The start of this year’s festival commences on Monday (Oct 12) in the late afternoon when the “lantern poles” are raised at all the participating shrines. The Emperor Gods are said to descend down the poles into the shrines at midnight.
The Vegetarian Festival is an annual event held during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. It is based on Chinese beliefs and the participants are generally from Phuket’s Chinese Thai community which makes up around 30 per cent of the population. Everyone is dressed in white to symbolise purity.
During the festival, many young people become lost in trances, apparently channelling the gods, and they seem to be very proud of their scars on their bodies after they pierce themselves – all the while claiming to feel no pain. It is believed that taking part prolongs one’s life and brings good luck.
The festival has fast become popular not just for those of Chinese ancestry, but also for many expats and tourists. Many expats practice the same abstinence out of respect for the traditions and practices. The upshot of this is giving the liver and digestive system a much deserved break from the rigours of living in this famed paradise, along with the indulgent lifestyle that comes with it. The festival promotes a time where one can partake in the 9-day vegetarian or vegan diet as an opportunity to cleanse their bodies of all things toxic.
For the full nine days, observers must abstain from meat, alcohol, dairy products, eggs, onions and garlic. Whether that means taking part in a full juice detox programme, or simply enjoying the array of vegan food from the number of stalls scattered around the island, it is a very special time for many. This avoidance of “vice” promotes a strong mind and body, and of course leads to a feeling of lightness, brightness and purity.
It is not just a celebration of plant-based food, nor a sensational spectacle for tourists, the Vegetarian Festival is steeped in history and tradition. Although celebrated in other parts of Thailand, the tradition was originally started in Phuket in 1825.
Following is the full itinerary:
Monday October 12
At all the Chinese shrines the raising of the Go Tengpole. The lanterns are hung from the pole at midnight, signifying the start of the festival.
During the 13th – 14th, there aren’t really any big events except for a small procession from Naka Shrine on the 14th, but people can visit any shrine at any time, and the Jaefood can be found all over the island.
Wednesday October 14
There is a street procession into Phuket Town from Naka Shrine, located next to the weekend market.
Thursday October 15
There is a street procession which starts at 7am at Sapam Shrine. If you wish to see piercing take place at any shrine, then be sure to arrive before 7am. In the evening, there will be another procession around Kathu village for the Birth and Death Gods (Lam Taoand Pak Tao). Statues of the gods are carried through the streets by teams of young guys and most of the Ma Songfrom Kathu also join the parade (no piercings on this day).
Friday October 16
The big street procession starts from Sam Kong Shrine. The procession goes from the shrine in the north of town, past Bangkok Hospital and through the old section of Phuket Town.
Saturday October 17
The street procession on this day commences from Tha Ruea Shrine, which is in the Thalang area of Phuket.
Sunday October 18
Expect very big crowds of people on this day as in the morning (7am), a huge street procession will take place in Phuket Town for the Bang Neow Shrine, which is in the south of the town on Phuket Road. There is also a smaller procession starting at 7am from Cherng Talay Shrine. Fire walking kicks off at 8pm at several locations including Sapam Shrine, Saphan Hin, Baan Tha Reua Shrine and Sui Boon Tong Shrine (just west of the market and not far from Jui Tui Shrine in Phuket Town.
Monday October 19
There will be a street procession starting at Jui Tui Shrine, which is probably the biggest shrine in Phuket Town, it takes about an hour for the whole procession to pass. Jui Tui features something that Bang Neow does not - female Ma Songs.
Later in the day, there are lots of events on the schedule at various shrines including bladed ladder climbing at Sam Kong and Bang Neow shrines and “nail bridge crossing” at Sapam Shrine.
Tuesday October 20
There will be a street procession from Kathu Shrine to Phuket Town, and later in the evening there will be fire walking at Bang Neow, Cherng Talay and Sam Kong shrines.
Wednesday October 21
The last full day of the Vegetarian Festival. There is a street procession for Sui Boon Tong Shrine in town early in the morning, then events such as firewalking at Kathu Shrine in the afternoon.
In the evening, there will be a huge procession around Phuket Town, with people carrying statues of the gods to Saphan Hin. Expect millions of firecrackers and fireworks.
It’s advisable to wear long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt as well covered shoes.
Earlier in the evening on the last night there is the “Bridge Crossing for Purification” ceremony at the shrines.
Thursday October 22
At about 5pm the lantern poles (Go Teng poles) are lowered at the shrines to mark the end of the festival.