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Ultimate Guide to Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2023

Ultimate Guide to Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2023

Thailand’s many festivals are always a marvel and something everyone should experience at least once. If you find yourself in Phuket around September or October, spend some time at a colourful and unique festival. 

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival, also referred to as the Kin Jay Festival or the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, is a yearly event celebrated in Thailand primarily by the Chinese community. It runs for nine days and is considered a bizarre festival.

This is mostly because the festival involves self-mutilation by a few participants in order to show their loyalty to their Deities aside from adopting a special diet for the duration of the festival. Participants usually walk on hot coals or pierce their cheeks with swords!

With everything that goes on during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, let’s look at some of the important events, activities, and details of the said festival.

What is the Phuket Vegetarian Festival?

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is a yearly event that is usually celebrated on the Chinese Calendar’s ninth lunar month falling somewhere between the months of September and October. 

This festival can trace its origins to the belief of the Chinese community that abstaining from various stimulants and meat products can help in obtaining peace of mind and good health.

However, what sets this festival apart is its bizarre and “extreme” form of festivities. These include invoking the gods through different self-mutilating acts such as body piercing and fire walking. 

The said acts are accomplished by select participants who serve as the gods’ mediums. These participants’ self-mutilations have become much more daring and spectacular with each passing year.

History of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival

The history of this festival may be a bit unclear but it is commonly believed to have been brought by a Chinese opera group that got hit by the Malaria epidemic of the time. 

One member of the opera group was then sent back to China to call on the Kiu Ong lah or the Nine Emperor Gods. The Chinese observe the tradition of abstaining from telling lies, quarrelling, having sex, drinking alcohol, and eating meat. 

This was done to ensure that the body and the mind are cleansed or purified. The malaria-stricken Chinese opera group recovered from their illness and since then, the inhabitants of Phuket continue the festival’s celebration.

Ultimately, the goal of the festival is to express the happiness of the people who survived a 19th-century deadly disease and to honour the gods who heeded their call for help.

Eventually, the festival has grown into a spectacle and is celebrated yearly in Phuket. It attracts thousands of tourists annually with most visitors coming from other Asian destinations, especially from China.

How long does the festival last?

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is commonly celebrated from late September to October and the exact dates can change depending on the lunar calendar of the Chinese. The festival runs for nine days and is observed in other Asian countries as well.

When is the Phuket Vegetarian Festival?

As stated in the previous section of this guide, The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is commonly celebrated from late September to October and this can change based on the lunar calendar of the Chinese.

For 2023, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival will be celebrated from October 13 to October 22. Last 2021, the festival was celebrated from September 25, 2022, to October 4, 2022.

What is the purpose of the vegetarian festival?

What is the purpose of the vegetarian festival

According to tradition and belief, the purpose of the vegetarian festival is for participants to obtain peace of mind and good health. To achieve this, participants refrain from taking various stimulants and avoid eating meat.

During the span of nine days or while the festival is in full effect, one can say that Thailand turns vegan. This is because while the most spectacular activities are conducted on Phuket Island, the entire country observes the said festival as well.

Rules for the festival

Rules for the festival

To achieve peace of mind and good health, participants need to follow certain commitments and rules during the interval of the festival. For starters, the festival should start on the very first day of the Chinese lunar calendar’s ninth month.

However, before the first day of the festival, a ceremonial pole raising must be conducted. Then, participants must observe or follow certain rules or commitments for nine days which include the following

  • Menstruating women should not attend ceremonies;
  • Pregnant women should not attend ceremonies;
  • Participants should avoid alcohol;
  • Participants should avoid sex;
  • Participants should avoid eating meat;
  • Participants should wear white during the festivities;
  • Kitchen utensils that are clean should not be used by non-participants;
  • Participants should have clean bodies during the festival.

What to see During the Festival?

The festival is associated with some ceremonies that are considered brutal and gruesome. These ceremonies are definitely not for the faint of heart! 

Participants, both women, and men will pierce their cheeks with skewers and knives, and other similar items. They believe that they will be protected by the Chinese gods and that these injuries should leave no scars and cause little to no bleeding.

Injuries during the festival, though, are mostly caused by the firecrackers being indiscriminately used by the festival participants. Tourists are advised to stay away from areas that observe this scary and deafening aspect of the celebrations.

The festivities will occur in and around the area of the six Chinese temples on Phuket Island. Jui Tui Shrine is the main temple located in Phuket Old Town.

Raising the Lantern Pole, as stated earlier, is the very first event of the festival and is meant to notify the nine Chinese gods that the festival has started. 

Once the lantern pole has been erected, participants believe that Shiva, the Hindu god, will go down and provide the festival with the god’s spiritual power.

The local Thai and Chinese community will then bring their offerings of food and drink along with their household gods to the temple in the next few days of the festival. 

Participants believe that their household gods will be benefiting from the yearly infusion of spiritual power from the temples. Tourists can join in the lighting of candles and joss sticks before they are placed around the household gods.

Processions on the streets will usually have participants climbing an eight-metre ladder full of sharp blades, running across burning coals, and walking in a trance. 

Tourists can simply enjoy this visual spectacle and simply enjoy the vegetarian dishes sold in markets and street stalls on the island. These dishes also use protein substitutes such as soybeans which makes them almost impossible to distinguish from local dishes. 

Protein substitutes allow these vegetarian dishes to taste, and look like and replace fish, chicken, and pork in Thai cuisine. Tourists can look for yellow-coloured flags with red Thai or Chinese characters to find the stall selling these vegetarian dishes.

Rituals and Events to See during the Festival

There are a number of rituals or events to see during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Below are some of them:

1. Fire-Walking Ritual

There is this belief within the Chinese community that fire can repel evil influence and overcome impurity. As humans attempt purification using fire, they are actually overcoming their “yin” and making amends for their sins.

While most people may see walking on fire as something that is dangerous, devotees are confident that those who are purified and cleansed by the fire will come out unharmed.

2. Bridge-Crossing Ritual

Participants who wish to be forgiven of their transgressions and to repent should prepare a monetary offering and a paper cutout of themselves before doing the ceremonial bridge-crossing ritual. 

Devotees and participants see this ceremony as cleansing of their past impurities and a fresh start in life. After ceremonially crossing the bridge, a red stamp of the gods is then placed on the back of participants to show they are already free from calamities and sin.

3. The Farewell Ritual

On the evening of the festival’s last or ninth day, the celebrations end with a farewell and send-off ritual dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods and the Jade Emperor. This send-off ritual starts at 10:30 in the evening of the last day.

During the ritual, devotees will wait in the streets of Phuket town to send  God “Kiu Ong” off to heaven. After the gods have passed through the shrine doors, all lights inside the shrine are turned off and access points are closed.

Where to eat during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival?

Where to eat during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival

During the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, Thai restaurants serving meat are open as usual. As such, tourists who fancy eating meat dishes such as steaks or grilled meats won’t really be deprived of their protein source during the festivities.

However, for those who want to try out the wide variety of vegetarian dishes offered during this festival, Phuket Town is definitely the place tourists should check out. 

The town has a number of major Chinese Shrines and a lot of the restaurants replace their menus during the festivities to only do vegetarian dishes. In addition, there are tons of food stores and street stalls that will sell vegetarian snacks and foods.

The said food stalls will usually be located on Ranong Road, between the Jui Tui Shrine and Ranong market. This area is usually closed-off during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival and it is here that vegetarian food stalls abound.

One example of a popular vegetarian snack is the vegetarian spring roll. It’s crunchy, flavorful, and filling, and it’s quite affordable at three pieces for only 20 THB.

Where to Celebrate the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket

Festivities will be observed in all of Phuket Islands Chinese shrines. As such, tourists who want to take advantage of this festival are advised to visit or stay near the oldest and major Chinese shrines on the island which includes:

1. Cherng Talay Shrine

This shrine has been around for 100 years and it has been renovated a couple of times. The temple houses 2 historical images that are believed to bring good luck. 

2. Kathu Shrine

One of the oldest shrines on the island, Kathu Shrine is believed to have been the first shrine to observe the festivities of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. 

3 Bang Niew

Established in 1904, this shrine boasts dragon pillars and colourful paintings of stories and creatures believed to bring good luck and prosperity to devotees. 

4. Jui Tui

While Jui Tui literally translates to “water mortar”, this shrine is of great significance during the celebration of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. 

Aside from major events and activities happening at this shrine for the entirety of the nine-day celebration, it is also here that nine Chinese lanterns are lit, signifying that the festival has started.

5. Put Jaw Temple

This temple is considered to be one of the oldest in Phuket and is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy. Most devotees come here to pray for good health or simply pray for the healing of certain health issues.

FAQs about the Phuket Vegetarian Festival

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