whole island of Cheung Chau goes vegetarian, so all of the food you’ll find at this festival is vegetarian friendly.

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Of course you can’t go to the bun festival without eating some of the fresh “lucky” buns. Made from only flour, sugar and water, these buns are steamed to perfection; and you’ll have your choice of 3 different fillings– white lotus, red bean, or sesame paste. Yum!

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Traditionally, each bun is then stamped with the Chinese symbol for “peace”.

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If you’re ever in Hong Kong for the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, do take some time to check it out. Each year over 70,000 people flock to the small island just for this event, and with good reason. Where else in the world can you see a quirky festival like this?

Want to go to the festival?

How to get there: Ferry from Central ferry pier 5 to Cheung Chau

What’s the quirkiest festival you’ve experienced?

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5 Responses to The Quirkiest Festival You’ve Never Heard Of: Cheung Chau Bun Festival

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