A guide to the Phuket Vegetarian Festival
For nine days at the end of September and beginning of October, more than 40 shrines around the island participate in the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Activities begin on the first day that marks the beginning of the ninth lunar month. Although the festival is completely meat-free, you certainly do not have to be a vegetarian to enjoy yourself!
The rules are simple; if you participate you should wear white and behave both mentally and physically. Locals have a few more rules including staying away from alcohol and sex. Individuals who are pregnant, menstruating or in mourning are not welcome to attend either.
About 150 years ago, dwellers were affected by a fatal disease in the ninth lunar month that resulted in many lives being lost. They realized that the epidemic must have been caused because they neglected to pay homage to Kiu Ong Yiah. The next year, they refrained from eating meat, consuming alcohol, having sex, killing or telling lies and the epidemic ceased. It has become a yearly tradition since then.
Favorite places to eat at the festival include Herson Vegetarian Restaurant, Num Hen, Jay Pa Leam Restaurant, Lotus Restaurant and Yo Pachana. However, you will find food vendors set up nearly everywhere with delicious local ingredients.
Popular foods recommended by locals and visitors are deep fried vegetables (pak thod), tofu fried with chili and basil (pad krapao tau-hu), fried spring rolls (po pia thod), mixed vegetables (pad pak ruam), Thai fried rice noodles (pad Thai) and spicy mushroom soup (tom yam hed). You can expect many dishes to be prepared with coconut milk, chilies, kaffir lime, krapao, lemon grass and galangal.
What to Expect
Visiting the shrines is a real treat, especially since five of Phuket’s oldest shrines participate including Cheering Talay, Kathu Shrine, Bang Niew, Jui Tui and Put Jaw. A few others definitely worth exploring on the island are Sapam, Yok Ke Keng, Sui Boon Tong, Bang Neow and Thep Rasi.
During the ceremonies, you will see locals bring household gods to the temples to receive energy. They offer food and drink and you are welcome to light joss sticks to place around some of the gods while you’re there.
The activities in the streets are full of excitement. Running over hot coals is common and you’ll see many participants walking in a trance with sharp objects like swords and sticks through their skin. It is believed that forcing a skewer through one’s cheek absorbs bad energy and protects against sorrow or illness. Some will take it to the extra level by having flagpoles, shovels or other objects poked through their flesh as well.
As a visitor, you are expected to respect customs, beliefs and present yourself well. Locals are very welcoming to tourists who want to participate in the Phuket Vegetarian Festival but you must obey the rules of this sacred event.