A Brief Guide to Phuket Vegetarian Festival Thailand 2023

 

 

Have you heard of this intriguing event they hold each year on Phuket island in Southern Thailand? Locals call it the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, but trust me – there’s nothing strictly “vegetarian” about it! The name is actually a bit of a misnomer, as this festival celebrating Chinese traditions involves some pretty intense practices that are anything but vegetarian.

 

The Thai Vegetarian Festival, also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival (In the Thai language we call it “Te-sa-gan Gin Je”) occurs every year during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar.

 

This year, Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2023 happens from the evening of October 14th to 23rd, 2023.

 

It is a 10-day festival that draws both locals across the country and tourists from around the world to witness the parades and celebrations which are one of the most astounding sites to observe once in a lifetime.

 

If you’re visiting Phuket during the festival season, definitely take a look – just be prepared for unsettling sights! Beyond the shocking acts themselves, it’s really fascinating to learn about the history and meaning behind these unusual Chinese-influenced rituals.

 

Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival offers a surprising cultural experience you won’t find anywhere else!

 

 

 

 

History of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival 

 

Phuket Vegetarian Festival is a big deal among the Phuketians, especially among those of Chinese descent and the Thai-Chinese community. However, the origin of the festival is unclear, the legend has it that the ceremony was held to honor the Nine Emperor Gods who helped end a plague affecting the community many years ago.

 

Participants perform feats of ritual self-mutilation to show devotion and ask for continued protection. Things like piercing their cheeks with sharp objects or walking over glowing hot coals or blades without injury. Stuff that would make even the bravest person cringe!

 

The participants of the worshiping rituals are believed to undergo a trance-like state in which the gods enter their bodies to help them endure the extreme acts of piercing or cutting without displaying signs of pain. They believe the spirits inhabit their bodies during the rituals temporarily. 

 

 

 

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2023 Events 

 

In the weeks leading up to the festival, observers will spot yellow flags dotting street corners, temples, and shops all over the island. Stages are constructed and banners are hung along main roadways advertising the various temple events to come.

 

Food stalls begin popping up en masse, filling the air with savory scents as they prepare dishes for the thousands of visitors expected to participate in the festivities.

 

While it’s called the Vegetarian Festival, the food sold during this time is comparable to vegan food. Many food options incorporate meat substitutes like tofu to satisfy both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. From mock meats skillfully shaped into chicken wings or sausages to indulgent deep-fried snacks, there’s something for every palate.

 

When the main festival starts, a crowd of worshipers, all dressed in white gather at major shrines in Phuket Town for the first event marking the ceremony’s opening: a giant bamboo pole rising to invite divinities to come down to earth.

 

 

 

What You Can Expect From The Events and Parades

 

While the spiritual origins of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival promote cleansing and purity, the festivities themselves are anything but sober. Spectators can expect lively, loud parades filled with colorful pageantry and traditional Chinese performances. Booming firecrackers blast along the routes, their smoke mingling with incense in the air. Musical beats and the shouts of onlookers create a thunderous atmosphere of energy.

 

The highlight of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival undoubtedly is the fleets of both men and women who engage in body piercings and feats of strength and endurance to prove their spiritual devotion.

 

Adorned with elaborate costume headdresses, these devotees pierce their cheeks and other body parts with objects like swords without inflicting injury upon themselves. It’s a dramatic display that draws thousands of spectators each night to watch.

 

Fearlessly testing their limits, these practitioners engage in daring acts of firewalking and body suspension. Staking knives, hooks, and whatever objects they choose to pierce their cheeks—yet bleed not a drop. Some innovators even top themselves year after year, stretching the boundaries of what’s possible through the willpower of their beliefs.

 

 

 

 

Processions Itineraries 2023

 

Ritual schedule for each shrine during Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2023

Credit: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Phuket Office

 

 

 

 

Main Phuket Chinese Shrines Where The Ceremonies Occur

 

If you’re staying in the famous beach area in Phuket, you won’t get to experience the festival since the Vegetarian Festival mainly happens in the inner city. 

 

Over 40 Chinese temples across the island partake in the festivities, but several stand out as major pilgrimage sites. Phuket Town and the northern district of Thalang serve as the spiritual epicenters where invaluable Thai-Chinese heritage comes alive.

 

Some of the most historically significant temples include Bang Neow Shrine, Cherng Talay Shrine, Phut Jaw Shrine, Jui Tui Shrine, and Kathu Shrine. Here, morning processions and evening rituals immerse visitors in vibrant traditions. Dynamic Lion Dances and trance performances honor the nine emperor gods believed to exorcise misfortune. Intrepid Durga practitioners engage in mesmerizing acts of spiritual stamina as well.

 

From the famous beach location like Patong Beach, reaching the significant Chinese temples in the inner city would take approximately half an hour. 

 

 

On the festival’s concluding day, Cherng Talay Temple and the famed Jui Tui Temple come especially alive with adherents completing their sacred vows.

 

Phuket Old Town bustles with pilgrims celebrating this hard-earned catharsis after nights of revelry and worship. For those wishing to partake in the holiday’s full cultural significance, immersing within these hallowed grounds offers irreplaceable perspectives one cannot find along resort beaches. Heeding locals’ advice to arrive early likewise guarantees an enjoyable experience untouched by tourist crowds.

 

 

 

 

Commitments During The Festival

 

To partake in the festival is believed among Thai people to be the purification of the mind and the body in which you abstain from consuming animal produce and harmful acts for a period of 9 days

 

The first day of the festival is marked on the 9th of the Chinese lunar calendar and for 9 days, the participants  have to commit to these actions:

 

Take care of your hygiene during the festival

 

Clean kitchenware and utensils that were previously used to consume meat before using them during the festival

 

Wear white-color clothing 

 

Behave righteously — no killing, violence, scorning, etc.

 

Abstain from eating meat

 

Abstain from sexual activities

 

Abstain from alcohol

 

Pregnant women and women who are on the menstrual cycle are not allowed to participate

 

Mourners should not attend the festival

 

 

 

Common Vegetarian Food Eaten During The Festival Period

 

The “Jay” in the Thai language means vegetarian. For the dishes followed by the word, Jay indicates that that dish is made without any animal products.

 

 

Mee Pad Jay: Fried flat rice noodles or round egg noodles are commonly served with kale during this period, referred to as Mee Pad Jay.

 

 

 

Por Pia Tod Jay: Another favorite snack is Por Pia Tod Jay, which consists of deep-fried spring rolls filled with vegetarian ingredients.

 

 

 

Yen Ta Fo: The soup called Yen Ta Fo takes on a pink hue from fermented red bean curd seasoning, though meat substitutes replace chicken or pork in its preparation for the duration of the festival.

 

 

Khao Mok Kai: Yellow rice with tofu stands in for the poultry.

 

 

Thin chilled rice noodles come dressed with a curry-like sauce joined by tofu and mushrooms, going by Khanom Jeen Jay.

 

 

 

A steamed tofu treat sauteed in a thick Chinese sauce alongside baby corn and carrots is named Tao Hu Song Kruang.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

The annual Vegetarian Festival in Phuket is a vibrant cultural event that should not be missed if you find yourself in Phuket during the festival dates. As one of Phuket’s most notable festivals celebrating Chinese culture and traditions, it offers a unique glimpse into an intriguing spiritual and religious practice that is deeply rooted in the local community.

 

If you’re traveling to Phuket during High Season, check out our guide on how to maximize your trip in Phuket during Phuket High Season

Check out traditions practiced during Chinese New Year in Phuket

 

 

If You’re Looking For Affordable Stays in Phuket, Consider Staying at Lub d!

 

Lub d Phuket Patong is a popular choice for travelers seeking comfort, affordability, and a vibrant social environment. Located in the heart of Patong, this modern and stylish hostel offers a range of room options to suit different traveler preferences. With its convenient location, you can easily explore the lively streets of Patong and experience the lively atmosphere day and night.

How to get to Lub d Phuket Patong