I was supposed to write this article more than one year ago, and just now got around to it. Didn’t make the Veg Fest this year, but will try my best to get there next year. It is truly an amazing experience! Read on…
Jesse Warren – September 2013 – Shenzhen Daily
AS the story goes, Chinese immigrant miners on Thailand’s Phuket Island were dying from a mysterious illness in 1825. They abstained from meat for 10 days to appease their Taoist gods, and the sickness went away. Locals took notice, and thus, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival was born.
If you’re looking for a last-minute travel destination over the National Day holiday, you could do worse than this event. The festival coincides with the Nine Emperor Gods Festival and runs from Friday to Oct. 14 this year. If you think it’s only for vegetarians, think again.
The tradition that originated with Chinese people and beliefs continues with Phuket’s heavy Chinese-Thai population. During the Festival, they practice “je” — vegetarianism. But that encompasses more than just forsaking meat. “Je” also paves a moral path for one’s thoughts, words and actions. A set of rules has developed around the festival, including no meat, no sex, no alcohol, no lying and no fighting, along with wearing only white to represent cleanliness of the body. The idea is to purify oneself.
Juxtaposing this code of conduct are some of the most ghastly rituals you’ve ever seen. Parades begin early in the morning at local shrines, as participants walk the streets with their cheeks bizarrely pierced, with knives, swords, straws, umbrellas and more — anything is fair game. Blood is common. Firecrackers and drums reverberate through the air. There may be fire-walking or bathing in hot oil.
One memorable scene involved an entranced man repeatedly slashing his back with an axe in a temple. But it’s OK — these chosen ones are possessed by gods, protecting them from pain as they sacrifice their flesh for the good of the community.
And finally, the best part of the festival is “je,” the food. The market in Phuket Town comes alive every night during the festival as locals come out in full force, with stalls selling everything from sticky rice to inventive drinks to a smorgasbord of faux meat and traditional dishes.
For vegetarians who love Thai food, it’s simply heaven. The locals all wear white, the kids throw firecrackers and the atmosphere is very jovial. The bulk of the food and festivities are in Phuket Town, but you can find stalls all over the island serving “je,” signified by yellow flags.
October is a great time to visit Phuket — it’s not the high season, so hotel prices are reasonable, and the island is simply beautiful. If you can’t make it this year, mark your calendars for next year — the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is one thing you’re sure to enjoy, whether you’re a veg or not. Put down the mai tai and skip the go-go bars for a bloody, purifying, savory holiday experience.