Phuket Opinion: A question of faith

PHUKET: The annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival drew a close at midnight on Wednesday (Oct 17) as plumes of smoke from the traditional bonfire at Saphan Hin, home of the Kua Tian Keng Shrine, billowed into the night sky, along with thousands of prayer notes set alight to join devotees’ ancestors in the heavens.

By The Phuket News

Sunday 21 October 2018, 09:00AM

A Mah Song takes part in a street procession during this year’s Phuket Vegetarian festival. Photo: The Phuket News

A Mah Song takes part in a street procession during this year’s Phuket Vegetarian festival. Photo: The Phuket News


The festival finale drew to a close nine days of honouring the Jade Emperor and the Nine Emperor Gods, but this year there was a marked difference – the lack of tourists lining the streets present to witness the spectacle.

The festival has always been an attraction for ethnic Chinese in the region – from mainland China but especially the Baba Nyonya or ‘Peranakan’ Straits Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore. Also, for years the festival also drew travellers from around the world who had seen photos of the Mah Song and their incredible range of facial piercings and read the reports that inspired them to come see the festival for themselves.

This year, however, the numbers didn’t come.

In numbers, five years ago (in 2013), 26.56 million tourists came to Thailand. Last year it was 35.38mn. This year, including the ‘plunge’, the country is still on track to host at least some 32mn tourists.

So it’s not the numbers, it’s the lack of interest. The plethora of smaller ‘village vegetarian festivals’ now held around the country – and those held in Bangkok – during the same nine days may account for poor turnout, and at some point all major tourism locales around the world suffer ‘destination fatigue’, but the ominous lack of tourists at this year’s Vegetarian Festival is foreboding.

What has grown over the same time is the number of comments and feedback branding the festival as non-genuine, nothing more than a spectacle put on to draw tourists to the island.

The Phuket News will not question the sincerity of the devotees who take part in the festival. It is a matter of belief and a form of local culture. That is for each person to decide for him or herself. But what has been put forward as plain evidence of the showmanship are the facial piercings using beach umbrellas, spanners, six-shooter revolvers and all sorts of ‘non-traditional’ items.

The Phuket News urges the people involved in Vegetarian Festival to reflect on the effect this might be having, and perhaps give the festival a chance to get back to its roots.



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Rorri_2 | 21 October 2018 - 15:04:15

Well said, as most of us intelligent people know.. however, some choose not to understand the origins of the festival.

Kurt | 21 October 2018 - 11:34:16

A great PN Reflection.  Now a reality reflection of the festival organisers.  Indeed, back to the roots!

By the way, is there any news about the Phoenix salvage attempt?

Mr Richie | 21 October 2018 - 09:22:31

as soon as the eastern block tourists came in the western block left in droves? ask the local Thai's which ones that they prefered even I know the answer I have been coming to Phuket for the last 14 years we all know what's wrong with Phuket that we love,I will still keep coming because I love it just a shame the crap that is allowed in. 

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