Phuket Vegetarian Festival

A vegetarian festival…you may think it would be rather uninteresting. However, this is Thailand and you may be in for a surprise. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is one of the most exceptional, interesting and unique celebrations in Thailand and draws thousands of people to the island to experience the bizarre and amazing feats that take place.

The event is rumoured to originate from a group of Chinese entertainers who visited Phuket in the 19th century to entertain the migrant workers (at the time a substantial Chinese population was working in the tin mines). Many of the visitors became ill and to cure themselves they followed a strict vegetarian diet and abstained from sex and alcohol. Miraculously, they all recovered, and the locals were so impressed that they decided to follow the same principles every year. Nowadays, it's become a very famous event around the world, probably due to the bizarre and exciting rituals involved.

The 9 days of festivities start on the first night of the 9th lunar month (September or October) centred around the many Chinese temples around the island, particularly those in Phuket old town. There are a set of strict rules to follow over the 9 days, such as don't eat meat (what a surprise), abstain from sex (a challenge), abstain from alcohol (nearly impossible) and a few more besides; don't worry too much because you can simply observe without having to follow any rules. Phew!

Daily processions are held by each Chinese temple on different days, which march around the town and then back to the temple. Everybody that takes part has to wear white clothes, and the group is accompanied by a shaman or spiritual medium who enters a trancelike state. The shamans pierce their cheeks and tongues with sharp instruments such as knives, swords and skewers, besides stranger items including fruit and vegetables. There are incredible daily rituals such as walking across hot coals and climbing ladders lines with sharp blades; all this is done without the use of any anaesthetic and seems quite dangerous, but there are safety teams on hand to monitor the proceedings.

The highlight of the festival is definitely the final night of processions, in which the onlookers bombard the marchers' heads and feet with firecrackers, which culminates in them eventually breaking into a run. A massive fireworks display rounds off the festival, which starts early evening and continues until midnight. Unsurprisingly, there is also a chance to sample some of Phuket's delightful vegetarian food during the event. Undoubtedly, if there is just one festival that you should experience in Phuket, this is it!

Location: Chinese Shrines on the Island