It’s hard to describe Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival with an appropriate adjective. Some would call it weird, some would call it gruesome, while we think it’s batshit crazy.
Don’t be fooled by the seemingly harmless title of the Phuket’s Vegetarian festival, as the ritualistic celebration is not for the faint-hearted.
You may think it has something to do with vegetables – only a part of which is true. Hosted and followed by the Chinese community in Phuket, Thailand, this festival is held every October over a period of nine days and displays some pretty gruesome and self torturous rituals like extreme body piercing, firewalking and the like.
The origin story of the festival is an interesting plot. According to ancient Chinese legends, an opera troupe while on tour to Phuket became seriously sick. The sickness affected every one of the performers, making it a life or death situation. In one of those Eureka moments one of the performers realised this their punishment for being forgetful, as those nine days coincided with the tradition of honouring the Nine Emperor Gods.Upon realising their folly they honoured the gods by abstaining from everything that gave them pleasure – eating meat, swearing, sex and drinking alcohol.
Now, where do all the self-torture parades come in, you ask? As the festival is celebrated by the Chinese community of Phuket, a lot of the traditions have become intermingled. Borrowing the idea of extreme torture from Thaipusam, participants indulge in piercing themselves to demonstrate the power of the gods and the belief that they will heal them.
The streets of Phuket during the beginning of October host multiple of these parades, where you will most definitely see things that will either make you faint or gross you out. Like we mentioned earlier, every participant must maintain a strictly vegetarian diet during this nine-day period, pierce their cheeks with knives, skewers and other household items – as a way to pray to the Nine Emperor Gods for good health and peace of mind. Ironically (as you can imagine) injuries are commonplace at this festival.