Thousands flock to Hong Kong’s Cheung Chau for famed parade and festival but bun competition too late for some

Thousands flock to Hong Kong’s Cheung Chau for famed parade and festival but bun competition too late for some

At least 13,000 people had flocked to Hong Kong’s Cheung Chau for a parade and festival by noon on Wednesday, but many said they would not stay on the outlying island for a signature bun-scrambling competition in the evening because of the crowds as well as school or work the next day.

The sound of gongs, drums and suona – a Chinese reed instrument – resonated throughout the scenic island as dancing qilin – similar to a dragon dance but with a mythical hoofed beast – made their way through the packed streets and alleyways for the Cheung Chau Da Jiu Festival.



Hong Kong’s Cheung Chau Bun Festival begins with a parade

Hong Kong’s Cheung Chau Bun Festival begins with a parade

Spectators eagerly waited for the Piu Sik – or floating colours – parade, a traditional Taoist ritual featuring children aged between four and six dressed in colourful costumes and balanced on “floating” platforms.

Sun Ferry said that as of noon on Wednesday, a public holiday for Buddha’s Birthday, 13,000 people had made the trip to Cheung Chau, which was 23 per cent more than in the same period last year. The ferry company added extra sailings to cope with demand.

Revellers braced for hot weather, with the temperature at 28.1 degrees Celsius at 2pm.

Tourists queue up in Central for the ferry to Cheung Chau. Photo: Jelly Tse

Teacher Lianna Wittenberg was on Cheung Chau for the first time with her Spanish husband and two daughters, aged four and six. She said that while they wanted to see the bun towers, they would leave before the start of the competition.

“It’s partly the crowd, but also tomorrow is a work day and the children have to go to school,” said Wittenberg, an Australian in her early 40s.

“There is also other stuff to see like the parade. We also want to eat the mango mochi as well as the buns with the lotus bean paste or the red bean filling.”

Teacher Lianna Wittenberg is visiting Cheung Chau with her husband and daughters. Photo: Ambrose Li

A group of three secondary school students, aged 13 and 14, said they decided to make use of the public holiday to visit a classmate on the island.

“We are looking forward to the parade. It is rumoured to feature Mr and Mrs Ho this year,” said Alsa Lai, referring to a couple whose romance and familial bickering recently became the talk of the town.

The story of widower Ho, 76, marrying a 43-year-old mainland Chinese divorcee just a month after meeting – with his children believing their new stepmother to be a gold-digger – has set television and social media alight.

The teenagers said they were also enjoying the festive ambience but planned to leave the island after the parade.

The streets are packed for the Cheung Chau Bun Festival. Photo: Elson Li

A Hong Kong-based Singaporean finance worker, who did not wish to reveal his name, said it was his second visit to the annual festival and he had brought his girlfriend along.

“Last year, I really enjoyed it. It felt like a very local experience,” said the man in his thirties.

His girlfriend, in her twenties, added: “I’m expecting a crowd, that’s the only reason I have never come here before.”

The couple hoped to sample a McDonald’s vegetarian burger available only at the Cheung Chau branch during the festival and also the famous ping an buns, but they were not staying for the competition because of work on Thursday.

The parade, which ended at around 3pm, stayed true to its essence of being topical, featuring characters from popular Hong Kong film In Broad Daylight. Other character highlights included a staff member of the Environmental Protection Department, in a nod to the city’s controversial waste-charging scheme, and fencing star Cheung Ka-long.

The participation of Scouts with bagpipes and drums, as well as the Hong Kong Vigor Marching Band performing local pop songs, gave the otherwise traditionally Chinese parade a touch of Western flavour.

Mong Kok resident Kelvin Luk, father of six-year-old Luk Pan-shing, said his son was taking part in the parade for the first time.

“We are not Cheung Chau residents, but it is very nice of the locals here to welcome us to take part in this traditional activity so we can experience the custom,” he said.

Luk said there was a selection process to assess the participating children’s suitability for characters with four rehearsals and training before the big day, and his son’s calm demeanour had helped him to secure a spot.

Pan-shing added: “I’m not afraid of heights because my home is on the 11th floor, I’m used to it.”

The Piu Sik parade features children dressed in colourful costumes. Photo: Elson Li

Cake shop owner Kwok Yu-chuen said business was better than expected, rising 10 per cent compared with last year.

“I thought business would be worse because of the rainy weather recently and also many Hongkongers are making their way to the mainland during holidays,” Kwok said.

Buns in his shop cost HK$11 each, HK$1 more than last year because ingredients were more expensive, he said. Kwok said the shop’s location along the parade route had also helped business.

But Thomas Tong, who runs a 32-seat cafe along the route, said he expected business to fall about 30 per cent over last year.

“There may be many contributing factors. The popular thing to do now is to head across the border on holidays. Day trips are very easy now and many of my friends are doing so,” he said.

“Also, if people take two days off, tying in with the weekend, it’s a five-day holiday and that could be a short trip overseas.”

He said he had observed a general trend of more mainland Chinese tourists and fewer visitors from countries such as France, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the US compared with pre-pandemic times. The purchasing power of mainland tourists was very strong, he added.

The bun-scrambling competition is expected to start late at night, with results available after midnight.



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