The Phuket Vegetarian Festival in Thailand is a unique and spiritually rich event. At HOMA, we're committed to lift up your living experience by providing insights into this local celebration. This festival is centred around purification, self-discipline, and spiritual devotion, with participants wearing white attire and following a strict vegetarian diet. We're here to help you explore the festival's history, rituals, and delicious vegetarian cuisine to ensure your visit is exceptional!
Each year, the Vegetarian Festival (เทศกาลกินเจ) falls on the 1st to the 9th night of the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. This year, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2023 will be held for 10 days from 15 Oct - 23 Oct. It is considered one of the most important festivals in Phuket with thousands of devotees taking part in the rituals as well as maintaining a strict diet. Let’s learn more about its roots and rituals.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival - A Brief History
While there have been many versions of its history, the most common story of this traditional ceremony dates back to the 1800s when the island absorbed a significant number of Hokkien refugees immigrating from Fujian province who were escaping political turmoil and the Chinese famine. Among those who came to Phuket Town was a group of Chinese entertainers who were supposed to perform an opera show. Mysteriously, many members of the cast became seriously ill. To purify their minds and bodies, the crew members went on a strict vegan diet for 9 days and 9 nights while praying to the 9 Emperor Gods. Soon after, the crew members miraculously recovered and came together to thank and celebrate the 9 Emperor Gods by hosting a festival in their honor. This then kickstarted what is Phuket’s largest annual festival today with celebrations being held at several shrines throughout the island.
Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2023
The Vegetarian Festival, also known among the locals as “Jia Chai” is a traditional practice of Taoism that is not just about challenging yourselves to a strict vegan diet but is also filled with beliefs, spirits, and rituals. The traditional rituals practiced by the Chinese since the olden days include the worshipping of Gods, Angels, and Heroes.
Back in 2018, the Ministry of Culture recorded the Vegetarian Festival as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in the category of Social Practice, Ritual, Tradition, and Festival of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Rituals of the Vegetarian Festival
In the heart of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, there are three key rituals that really make this cultural celebration stand out. Each of these has a deep history and a special meaning connected to faith and purification. Let's roll up our sleeves and explore these awesome traditions, peeling back the layers to see the cool stories behind them!
The Fire-walking Ritual
The Chinese believe that “Fire overcomes impurity and repels evil influence.” As men purify themselves with fire, they are making amends for their sins and thus, overcoming Yin. While playing with fire is seen as a dangerous encounter for many, the devotees believe that those who are cleansed and purified will be void of being burnt.
The Ceremonial Bridge - Crossing Ritual
For those who believe that they have sinned and wish to cleanse, to repent - they must prepare a paper cutout of themselves with a monetary offering at their discretion when crossing the bridge. The idea for devotees is that crossing the bridge resembles a fresh start in life and that their past impurities will be cleansed. Once crossed, a red stamp of the Nine Emperor Gods’ will be sealed on the back of the devotees to signify that they are free from sins and calamities.
The Farewell Ritual
On the evening of the 9th and last day, the vegetarian festivities come to a close with a sending-off in a farewell ritual for the Jade Emperor and the Nine Emperor Gods starting at 10.30 PM. During this ritual, locals will fill up the streets of Phuket Town waiting to send the God ‘Kiu Ong’ back to heaven. Once the Gods are sent through the doors, all lights within the shrines must be switched off to complete darkness and all doors must be closed.
💡 Tip: This ceremony is a must-see, especially around Thalang Road, Phuket Road, Surin Circle Clock Tower, and the road leading to Sapan Hin. (see map below)
Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2022
As an annual tradition, Luca Dotti - HOMA’s Founder, will lead HOMA staff to pay respects at Samkong Shrine to show our support by cleaning the shrine in preparation for the festive period.
Each year, the Vegetarian Festival (เทศกาลกินเจ) falls on the 1st to the 9th night of the 9th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. It is considered one of the most important festivals in Phuket with thousands of devotees taking part in the rituals as well as maintaining a strict diet. Let’s learn more about its roots and rituals.
The annual festival on the 26th of September 2022 marks a special celebration to commemorate 111 years of the ‘Ew Geng’ ceremony of the Buddha statue parade around Jui Tui Shrine starting from 7 PM.
Chinese Shrines That You Can Visit in Phuket Town
One of the most fascinating aspects of the festival is the role of Chinese shrines in Phuket Town, where devotees gather to pay their respects and seek blessings. Here, we'll introduce you to some of the most renowned Chinese shrines in Phuket Town that you can visit during the Vegetarian Festival, with a special focus on their vegetarian offerings and traditions.
1. Jui Tui Shrine
Located in the heart of Phuket Town, Jui Tui Shrine is the epicenter of the Vegetarian Festival. During the festival, the shrine is a hub of activity, with devotees clad in white, making offerings and participating in rituals. The shrine's courtyard is adorned with elaborate lanterns and decorations. It's also an excellent place to enjoy a variety of vegetarian street food stalls, offering delectable dishes prepared without animal products.
2. Bang Liao Shrine
Bang Liao Shrine is known for its serene atmosphere and ornate architecture. During the Vegetarian Festival, the shrine hosts various cultural performances, including traditional Chinese opera and martial arts displays. Vegetarian food vendors gather around the shrine, serving an array of dishes that are not only delicious but also in line with the festival's dietary restrictions.
3. Sam Kong Shrine
This historic shrine in Phuket Town is a prominent gathering place for festival devotees. The interior of Sam Kong Shrine is a treasure trove of intricate carvings and sculptures. During the Vegetarian Festival, you can witness unique rituals and processions that celebrate the suppression of evil spirits. Nearby, you'll find vegetarian food vendors serving both Thai and Chinese-inspired dishes suitable for the occasion.
4. Lim Hu Tai Su Shrine
Lim Hu Tai Su Shrine is another captivating destination during the Vegetarian Festival. The shrine features a stunning mural depicting the history of the festival in Phuket. Devotees flock to this shrine to take part in the various ceremonies, and you can join them in the spirit of the event. Look out for vegetarian stalls offering a wide variety of meat-free options that cater to all palates.
5. Leng Ho Keaw Shrine
Known for its iconic blue facade, Leng Ho Keaw Shrine is an essential stop during the Vegetarian Festival. The shrine's vibrant interior and intricate decorations make it a captivating sight. Devotees gather here to observe ancient rituals and cultural performances. You can also sample an array of delicious vegetarian dishes served by street vendors surrounding the shrine.
What to Expect During the Festival
Among the devotees who join the festival are the ‘Spirit Mediums’ - commonly known as ‘Ma Song’ (ม้าทรง) meaning the horse of the gods. They are the ones believed to be carrying the gods throughout the festival via body possession. The mediums who are chosen by their purity would perform self-mutilating stunts by piecing their tongues and cheeks with sharp objects. With such risky acts, it is important that they have crew members carefully taking care of them during the parade at all times. Below is a video of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival from 2021 by Signature of Phuket.
Vegetarian Foods to Try During the Festival
You have got a bunch of amazing local veggie eats to chow down on at the festival. Today, we're spilling the beans on two must-try desserts that folks go wild for during the festivities.
First in the lineup, meet Shaobing, aka Huoshao. This is the bomb in northern Chinese cuisine, a baked flatbread that's unleavened and super popular. You can go for it stuffed or plain, and it's your call whether you want sesame on top.
Now, let's talk about the second star, Dice Bean Cake. This one's a total crowd-pleaser, and there's always a long line at the Jui Tui shrine because folks can't get enough. Dice Bean Cake is made with a load of yummy stuff inside, like yellow and red beans. Nowadays, it's a bit of a rarity, so this is your golden opportunity to give it a shot. And just like with Shaobing, you can pick between sweet or savory stuffing – take your pick and enjoy!
Rules to Follow For the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket
For those who wish to join the festival, we’d like to introduce a few rules and regulations for you to follow during this festive period;
Maintain hygiene and cleanliness of the body and mind throughout the festival
Make sure all kitchen utensils are cleaned and separate from those who are not participating in the event
Dress up in white attire when attending the festival
Please be respectful
Avoid the consumption of products involving animals such as meat, eggs, and honey
Avoid having sex during the festival period
Avoid the consumption of alcoholic drinks during the festival period
It is recommended that people who are in a grieving period should not attend the festival
Pregnant women are recommended against attending the festival due to loud noises and fireworks
Women who are in their menstrual cycle are advised to not participate in the festival
Stay Close to the Action at HOMA Phuket Town
If you're interested in participating in the festivities, we recommend you to stay with us at HOMA Phuket Town. Our property is located within a 5-minute walk to Samkong Shrine (Lim Hu Tai Su Shrine) where many vegetarian food vendors spring up to life. Additionally, HOMA is also located within a 10-mins drive to Jui Tui Shrine, one of the oldest and most important on Phuket Island.
Source: GoPhuket.net, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Phuket News, Hotels.com