Vegetarian Festival 10-2012 Phuket, Thailand

Acrobat troupe recreate slaying of the dragon (sesame/joup)

Acrobat troupe recreate slaying of the dragon (sesame/joup)

Phuket, Thailand – Firewalkers, facial piercings, fireworks and acrobats. How could one know that being a vegetarian could be so exciting? At least the Chinese-Thais in Phuket make it so during their annual Vegetarian Festival in the ninth month of their calendar year. This year of the dragon provided no disappointments in the festival either. The fest takes place the second to third week in October with the dates in this Roman Calendar year being 10th-23rd. Arriving in Phuket for the last five days and six nights provided insight into the ritual, photo ops to drool over, memories to last a lifetime and the desire to come back for more.


joup images - Phuket

Parade goers put on a smile for the fireworks. (sesame/joup)

With 187 years and counting, the vegetarian ritual turned festival is relatively young comparatively to Chinese history (and Thai {Siam} for that matter) but none the less crucial as it’s practiced throughout Chinese culture. Let’s go back to 1825 AD to it’s origin here on Phuket island in southwest Thailand.

In that year Praya Jerm, the governor of Thalang, moved the island’s principal town from Ta Reua in Thalang District to Get-Hoe in Kathu District, the booming area of tin mines and Chinese miners. The central town Kathu was still covered by jungle and fever ran rampant. A traveling opera company (called ngiu in Thai or pua-hee in local Hokkien dialect) came from China to perform for the miners.

The whole company grew ill from an unnamed malady so they kept to a vegetarian diet to honor two of the emperor gods, Kiew Ong Tai Teh and Yok Ong Sone Teh. The sickness then disappeared. This greatly interested the people of Kathu, who sought a remedy to their own illnesses. The answer came in form of the ritual vegetarianism and its attendant ceremonies which the people embraced enthusiastically. Thus the festival began: starting the first evening of the ninth lunar month and continuing until the ninth evening. The aim was to bring good luck and health to individuals as well as to the community.


It later happened that one familiar with the festival volunteered to return to Kansai, China where he invited the sacred Hiao Ho-le or Hiao lan (incense smoke) and Lian Tui (name plaques), which have the status of gods, to come stay in Kathu. He also brought holy writings used in the ceremonies, returning to Phuket on the seventh night of the ninth month. The people upon hearing of his arrival went in procession to Bang Niao Pier to bring him and his sacred cargo back. Thus the origin of the processions that figure so prominently in the festival.

The afternoon before the festival begins, a great pole (called the Go Teng pole) is raised at each temple where the gods are invited to descend. At midnight the pole is hung with nine lanterns signalizing the opening of the fest. Two important gods are also invited down at midnight to preside over ceremonies: Yok Ong Hong Tae and Kiew Ong Tai Tae.
(history retold as excerpted from

10 rules for the vegetarian festival

1. Cleanliness of bodies during the festival
2. Clean kitchen utensils and to use them seperately from other who do not join the festival
3. Wear white during the festival
4. Behave physically and mentally
5. No meat eating
6. No sex
7. No alcoholic drinks
8. People at mourning period should not attend the festival
9. Pragnant ladies should not watch any ritual
10. Ladies with period should not attend the ritual

Ma Song

joup images - Ma Song in Procession

Ma Song in Procession. (sesame/joup)

As told through Taoist and Chinese lore, processions play an important role in the festivities. In Phuket town, parades proceed through out the nine days with firecracker laden statues of deities lighting the streets afire and pierced Ma Song acknowledging their faith. For some the spectacle can be seen as gruesome or dangerous, but to the faithful it is a summoning to their Gods. Whatever the view, there surely is nothing quite like it on Earth.

Ma Song, or entranced horses, are devotees whom the Gods enter during the fest. They manifest supernatural powers and perform self-tortures in order to shift evil from individuals onto themselves and to bring the community good luck. Ma Song fall into two categories: those who, having had an intimation of impending doom, want to extend their lives; and people specially chosen by the gods for their moral qualities.



You’ll find numerous restaurants and street vendors specifically serving vegetarian food in honor of the main tradition identifying themselves with yellow flags. Vendors use soybean and protein substitute products to replace meat in standard Thai fare that look and taste uncannily like meat. So standards like Phat Thai (tofu) and Phat phak ruam (stirred vegetables) are staples. Other dishes include: Kaeng tai pla (thick sour vegetable curry but without the fish), Phat si-io (wide noodles with tofu during festivities) and Tom juet wunsen (vegetable soup). The foods tend to be more balanced then traditional Thai spicy (ie sweet, sour, bitter and savory) and no eggs nor dairy milk are served in dishes.

For the Newcomers

If coming to Phuket during the time of the festival (generally October) adhering to the 10 rules is generally requested. At the very minimum remember to wear white at festivities and try the veggie food. Festivities take place throughout Phuket and now greater parts of Thailand and some parts of China. But is it here in this southwest coastal island that the festival really thrives in Kathu and Phuket town.

Joe Grez

Joe Grez

Joe Grzesik (JGrez) is still an artist developer trying to keep up with new technologies. Photography still has been one of his strongest passions. However, now his main focus has led him back to music where he teaches guitar, piano, saxophone and percussion privately. Music education can never be short changed.

3 Responses to Vegetarian Festival 10-2012 Phuket, Thailand
  1. Joe Grez

    JGrez Reply

    @ Lisa Me too and at the festival I was for those five days. I think ultimately it’s regulating your intake of meat, poultry and fish. In Thailand that is easier and quite tasty as well.
    @ Heather LOL I love Fields of Gold and as far as aliens, well that’s yet to be seen. :) You are right about the uncanny similarity between the years though. As global weather patterns change (and yes they are to any doubters look at any weather site as reference and Superstorm Sandy for that matter) there are going to be increased challenges in the production of food. And yes Hemp and it’s oil should be utilized more as it can grow ANYWHERE.

  2. Heather Puder Reply

    Being a vegetarian means so much more to me than vegetables and given the incredible US drought this year I am glad I had a lot of other options. Thailand, China, Japan, and other places have led the way towards great rice proteins and whey proteins and other alternative safe grains. It hasn’t been since 1988 that I have seen such horrible produce (fruits and vegetables) in the US! Then again, I do not invest in the Futures Market. 88 to 12 such a deja vu experience. I think Sting wrote Fields of Gold when he saw the dried up fields of farms. Then, the aliens landed and healed the earth – temporarily.

  3. Lisa Sikorski Reply

    Makes me almost wish I was a vegetarian.

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