The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is one of the noisiest, weirdest, most fascinating religious events you’ll ever witness. Held over 9 days in the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, this year’s festival (2020) takes place from October 16 to October 25. Across Phuket, especially in the Chinese communities of Phuket City, Thalang and Kathu, Chinese shrines fill up with devotees dressed in pure white. Some perform sacred rituals and physically challenging acts including walking barefoot over hot coals and climbing ladders of sharp blades.
The Vegetarian Festival’s prime and most photographed event is its processions, where people, called ‘Ma Song’, believed to have been possessed by Chinese gods walk with any number of sharp objects pierced through their cheeks from simple metal spikes to machetes to bicycle gears.
To discover a less gory side of the festival, visit some of the hundreds of food stalls that set up around the Chinese temples. You’ll find a great variety of vegetarian meals and snacks, all cheap and tasty. Several restaurants around Phuket also switch their menus to vegan fare during the festival.
The best place to find vegetarian food during the festival is in the Phuket Old Town area. Wander along Ranong Road near the Jui Tui shrine to find dozens of food stalls. It’s a crowded and lively scene – and you’ll likely hear a lot of firecrackers going off throughout the day. This is not a peaceful way to eat, but it’s a great way to see a slice of the local culture!
Vegetarian Festival rules
Here are some Phuket Vegetarian Festival rules and things to know for those joining the event:
- Avoid eating meat and killing living things.
- Don’t steal.
- Refrain from sexual behaviour.
- Don’t tell lies.
- Avoid drinking alcohol.
- Refrain from gambling.
- Don’t wear jewellery or leather goods.
- Wear only white attire.
- Pregnant and menstruating women are not to join in any of the rituals.