An estimated 1,500 people joined the event, led by Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew and joined by Phuket City Mayor Somjai Suwansupana, local government officials, representatives from Chinese shrines around the island, and local residents.
The parade made its way from Queen Sirikit Park in Phuket Town late yesterday afternoon and concluded at Saphan Hin, where a ceremony and mass prayers were held to honour The King.
Governor Narong explained that the Vegetarian Festival has been held every year for more than 195 years and was declared a national cultural heritage event by the Department of Cultural Promotion, under the Ministry of Culture, in 2018.
Although the official dates of the nine-day festival for this year are from Oct 17-25, the festival quietly began at sunset on Friday (Oct 16) with the raising of the Go Teng poles at participating shrines across the island so that the nine Emperor gods could descend from the heavens to join the festival.
The festival continued today with street processions organised by the Bang Koo Shrine north of Phuket Town, the Hai Yian Geng Shrine in Mai Khao, the Sheng Leng Tong Shrine in Tambon Thepkrasattri in Thalang and the Sapam Shrine also just north of Phuket Town.
Street processions scheduled for tomorrow (Oct 20) include those organised by the Lim Hu Tai Su Shrine in Samkong, the Tai Houd Tong Shrine at Surin Beach and the Bu Seng Tong Shrine in Baan Kian, Cherng Talay.
The festival will conclude with the final night bonfire at Saphan Hin on Sunday night (Oct 25), before the Go Teng poles are lowered at participating shrines next Monday morning (Oct 26).
The festival this year is being conducted under ’New Normal’ health regulations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, although Phuket has not recorded a new case of infection for more than 100 days.
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Supasorn has announced that the TAT expects the festival to attract some 60,000 people to take part in the festivities, altogether generating a projected more than B350 million in revenues for local businesses.
That news comes in the wake of the now-ubiquitous announcements that the first tourists to be allowed to land in Phuket since the COVID-19 lockdown began will not arrive until after the Vegetarian Festival has concluded.