Every year in Thailand around September or October, depending on when the Chinese 9th month lunar calendar falls, the whole nation of Thailand observes the Thailand Vegetarian Week that lasts for 10 days. The festivity is mostly celebrated by the Thai Chinese Buddhists but many other people observe it as well partly because it is the best opportunity to experience vegan food in Thailand that is otherwise difficult to find.
One of the best places to experience a Vegetarian Week in Thailand is in Phuket. Though not limited just to Phuket but also throughout Thailand, it is held with much pomp and splendor by the Thai Chinese population on the island who take this celebration rather seriously. It is a full ten days of mass celebration with parades and revelry though some of it rather grotesque by nature. There are many sacred rituals observed during the celebration aside from just indulging in a vegan diet for the whole ten days. These rituals are supposedly to bring good fortune and a blessed year for those who observe it. The main purpose of the rituals and vegetarian diet is to cleanse not just the body but also the spirit and making merit during this period is greatly encouraged.
History has it that the origins of this festivity go back to the year 1825, when the island of Phuket’s provincial town relocated from Talang to the district of Kathu. At that time, much of the area was a mining town occupied by miners and their families and the only form of entertainment was by travelling troupes of performers. It so happened that at that time a group of performers doing Chinese Opera was visiting the town and a majority of the travelling troupe were stricken with an unexplained illness with no seeming cure for the affliction. Taking drastic action, the Chinese troupe went on a very strict vegetation diet in honor of their two emperor Gods, Kiew Ong Tai Teh as well as Yok Ong Sone Teh. After a length of time, all the troupe members recovered which then drew the attention of the town’s people. The curiosity to the rituals and the vegetarian diet that lead to such a cure was soon embraced by the settlers of the mining town who at that time were also affected by much illnesses due to the rough jungle and sanitation conditions that they were living in. Therefore began the first of a traditional culture in vegetarian diet and a sacred ritual to honor the two Gods on the 9th lunar month of each Chinese calendar year.
The title of Ma Song was bestowed upon the devotees of the Gods who performed these sacred rituals. These devotees go through a series of preparation in the sacred rituals at temples and shrines before each parade that enabled them to resist the pain of self-piercing with all manner of sharp instruments, walking through fire, and stepping on sharp blades. When you observe these devotees it may seem very grotesque but it is part of the celebration where such rites are performed for the good fortune of the people in the town and their families. A visit to Phuket at this time is a unique experience to observe just such a celebration. It is one of the tourist attractions of Phuket and an opportunity for visitors to the island to enjoy a traditional vegetarian and vegan diet in Phuket at this time of the year.
So apart from enjoying the usual sightseeing and tours of Phuket, you can also take part and enjoy the Vegetarian Week in Phuket celebrations where most of the hotels, restaurants and street food stalls will be offering all manner of vegetarian food with a very unique touch of Thai flavors as well as traditional Chinese flavors on their menu. There are different parades held by a variety of temple devotees each day for the duration of the ten-day festival. Visitors to the island of Phuket will get to enjoy dragon dance parades, watch the colorful processions, and get a glimpse of the very unique sacred rituals that these devotees undergo prior to the parades.
It is advisable that you make your hotel and transfer bookings to Phuket in advance during this time as there will be many visitors to the island during this season, partly because it is also the high season for tourist to the place for the good weather and diving conditions. It is one of the best times to visit Phuket for the holidays as you get to enjoy a great holiday by the beach, do some island hopping adventures and tours, as well as have the chance to observe a unique Thai Chinese celebration. Try out the vegetarian street food on offer at the night markets of Phuket or you can get a more gastronomic offering at the many hotels and resorts on Phuket Island.
It might also interest you to know that the start of the Vegetarian Week in Phuket can be observed with the raising of a large pole in each temple ground that signifies an invitation to the two Gods where these celebrations are held in honor off. It is a noisy and colorful affair that takes place around midnight on the eve of the celebrations. One can expect to watch processions for the Gods, carrying of ritual statues of the Gods, incredible feats of the Ma Songs who seem to defy pain, the culture of merit making at the temples and shrines and a great finale of fireworks at the end of the celebrations.
Make your way to Phuket at this time of year and enjoy in the revelry. It might even do you some good to try a vegetarian diet for a few days but make sure that you have all your travel arrangements to Phuket booked in advance especially your accommodations and flights to Phuket. During this time of the year, there are normally additional flights and other forms of transport to the island but as a visitor from abroad it is advisable that you make your preparations way before hand to avoid any inconveniences. Aside from all that, enjoy the celebrations, have an insight into a typical Thai Chinese tradition, and enjoy what Phuket Island with its many activities have to offer you!