Never mind the onset of autumn, September heralds something truly important in Hong Kong – the start of the racing season, the city’s most democratic, fun, free-for-all night out. Horses aren’t keen on racing in the height of summer, but once the temperature drops, the tracks at Happy Valley and Sha Tin resound once again to the thunder of galloping hooves and the frantic roars of a capacity crowd on most Wednesdays and Saturdays. Fact: annual betting turnover is some HK$115 billion. Admission is HK$10. Wednesday is the new Friday at the Valley, with live bands and themed entertainment. Insider tip: the eighth horse in the eighth race might not be quite as lucky as Chinese superstition suggests…
Almost as popular is Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on 24 September, but mooncakes – the season’s traditional food, infused with egg yolks and lotus seed paste – make their appearance long beforehand in bakeries, department stores (try Wah Fung Chinese Goods Centre in North Point) and hotel shops. Lanterns are strung up in public places such as Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park, and families tend to make a night of it, picnicking and admiring the moon, whose roundness is held to symbolise unity.
One of the festival’s most exhilarating entertainments, the Fire Dragon Dance, takes shape in Tai Hang, once a fishing village, now one of the island’s hipper neighbourhoods. First performed in the 19th century to avert a run of bad luck (plague, a mischievous python), the dragon dance winds its way around the streets over three evenings (23-25 September) in a riot of noise and colour. Anyone thirsty or hungry will find plenty to tuck into in the immediate neighbourhood: try Bing Kee for local eats, Second Draft for craft beer, Pudding Nouveau for cute desserts or Hello Kitty Secret Garden for free-flow kitsch.
Early September marks the conclusion of the Hungry Ghost festival, a time to feed and entertain the spirits of the dearly departed. Joss sticks are lit next to small offerings of food at wayside shrines, but the most public – and audible – celebrations are the free evening Cantonese Opera performances. Staged in temporary bamboo theatres, the kaleidoscopic, cacophonous operas last for up to five hours – but it’s quite normal for patrons to walk in and out at will.
Sep 22: Jessie J live, Hong Kong
Sep 30-Nov 4: Hong Kong Arts Centre presents Wan Chai Grammatica: Past, Present, Future Tense
This exhibition looks at the history of Wan Chai, featuring works by 18 artists local to Hong Kong or closely connected to the city. hkac.org.hk
Sep-Oct: Autumn leaves season, Nami Island, South Korea
Popularised by Korean drama Winter Sonata, this island not far from Seoul is beautiful year-round. Enjoy it in autumn, when the trees cover the paths in red and yellow.
Oct 8-17: Phuket Vegetarian Festival, Phuket, Thailand
At this Taoist festival, participants give up meat, so there’s a wide selection of vegetarian dishes on offer. Bizarrely, the event also features rituals of self-mutilation, such as cheek impaling.
Oct 9-10: Autumn Takayama Festival, Takayama, Japan
Check out this festival’s diverse events: parades of people dressed in samurai wear, elaborate floats, mesmerising marionette performances and glowing evening processions.
Oct 21: Harbour Race, Hong Kong
Nov 9-11: Clockenflap, Hong Kong
Nov 25: Halong Bay Marathon, Vietnam
Famed around the world for its serene beauty, Halong Bay plays host to this annual event, with a route that offers views of mountains, fishing villages and the bay. halongmarathon.com