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The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket, Thailand

The secret is out about Thai cuisine and the country has quickly earned a spot as one of the top culinary travel destinations on the globe. So what better time could there be to visit than the 2012 Phuket Vegetarian Festival in October? Open to herbivores and carnivores alike, the “Tesagan Gin Je” is about much more than just food.

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Vegetarian Festival, Phuket

Vegetarian Festival, Phuket

Those hoping to sample a few tasty treats will find themselves drawn into an event that is punctuated with performances, parades, and other attractions. The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket is a celebration unlike any other, complete with a magical air where nearly anything is possible.

The Festival History

Although there are competing theories as to how the Phuket Vegetarian Festival came to be, there is one that is generally accepted more than others. The legend says that the festival in Thailand was first organized by a group of Chinese miners over 150 years ago. A Chinese opera troupe was imported to perform and the tradition was born. There are some definite connections with the Nine Emperor Gods Festival in China and it is thought that the event in Phuket is a response to that celebration.

The Nine Emperor Gods

The Nine Emperor Gods

Essentially, the Vegetarian Festival is all about cleansing and there are a list of commandments for how to behave during the festival dates. With that in mind, strict observers are dressed all in white and must abstain from alcohol, sex, and even using the same utensils as other people. For those following the food rules to the letter, all meat and meat products like dairy must be avoided as well.

What to Expect

As for what a traveler can see during the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket, the best way to say it is simply to expect the unexpected. In addition to the food (more on that later), the main draw is the purification rites and ceremonies that take place over the course of 9 days and nights.

Face Piercing, Vegetarian Festival, Phuket

Face Piercing, Vegetarian Festival, Phuket

As part of the celebration, participants called “mah song” puncture their cheeks with everything, ranging from metal skewers to large bone knives and perform other acts of mutilation. This show of bravery is not for the faint of heart and a visitor can rest assured that trickling blood will be a common sight. The idea is that the Chinese gods protect the participants and that no scarring will occur.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

2012 Vegetarian Festival Dates and Schedule

This year, the 2012 Vegetarian Festival in Phuket will start on October 14 and the closing ceremonies will happen on October 24th. The following are the big events that will take place over the course of the festival:

October 14 – Lanterns are hung on poles at Chinese shrines in Phuket and fireworks announce the opening of the festival.

October 17 – Early in the morning, the piercing begins at around 6am and a procession goes from Phuket to the Sapam Shrine north of the city. A similar parade in the evening celebrates the gods of Birth and Death.

Face Piercing, Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Face Piercing, Phuket Vegetarian Festival

October 18 – The trek to the Sam Kong Shrine will be filled with pierced cheeks as well as plenty of food stalls – a very strange mix.

October 19 – The participants will journey to the Tha Ruea Shrine on this day to coincide with the Heroines Festival.

October 20 – This is one of the big days. Big crowds will bear witness to several shrine processions as well as fire walking in the evening.

October 21 – In addition to the normal parades, there is also a spectacle at the Sam Kong Shrine where ladders with blades are climbed.

October 23 – The last full day of the Vegetarian festival has a lot of everything – fire walking, pierced cheeks, huge crowds, and tons of fireworks. The bridge crossing at Kathu Shrine is not to be missed.

October 24 – The closing of the festival is marked by the lowering of the lantern poles around 5pm.

The Food

Of course, no discussion about the Thai Vegetarian Festival would be complete without talking about the food. Meat options will still be available, but those wanting to take part in the vegetarian festivities should look for “gin je” options. Food stalls and restaurants that are following the festival guidelines will have a yellow flag posted with a red Thai character.

Yellow Flags, Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Yellow Flags, Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Another option is to get food straight from Chinese temples, which is offered for free, but a donation is expected. These simple meals will show just why Thai cuisine has earned its place on the map.

The Height of Phuket Luxury

A traveler should keep in mind that the 2012 Thai Vegetarian Festival will be a big event and reservations for top hotels should be made in advance. If a traveler wants to go all out for the event like I did a few years ago, then the Paresa Resort Phuket offers the ultimate in luxury. Located slightly outside of the main festivities areas, it can be the perfect solution for a quiet retreat amid the chaos of the celebration.

Paresa Resort Phuket

Paresa Resort Phuket

A Good Hotel at a Good Price

If getting a good value accommodation is more the booking goal, then there are tons of Phuket hotels with lots to offer. Among these, the one that stands out to me based on personal experience is the Avista Phuket Resort. Close enough to the center of the action, but with all the amenities of a full resort, I thought the rooms were the best per dollar that I’ve seen in the city. Book early as these medium-cost rooms will disappear quick.

Avista Phuket Resort

Avista Phuket Resort

Budget Lodging

The other side of the accommodation coin in Phuket is that there are tons of cheap options for a person that simply wants a good place to stay and save money for enjoying the Vegetarian Festival more. One hotel that I’ve had considerable success with while traveling on a shoestring is the I Hostel. It’s unbelievable that just a couple dollars will buy a bed in this place, which is considered a meeting point for global travelers from every location imaginable. The outdoor patio is very pleasant and the central location in Phuket Town will ensure that the festival is never more than a few steps away.

Make your own choice where to stay by checking out these hotel rates!

For additional recommended hotels, check out our hand picked lists of the top customer rated hotels in Phuket below:

Final Impression

The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket is an event that has to be seen to be believed. While the idea of cleansing and the city of Phuket don’t necessarily go hand in hand, the festivities bring the city together in a curious way. Visitors who go to the 2012 Thailand Vegetarian Festival are sure to put the event on their list of annual must-visit destinations.

You can also read more about Phuket in our article: Must See Phuket Attractions

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