Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Deeply rooted in tradition and undoubtedly the most important festival for local residents with Chinese ancestry, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is the island's most colourful event.

Phuket's Vegetarian festival began in 1825, when the governor of Thalang, Praya Jerm, moved the island's principal town from the district of Thalang to Kathu. Kathu was then still covered by jungle and fever was rife.

The history of the Vegetarian Festival

Shortly after naming Kathu as the island's principal town, a traveling opera company came from China to perform for the miners. However, as previously mentioned, fever and jungle diseases were rife during that time and it didn't take long before the entire opera company fell sick. While they were sick, the company kept to a vegetarian diet to honor two of the Chinese emperor gods, Kiew Ong Tai Teh and Yok Ong Sone Teh.

The sickness afflicting the opera troupe then disappeared. This greatly interested the people of Kathu, who asked how it was done. The answer came that ritual vegetarianism with its attendant ceremonies had been the cause, with the result that local people embraced the faith enthusiastically.

Thus the festival began, starting the first evening of the ninth lunar month until the ninth evening. The aim was to bring good luck to individuals as well as to the community.

The rituals of the Vegetarian Festival

The afternoon before the festival begins, a great pole at each Chinese shrine or temple is raised with which the gods are invited to descend. At midnight the pole is hung with nine Chinese lanterns, signalizing the opening of the festival.

The superstars of the Vegetarian Festival are the Ma Song. These 'entranced horses' are devotees whom the gods enter during the festival. They manifest supernatural powers and perform self-tortures in order to shift evil from individuals onto themselves, and to bring the community good luck. Some of the feats of the Ma Song during the Vegetarian Festival include bathing in hot oil, bladed ladder climbing and fire-walking.

There are a wide variety of ceremonies, parades and processions throughout the nine days of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival including the invocation of the gods Lam Tao, who keeps track of the living, and Pak Tao, who keeps track of the dead.

The festival ends with merit making ceremonies at each temple and the send-off of the gods on the last night, when fireworks are at their most impressive.

The rules of the Vegetarian Festival

Participants must adhere to a strict vegetarian diet for three to nine days to make themselves strong in mind and body. They must also refrain from all vice, eating animal flesh, and killing animals.

Learn more about the Vegetarian Festival

To learn more about the Vegetarian Festival including this year's suggested itinerary and daily activities, as well as looking at stunning photographs of last year's event, please visit or visit the Phuket Vegetarian Festival Blog with more detailed information and video impressions of each festival day