Cheung Chau Bun Festival
The annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival is a bizarre, wondrous event which stands out among all of Hong Kong’s traditional fests. The wonder of it all is that it’s based around the simplicity of a steamed bun filled with lotus paste. Well, okay, it may not be exactly that simple – the buns are assembled into three phenomenal 50-foot towers and participants must climb up and snatch as many lucky rolls as possible – but it’s still entirely dedicated to that humble little piece of dough. Here’s our essential guide to the fest…
Ritual marking start of bun festival
Here we go! The bun festival officially starts on Wednesday April 25 with a ritual presentation to celebrate the launch. 9pm, Pak Tai Temple Plaza.
Piu Sik Parade
With children cleverly dressed and hoisted up in the air, the Piu Sik Parade is a spectacle of colour and tradition. Huge crowds are drawn and figures throughout history are represented – there are musicians, gongs and flags. It’s loud, it’s proud and it’s loads of fun. 2pm-4pm, Refer to the parade route at http://www.discoverhongkong.com/culturalcelebrations/eng/cheung_chau_bun/cheungchau_map.pdf
Bun scrambling competition
This is the event that we’ve all been waiting for – the epic bun scrambling. Contestants scale huge towers made from replica buns to earn as many points as possible, with certain buns scoring higher points as some of them are ‘luckier’ than others. This year there will be nine males and three females competing within the time limit of three minutes. All the climbers are trained and have been practicing with the Hong Kong Mountaineering Union. The oldest participant this year is a brave 63-year old, who is also a newcomer to the competition. The bun towers are created from a staggering 8,000 replica buns, each stamped with a message of peace. But don’t forget to collect your tickets – the ticket give-away starts at 10pm at Pak She First Lane – and while it’s free to attend, tickets are allotted ‘while stocks last’. Get in there! Midnight, Pak Tai Temple Soccer Pitch Playground.
Distribution of Buns
After all the excitement, there are the sweet treats to enjoy. A total of 20,000 real white buns will be handed out – but get there early or else you might miss out. 9am, Distribution of Buns at Pak Tai Temple Plaza.
Who knew snatching buns could be dangerous? In 1978, a bun tower collapsed and ended up killing 30 people. That was enough for the festival to be called off for years, until eventually it was reinstated in 2005 with some well-thought-out safety work. Unfortunately the buns are plastic replicas of the real thing – but we’re well assured to know that the towers are supported by a strong inner structure and that all contestants will be strapped to safety harnesses. Do note that the traditional festival celebrations include ditching the consumption of meat – so don’t expect any carnivore delights here.
If you really want to get involved in the feel of the bun festival, why not stay at Cheung Chau for the fest instead of ferrying back and forth? Do book well in advance since demand will be high. Try the Warwick Hotel (East Bay. Book at 2981 0081), the cosy Bread and Breakfast Cheung Chau (Tung Wan, 12-14 Tun Wan Road) and, finally, a collection of Sea View Holiday Flats for those on a budget (contact Miss King to book: missking@hkseaview).
How to get there
Most of the events will be held at the Pak Tai Temple on Cheung Chau. Catch a ferry departing from Central Pier 5 – timetables can be found at www.nwff.com.hk. Since festival highlight, the Bun Scrambling Competition, starts at midnight, First Ferry will offer an additional ferry service at 1.15am on April 29. Extra night bus services will run from Central Pier 5, including night bus routes 104R, N8X, N90, N182 and N619.
If you’re looking for something fancier though, you can sail to Cheung Chau aboard the gorgeous Aqua Luna, which is one of Hong Kong’s remaining traditional red sail junk boats. There are two departures, one from Central Pier 9 at 10.30am and one from TST Pier 1 at 10.45am. The ride includes lunch at 12.15pm – and tickets are priced at $528 per adult, $428 per child. Book your tickets at www.aqualuna.com.hk or 2116 8821.
Grey Line Tours also does a guided Tour of the Bun Festival, which includes a leisurely ride on a chartered boat, a visit to see the bun towers at Pak Tai Temple, a vegetarian lunch and a view of the Bun Festival Parade from a grandstand. Apr 28, $820 per person, book ahead at 2368 7111.
Bun Making Fun
Wing Wah Bakery offers up a special in conjunction with the Bun Festival. Until May 3, these lucky buns will be on sale at all branches of Wing Wah. More importantly, though, there are opportunities to make your very own buns. There will be bun-making classes held in April at Tsim Sha Tsui, so get your hands dirty and knead up some tasty treats here. Apr 15, 22 & 29, noon-1.15pm & 3pm-4.15pm, Shop 4, G/F Union Mansion, 35 Chatham Rd South, Tsim Sha Tsui. Costs $30 per person, register at any of the Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Centres, 2508 1234.