The Colourful Vegetarian Festival of Phuket

September 13, 2019.
Tags: Guide, Tips, Phuket, Cuisine, Events

The Vegetarian Festival has been a part of Phuket's culture and history since 1825. The festival is comprised of delicious food, spectacles, processions and lots of fireworks. It takes place for nine days in Phuket Town.
But understanding what you see when you go to the festival is often not easy. The spectacles and processions are definitely not for small children or the faint of heart. We'll explain the history of the festival. Then, you'll be able to make sense of the rituals and the strange, never to be forgotten experience that has made the Vegetarian Festival one of Phuket's most famous events

History of the Vegetarian Festival

In 1825, the tin mines of the island were Phuket’s main industry. Mostly Chinese workers worked the tin mines, and the island was covered in a dense jungle which served as a breeding ground for malaria and dengue fever.

China sent an opera company to Phuket to entertain the miners. During their time on the island, the members of the opera company fell ill.

One of the opera members, being a devout Taoist, realised that they had forgotten to pay homage to the Nine Emperor Gods of Taoism during the stipulated period of worship, which is during the first nine days of the ninth lunar month. The illness was thought to have been inflicted on the Chinese opera members by the Emperor Gods as punishment.

They immediately began observing traditional Taoist methods of honouring the Gods. They abstained from sex, meat, alcohol and swearing. They also started a self-imposed ritual of self-mutilation to demonstrate to the Gods their apologies and atonement for their conduct. To the astonishment of the Kathu locals, the opera company underwent a miraculous recovery.

Taoism is alive and well in Phuket among the ancestors of these Chinese miners and all Thais of mixed Chinese-Thai ancestry. And these ancestors have fervently paid homage to the Nine Emperor Gods every ninth lunar month without fail ever since.

What to Expect at the Vegetarian Festival

The Vegetarian Festival is a noisy and riotous occasion, and you’ll find a lot of the town's restaurants, and businesses shut down during the nine days that it takes place.

Generally, most of the processions and action take place around the Chinese temples that occupy Phuket Town. But all of the more than forty Chinese temples on the island pay homage to the Nine Emperor Gods.

Remember, this is a religious festival. Be sure and show proper respect. If you enter the grounds of a temple, be sure to dress and act appropriately. Tourists are welcome to take photos but don’t get in the way of a procession or worshipper.

Better yet, stay well back from any processions that come your way. You’ll find that people throw firecrackers at the feet of walkers during the processions. While they’re mostly harmless, people have been injured by fireworks during the festival, some seriously.

Taoist devotees also practice self-mutilation. They’ll drive nails, spikes, guns, umbrellas and various other metal objects through their cheeks. They also walk across hot coals and climb a ladder made of sharpened knives. This is why we say this isn’t the place for small children or the faint of heart.

Food During the Vegetarian Festival

For practising vegans, the Vegetarian Festival is paradise. Most of the Thai dishes offered consist of the same basic ingredients and preparation methods. But they are made with absolutely no meat, poultry, fish or dairy. Tofu or plant-based meat substitutes are used instead.

Thai chefs are skilled at creating well-known Thai meat dishes using meatless products and have them taste just like the real thing.

Thousands of vendors will set up stalls all over town to peddle their meatless dishes to the hungry masses. Those flying yellow flags are entirely vegetarian, and you'll see mostly yellow flags along every street.

Phuket Town is probably not the town you’d want to stay in during the Vegetarian Festival unless you enjoy a daily soundtrack of firecrackers. Nevertheless, Rentals for the Holidays has spacious and modern accommodations all across the island of Phuket, including Phuket Town.

We also have plenty of accommodations within a short drive, so you can easily get away for a breather when the excitement gets to be too much, or you need to give your ears a rest.

Contact Rentals for the Holidays to book your accommodations today for the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. The festival begins on Sunday, September 29, and runs until Monday, October 7 2019.