The Phuket Vegetarian festival is a wonderful nine-day event which takes place during October. The occasion is intended to be a celebration of the belief of the Chinese community that if they remove meat from their diet during the ninth lunar month, then they will be bestowed with good health and peace of mind for the subsequent 12 months, until the next festival comes around the following year.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is an incredibly colourful affair, with a lot going on over its nine-day span. Whilst the origins of the festival are not actually known, the story goes that a travelling Chinese opera company came down with malaria during their travels, and had to stop on Phuket to recover. In doing so they started the Vegetarian Festival on account of the healing properties of the fruits and vegetables they were given during their stay.
During their stay the prayed to the Nine Emperor Gods that their illness be cured, whilst abstaining from all forms of meat. To the shock and amazement of all of the locals, the opera group recovered completely. It is since then that the Vegetarian festival has grown and grown into a huge international festival, held over nine days to honour the Nine Emperor Gods (one each day) who bestowed good fortune upon the opera group in the story.
There are a number of ceremonies that spectators can enjoy at the Vegetarian Festival. Men and women can be seen spearing their cheeks with sharp spikes – a sacrificial ceremony which is an offering to the particular deity being worshipped that day. Fire-walking and other acts of self-mortification can be seen. Take heed though – these aren’t for the faint of heart!
Local Chinese and Thai people will be witnessed in the temples offering food and drink and lighting incense sticks for the nine gods. They will often ‘bring’ their household god to a temple as they believe doing so gives him power, bestowed from one of the Nine Emperors, which he can use to bring fortune to the household of the successive 11-month period.
Street processions can be witnessed during the festival also, in which the local participants enter a trance-like state. They may then run across burning hot coal whilst in this trance, or even climb huge ladders constructed from very sharp blades. Visitors and spectators can also partake in some delicious local vegetarian street food during the festival, available form street-side vendors and market stalls.
Aside from the Vegetarian Festival, Phuket (and Thailand in general) has some wonderful cuisine for visitors to try when they come here. Everyone has surely tried Thai curry, which can come in a red or a green form (but beware, the Thai version of the dish is MUCH hotter than its foreign counterparts!). There is so much more on offer here, and you can never grow bored of the delicious dishes available to eat, including Kanom Jeen. Kanom Jeen is a popular dish all over Phuket, with many variations, but all of these are based around soft rice noodles. It is usually served with a choice of curries and comes with a side dish of fresh and boiled vegetables. Many people will also add a boiled egg.
Fruits and vegetables are also very popular here in Phuket. The climate is perfect for growing a variety of exotic foods!