Phuket is one of the most diverse and culturally rich province in Thailand, celebrating all walks of life and honouring many different religious beliefs. With so many festivals and celebrations happening at various times of the year you can always find a culturally rich celebration to attend. One of the most prolific would have to be the Vegetarian Festival Phuket, or as it is known in Chinese culture “The Nine Emperor Gods Festival”.
The Vegetarian Festival Phuket is a nine day Taoist celebration that takes place annually on the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Because of the large Chinese population and tourism industry the festival has become a pivotal celebration in Thai culture. First introduced to Phuket around 1867 (by a travelling Chinese Opera group) it has gained popularity amongst the Thai community for its ritualistic properties and similarities to Buddhism.
The Vegetarian Festival takes place in the surrounding areas of the six main Chinese Shrines around Phuket. Participants and spectators dress all in white and abstain from eating meat which they believe purifies the mind and body which in turn promotes good luck and prosperity. There are often colourful processions that march up and down the streets dancing and lighting firecrackers all while wearing spiritual costumes and robes. Some patrons will even bring images of their gods to the temples/shrines, along with offerings, where devotees believe that they will absorb the spiritual energy.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Vegetarian Festival Phuket are the ceremonies that are meant to invoke the gods by fire walking, body piercing and other acts of body mutilation. In what is describe as a “trance” men and women alike pierce their cheeks and other soft tissues with items such as knives, skewers and pins in hopes the gods will use their bodies as vehicles while they bless the surrounding spectators. There are 10 major rules that each participant must strictly follow during the festival in order to be truly purified: Have a clean body, use clean kitchen utensils and do not share, wear all white, behave mentally and physically appropriately, no eating meat, no sex, no alcohol, do not attend if you are in mourning, do not attend if you are pregnant and do not attend if you are menstruating.
True to its name, during the nine days the streets are ripe with market like set ups where visitors can find any and all manner of vegetarian dishes prepared fresh right in front of you. The meat is often replaced by soybean and protein supplements that taste similar to meat products. The stalls that offer vegetarian dishes will be marked by yellow and red labels with Thai and Chinese characters on them.
While the festivities generally only take place in and around a few of the most popular shrines and temples around the island, there are over 40 found in Phuket and unsurprisingly ALL of them participate. With set locations and rituals for each day the Vegetarian Festival Phuket is one of the most enigmatic and exciting celebration that happens on the island.
Below is a schedule of what to expect and where for the Vegetarian Festival Phuket 2017:
Day 1: The raising of the Lantern Pole takes place at all major shrines invoking the spirits of over 36,000 gods of the Chinese pantheon. This signifies the start of the festival. At the end of the first day all the shrines also perform the Heavenly Warriors Releasing ritual as well as the Nine Emperor Gods and the Jade Emperor God invitation ritual.
Days 2 – 8: These days are where the majority of the processions, fire walking, bladed-ladder climbing, oil bathing and nail-bridge crossings occur. Each shrine offers a different schedule for these ceremonies in 2017, so we have compiled an easy to read list for your convenience below:
Mon 23 Oct: Sapam Shrine street procession from 07:00
Tue 24 Oct: Samkong Shrine street procession from 07:19
Wed 25 Oct: Ban Tha Rue Shrine street procession from 07:30
Thu 26 Oct: Bang Neow Shrine street procession from 07:00
Fri 27 Oct: Jui Tui Shrine street procession from 08:00
Sat 28 Oct: Kathu and Yokkekeng Shrines street procession from 07:00
Sun 29 Oct: Sui Boon Tong Shrine street procession from 07:00
Thu 26 Oct: Jui Tui Shrine Fire Walking at Saphan Hin from 20:09
Thu 26 Oct: Fire Walking at Sui Boon Tong Shrine from 21:00
Thu 26 Oct: Fire Walking at Ban Tha Rua Shrine from 20:00
Thu 26 Oct: Fire Walking at Yokkekeng Shrine from 20:00
Thu 26 Oct: Fire Walking at Sapam Shrine from 21:00
Sat 28 Oct: Fire Walking at Bang Neow Shrine from 20:00
Sat 28 Oct: Fire Walking at Samkong Shrine from 20:00
Sat 28 Oct: Fire Walking at Cherngtalay Shrine from 20:09
Sun 29 Oct: Fire Walking at Kathu Shrine from 15:00
Fri 27 Oct: Bladed-ladder climbing at Bang Neow Shrine from 20:00
Fri 27 Oct: Bladed-ladder climbing at Samkong Shrine from 20:00
Fri 27 Oct: Oil bathing and tying children’s wrist at Ban Tha Rua Shrine from 20:45
Fri 27 Oct: Bladed-ladder climbing at Cherngtalay Shrine from 19:59
Fri 27 Oct: Nail bridge crossing and oil bathing at Sapam Shrine from 20:00
Day 9: Marks the last day of the Vegetarian Festival Phuket. On this day those who have strictly followed the 10 rules of the festival will cross the bridge of purification and be rewarded with a stamp to signify completion. The very last ceremony of the festival is a large and energetic procession called the Nine Emperor Gods Farewell that all shrines participate in. Each participating shrine has an emperor god. The procession marches through the streets with all nine of the Gods in the procession as it heads towards Saphan Hin and eventually right out of Phuket.
Day 10: Although it is not a major ceremony that many attend, every shrine does have a small discreet gathering as they all lower their Lantern Poles and safely stow them away until the next year.Related Links: Events and Festivals | Tourist Spots | Nearby Phuket Town Tourist Spots