Phuket Vegetarian Festival
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival varies in terms of its dates from year to year, as it’s based on the Chinese lunar calendar. It takes place in the ninth lunar month, which usually falls in October.
In 2016 it ran from October 1st – 9th, and in 2017 it’s scheduled for October 20th – 28th.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival begins at midnight, with the raising of the Go Teng (Lantern) pole at the Chinese temples around the island. The pole is equipped with nine lanterns, each representing one of the Chinese gods. The raising of the poles signifies to the gods that the festival is about to begin, and that the gods are invited to take part.
What follows is nine days of some of the most unusual, exciting and unsettling events you’ll find in Thailand. There are a number of processions, which are accompanied by loud music and hundreds of firecrackers being let off.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is most famous for the various acts of self-mutilation which the locals subject themselves to. They believe that by doing so they act as intermediaries for the gods (they’re known as Ma Song, or ‘middlemen’), and that the gods will protect them from lasting pain. Attend the festival and you’ll find people sticking knives and swords through their cheeks, walking across burning coals, bathing in boiling oil, and climbing ladders made out of blades. This is not a festival for the squeamish.
The actual name of the festival isn’t entirely irrelevant, however! There is a focus on vegetarian food throughout the festival, and we’ll explain the reasoning in the ‘Why’ section. Wherever you go, whatever event you attend, you’ll find plenty of stalls selling vegetarian food.
Phuket has a large Chinese population, many of whom are descended from miners who originally came over in the 1800s. The festival itself is thought to have begun in 1825, in Kathu district.
Participants in the festival are encouraged to avoid engaging in all vice for at least three days, which includes the consumption of animal flesh. By not eating meat, they believe that they are purifying their spirits and displaying strength and willpower, in both their body and minds.
There are a number of Chinese temples dotted around the island of Phuket, and all of them take part in the festivities. Particularly noteworthy places to take in the Phuket Vegetarian Festival include the Jui Tui Shrine in Phuket Town (on the east side of the island), and Kathu Shrine (on the west side).