Dragon boats first appeared 2,000 year ago in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. They were of the family of traditional paddlecraft boats used in the area, but were more lavishly decorated and used in folk rituals. These ornately decorated boats took the world by storm and are now the centre of a lively international sport. The competitions have grown into large events where teams paddle for the thrill and accolades of competition...

Tim Horton's Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival in Ontario, Canada

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The Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival is a four-day celebration of the arts, sports, culture and heritage. It is also North America's largest dragon boat festival. Every year it attracts around 5,000 paddlers who come to compete in a number of different types of dragon boat racing.

The festival takes place in Ottawa near the end of June every year and a number of the activities presented aid local charities.

The opening ceremony is held on the first day and hosts cultural attractions like Aboriginal dances and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Pipe and Drum band, as well as other performances that honour the Asian origins of the festival. After the opening ceremony, races are conducted and visitors can attend musical performances, chill out in the large beer garden or spend some money at vendor and artisan stalls.

International Dragon Boat Festival in Hong Kong

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Unlike the other traditional dragon boat festivals, the International Dragon Boat Festival takes place a few weeks later in July rather than mid-to-late June to also commemorate the end of British colonial rule in Hong Kong.

This festival spans the first week of July and is easily one of the largest celebrations in Hong Kong. Teams from all over the globe gather to compete. Each year, they host over 200 teams from countries like Germany, Japan, Canada, France, Thailand and the United States.

Ultimately, the dragon boat races in this festival are just the tip of the iceberg. During this week-long festival a number of celebrations are going on around that city, including cooking contests, the beer-drinking contests at the San Miguel BeerFests, photo opportunities in the more aesthetically appealing dragon boats and a number of concerts. It is easy to see why this massive festival takes this city by storm each year.

Happy Dragon Boat Festival in Foshan, Guangdong, China

For a taste of a traditional dragon boat festival, travellers have to head to China. While most towns or provinces have their own version of this folk festival, it is not celebrated nearly a passionately as it is in the Guangdong province – where the original dragon boats were made.

The town of Foshan is the staging point for the Happy Dragon Boat Festival. However, the highlight of this particular festival is not the dragon boats, but rather a stunning 1,000 metre long hand-made traditional silk dragon. It takes 500 people to completely bring the dragon to life. This dragon weaves through town as part of the opening ceremony. Afterwards, 130 different teams man their dragon boats and race along the shores of Guipan Lake. Aside from the races and hundreds of booths pedaling crafts and food, there is also a charity banquet held in order to collect food and funds for the less fortunate in Foshan.

Annual Dragon Boat Festival in Boston, USA

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Boston is home to the longest running Dragon Boat Festival in the US - celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2014. The festival is celebrated simultaneously in Boston and Cambridge as 60 teams race their dragon boats down the Charles River in between the two towns.

Admission to this festival is free so anybody can enjoy wonderful Asian foods, traditional performances by renowned groups, art and crafts demonstrations and shopping. After the racing is done, many of the teams offer to take willing visitors for a trip down the river in their boats. This is a great way to get a feel for the competitive sport, view the surrounding area and meet a lot fun people.

Taipei Dragon Boat Festival, Taiwan

This annual Dragon Boat Festival takes place at the Dajia Riverside Park, where over 200 boats from local and foreign teams gather to valiantly race. Aside from the races, the Taipei Dragon Boat Festival hosts a number of unique activities that can only be found in Taiwan, including dragon eye dotting, making zongzi, and creative egg balancing contests.

Visitors can attend traditional art workshops and everyone is invited to enjoy free musical performances. Each year, government officials really go all-out for the Dragon Boat Festival as they say it celebrates some of their most important traditions in their culture and history, and by taking part in the festival, everyone attending is preserving the traditions for the next generation.

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