Phuket Vegetarian Festival is not what you’d expect by its name.
An intense riot of color, noise and flavor. Phuket Vegetarian Festival is about so much more than just great food.
It’s the stuff of fantasy- nine great Tao Emperor Gods in the heavens, moving the stars and planets to their own design and controlling the life and death of the mortal realm. Sound intriguing? Well believe it or not, this is the background to the Phuket Vegetarian Festival which is held on the island every October.
Mixing great food with a host of rituals and ceremonies, this is a rich cultural experience. The festival will be held from October 8th to October 17th in 2018 and is very welcoming to visitors, so read on to discover the best bits that shouldn’t be missed.
History of Phuket Vegetarian Festival
Many years ago, a wandering Chinese opera group contracted malaria while travelling through Phuket. Fearing the worst from this lethal disease, they turned to the powerful Nine Emperor Gods for help. They prayed for their return to health and ate only vegetarian food as a tribute. Making an almost unheard-of full recovery, they started the tradition of an annual festival on the island to honor these gods who gifted them their lives back. Or so the story goes!
Nowadays the festival has been embraced by the local Chinese community, who avoid meat and other stimulants during the ninth Chinese lunar month in tribute to the Gods.
What goes on?
The Vegetarian Festival is a full-on experience so come prepared for some strange and potentially gruesome spectacles! The festival starts on day 1 with the raising of a pole fixed with a lantern at Chinese temples across the island to serve as an announcement to the gods that festivities are about to begin. The days that follow are filled with street processions, fire walking rituals, body piercing events and ceremonies to prove the devotion of worshippers- think barefoot climbing of bladed ladders and crossing bridges made of nails. We did say it’s not for the faint-hearted! Local temples can provide a timetable of what’s happening when.
The biggest procession of all is saved for the final day of the festival. Worshippers stream out of the Chinese temples in the Old Town at 9pm to form one huge riotous procession through the streets to bid the Emperor Gods farewell. Get swept along in the crowds and don’t forget your camera to make the most of this unique experience.
What about the food?
It’s not called the Vegetarian Festival for nothing! Street stalls spring up throughout Phuket Old Town and across the island, selling a variety of tofu- and vegetable-based dishes made specially for the festival. We recommend trying pad tau-hu priew waan or sweet and sour fried tofu, po pia thod or fried spring rolls, and the delicious tom yam hed or sour and spicy mushroom soup. All of these incredible Thai dishes will cost you less than 150 baht and are cooked up fresh on the street.
An Experience Not to be Missed
The processions, the costumes, the devotion of the worshipers, the great food. Phuket Vegetarian Festival is a one-off experience that will linger long in the memory. Take a deep breath and dive right in to this amazing cultural event.