Travel Phuket

Tourist information for Phuket, Thailand

Vegetarian Festival

Travel Phuket

The Vegetarian Festival is held annually in Phuket in late September and early October during the first days of the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. It begins with the raising of the Lantern Pole, which acts as a sign notify the Nine Emperor Gods that the festival is about to start. The pole is about 10 meters tall, and celebrants believe when erect, the Hindu god Shiva descends, bestowing spiritual power on the event. Over the next few days of the festival, the Chinese/Thai community brings their household gods to the temple, hoping the spiritual energy filling the temple will transfer into their gods. Participants offer food and drink to the gods, and visitors can watch or participate in lighting of joss stick and candles that surround the gods.

For nine days, participants abstain from eating meat, having sex and drinking alcohol, as well as observe other traditions. Visitors can fill up on the spectacle of the ceremonies, or the special vegetarian dishes, specifically made for the vestival, from street vendors and markets (look for yellow flags with red Chinese or Thai characters on them for vegetarian food stalls).

Not for the faint-of-heart (and maybe one you want to avoid involving the youngsters), the ceremonies themselves are best described as a sometimes gruesome spectacle, with processions of mediums in trances performing various acts of self-mutilation and mortification to invoke the gods. Ceremonies include fire-walking, with participants walking over beds of hot coals, and body piercing where participants use everything from tree branches to kitchen knives, skewers and other utensils to pierce their cheeks, slice their tongues, or perform other grotesque self-flagellations.

For those wanting to witness the festivities, they usually take place around the six Chinese temples found throughout Phuket, with the Jui Tui Shrine near the Fresh Market in Phuket Town being the main temple.