Finally, I got around to writing up a post about this spectacular, yet bizarre festival. It’s only two months late – but anyways!
So back in early October when we were living in Phuket, we had the opportunity to check out a festival that I’ve always wanted to experience.
The Chinese Vegetarian Festival!
I’m going to try my best and break down what this festival is about, with a little bit of history about its origins for those that are interested.
For those that prefer not to read the post, there’s plenty of pics all the way through the article to give you a visual of what it was like – and a video!
Word of warning though – the video below and some of the images are very graphic!
Right then, with that said, on we go.
The Vegetarian festival that takes place in Phuket is based around the local Chinese community’s belief that not eating meat and other stimulants during the 9th lunar month (October) will bestow good health and peace upon them.
So it’s called the Chinese Vegetarian Festival, but why is it in Thailand?
The reason is because the festival dates back to over 150 years, back when Phuket was populated by Chinese working in tin mines.
It must be noted though, that there’s no exact origin for the festival.
When we found out that the festival was taking place in the town of Phuket, we were mad excited.
Florence was a little horrified at first of the idea of witnessing people sticking all sorts of objects through their cheeks.
On the other hand, I delighted that I had chucked away my Olympus OMD EM5 slr in favour of a sparkling new Nikon D7100!
This kind of photo opportunity was something I wasn’t going to miss, so we did our research about what goes on and what to expect.
We knew that two things were guaranteed – lots of fire crackers and lots of blood.
The fire crackers were crazy.
I mean ridiculously loud. We should have gotten ear plugs like everyone else.
The Vegetarian Festival is Phukets biggest and main celebration in the calendar year.
Also known as the “Nine Emperor Gods Festival”, it got it’s Vegetarian name because it the people involved in it only eat vegetarian food throughout the month.
The Ten Commandments of the Festival:
1. Abstain from killing animals;
2. Abstain from eating all kinds of meat;
3. Abstain from stealth and embezzlement;
4. Abstain from harming others bodily or mentally;
5. Abstain from telling lies, using obscene language or swearing at people;
6. Abstain from touching people of the opposite sex or talking with them flirtingly;
7. Abstain from taking alcohol or using narcotics;
8. Abstain from gambling;
9. Abstain from wearing ornaments including those made of metals or leather;
10. Abstain from sharing receptacles or utensils or a meal with people who do not observe the commandments.
I particularly like the use of words in number 4 myself.
The God worshipped at the various shrines in the Jade Emperor. The locals refer to him as the Yok-Ong Songte.
There are Gods that are invoked to rule over the festival, and they’re called Kiu Ong(9 Heavenly Kings).
Originally these 9 kings were meant to be Gods of the sun, moon and 7 other bodies.
However, they are now referred to as 7 Buddhas and 2 Bodhisattvas.
The reason why they’ve changed this is because they wanted to give the festival a vibrant Buddhist colour, which would inevitably appeal to a wider audience.
Believe me when I say this, the festival loves cameras and all the media attention it gets!
We spent our fair share of time turning up at sunrise to witness the piercings, following the parade around and generally just having a good time.
The piercings themselves were crazy. Some of the participants seemed like they were possessed.
While others just tried to look and act possessed.
Some of them bled profusely, while others didn’t shed a single drop.
We were told by some local man that it’s easy to spot who’s really genuine by whether or not they bled.
I’ve no other knowledge of the festival, but I seriously doubt that’s a sign to look out for.
Apart from piercings and parades, there’s other “events”.
Two other rituals that we went to watch were the fire-walking and blade ladder climbing ceremony.
They were as crazy as they sound and exactly as you would image.
I don’t need to explain what goes on at these – I’m sure they’re self explanatory.
However, these two events weren’t nearly as freakish to us as the piercings.
Some of the participants ran like scared cats over the burning coals, while others simply strolled across – and deservedly got an applause from the crowd.
During the 2012 Vegetarian Festival we heard that a man was killed during his ladder climbing attempt, but again I’ve no idea if it was true.
These stories might be made up to further magnify the whole experience by the locals participating and their families.
At the end of the 9 days I was glad that I’d taken the time to fully experience the festival. It was something that I definitely wanted to see first hand.
If you ever find yourself in Phuket around Oct, then I highly recommend you experience the Chinese Vegetarian Festival in Phuket town.
It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, but if you’re squeamish, then I think it might be best to avoid.
The photo opportunities that it presents with the fireworks, firecrackers and red and white colours make it a fascinating spectacle.
With over 2,000 photos alone from the 9 days, I had a nice few hours filtering through them – not to mention the video footage!
So the ones I’ve included here are some of my personal favourites.