Arrive in Phuket Town during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival and you may wonder whether you are actually in Thailand. The whole place takes on a carnival-like atmosphere, similar to that of Rio, or the Easter celebrations in the Philippines, where fanatics flagellate themselves in public.
This annual festival in Thailand is celebrated by the local Chinese community, and may shatter any preconceptions you have about vegetarians. This colorful event, held every year in Phuket is a visually stunning religious celebration with vegetarian cuisine, processions and events, the like of which you have never seen before. The piercing of the body with all kinds of implements is commonplace by the religious observers, and fire walking and ascending ladders with bladed rungs, all part of the sacred rituals.
Tourists and casual onlookers may view this as more of a carnival celebration than a religious observance. The festival draws huge crowds from other Asian countries, and the main hotels in Phuket Town are often booked-up way in advance. This is a significant date on the calendar for Phuket’s large Chinese community, and during this time local residents will normally follow a strict 10-vegetarian day diet, in order to cleanse themselves spiritually and to make merit.
For those who participate in this rite, it has meant weeks of self-discipline, fasting and good behavior. Those who religiously observe the festival rules, believe that this bestows good fortune. Strict devotees known as “Mah Song” pierce their bodies and walk in hot coals. Sharp instruments such as spikes, sticks, poles and knives are used in the body piercing, with most piercing their mouth and cheek area, which provides gory entertainment for onlookers.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival Rules
The history of the festival dates back two centuries and rules are strict. Abstinence from eating meat, drinking alcohol and having sex is a requirement, in order to observe this religious rite. In addition, in the spirit of cleanliness and godliness, participants must wear white and behave in a manner which is honest and well intentioned — no cheating or lying.
The celebrations are based around the various Chinese temples in Phuket Town, which include processions in the street, on their way to the temples. The festival schedule is available on the dedicated website , as each day’s venue varies, featuring different shrines. You need to be an early bird to catch the best of the celebrations at the majority of the parades and rituals take place in the early morning.
Vegetarian Festival Dates
According to the Phuket Gazette, 23rd October 2007, the San Fransicso based Veg News magazine voted Phuket (during the festival) as one of the “10 Best Veg Destinations in the World”. Festival dates change slightly every year as it is held in conjunction with the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. This year the festival falls at the end of September, commencing on 28 September, and finishing on 7 October.
Phuket Town During the Festival
The tranquil heart of Phuket, with its Sino-Portuguese architecture and many Chinese shrines is transformed into a lively, colorful, noisy town full of chattering Chinese visitors. During the 10 days of the Vegetarian Festival, Phuket Town takes on a whole new demeanor.
The carnival-like atmosphere and the streets are decorated with flowers. Streets are filled with vegetarian food stalls offering an amazing array of dishes, juices and fruit. Everywhere you look there are clothing stalls, selling white cotton outfits of all shapes and sizes and organge ceremonial candles and incense.
Chinese visitors dressed from top to toe i white stand on sidewalks, waiting for the processions to pass. The sound of temple drums and bells ring through the town and the streets are heavy with smoke fromfire crackers and the smell of incense from the burning sandalwood sticks. Hundreds of candles are lit in all the Chinese temples, illuminating the Chinese status and lighting up the town.
Getting To Phuket Town
If you find yourself in Phuket during the 10 days of the Vegetarian festival, then this truly unique event is definately something to experience, however, its not for the faint-hearted!Getting there is easy from any of the main beach resorts, by taking a local songtaew. (small pick-up type buses) They start at 6am and will drop you off in the heart of the activities, at the songtaew stop in the city center.