Also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival or the Kin Jay Festival, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is an annual event celebrated primarily by the Chinese community in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia.

Running for nine days, the vegetarian festival in Phuket is considered by many to be the most extreme and bizarre of festivals in Thailand. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival could be Thailand's answer to the Tamil festival of Thaipusam celebrated in neighboring Malaysia. Devotees not only adopt a special diet for the holiday, a select few participants prove their devotion by practicing self-mutilation.

Some of the feats performed include piercing cheeks with swords, walking on nails or hot coals, and climbing ladders made of knife blades! Most participants miraculously heal up without needing stitches or medical care.

WARNING! The content and the images are not recommended for the faint of heart! Consider before continuing.

History of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival

While the origins of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival are unclear, it is commonly thought that it was brought to the island by a wandering Chinese opera group that fell ill from a malaria epidemic. One of the performers was sent to China to invite the Nine Emperor Gods (known as the Kiu Ong Iah) to Phuket. 

The Chinese followed the tradition of refraining from eating meat, drinking alcoholic drinks, engaging in sex, quarrelling, telling lies or killing. This was to ensure the purification of the mind and body. The opera group made a complete recovery and the epidemic ceased. Since then, the people of Phuket have continued to celebrate the festival.

The festival was meant to honour the gods and express the people's happiness at surviving what was, in the 19th century, a fatal illness. Subsequently, the festival has grown and developed into a spectacular yearly event in Phuket. It draws thousands of visitors each year, many of whom come from China and Asian destinations.

Who are the Nine Emperor Gods?

The Nine Emperor Gods Jiǔ Huáng Xīng Jūn / Jiǔ Huáng Da Di are the nine sons manifested by Father Emperor Zhou Yu Dou Fu Yuan Jun and Mother of the Big Dipper Dou Mu Yuan Jun who holds the Registrar of Life and Death. 

The worship of Dou Fu Yuan Jun has declined strongly as proper teachings of Taoism degenerate since being exported out of China. Today, most Nine Emperor God temples do not acknowledge the existence of Dou Fu Yuan Jun. However, Dou Fu Yuan Jun is invoked alongside Dou Mu Yuan Jun in Great Dipper Honouring known as Li Dou ceremonies. 

According To Priest Long Hua, the 35th Generation Leader of Long Shan Men Taoist Sect (Singapore), honouring the Northern Dipper stars prolongs one's life, eliminate calamities, and absolves sins and past debts of oneself and his family. 

Wu, Jave (2007), The term Ye as in Jiu Huang Ye (loosely translates as "Grandfather", a title worshipers commonly use to bring a more intimate relationship between themselves and the Nine Emperors. The Nine Emperor Gods should not be mixed up with the Wang Ye or Princes of the Ming rebels. 

Popular folk culture has it that the Nine Emperor Gods are actually sea pirates of the Ming dynasty that plotted to overthrow the Qing dynasty. According to Priest Long Hua, this information is inaccurate and considered derogatory to the actual teachings of Taoism as the 

Nine Emperor Gods are actually high-ranking Star Lords who preside over the movement of planets and coordinate mortal Life and Death issues. Wu, Jave (2008), Celebration The Nine Emperors is formed by the seven stars of the Big Dipper of the North Ursa Major (visible) and two assistant stars (invisible to most people). The Nine Emperor Stars are:

  1. Tan Lang Tai Xing Jun 1st Star Bayer
  2. Ju Men Yuan Xing Jun2nd Star Bayer
  3. Lu Cun Zhen Xing Jun 3rd Star Bayer
  4. Wen Qu Niu Xing Jun 4th Star Bayer
  5. Lian Zhen Gang Xing Jun 5th Setar Bayer
  6. Wu Qu Ji Xing Jun 6th Star Bayer
  7. Po Jun Guan Xing Jun 7th Star Bayer
  8. Zuo Fu Da Dao Xing Jun 8th Star
  9. You Bi Da Dao Xing Jun 9th Star

Nine Emperor Gods Festival celebration in popular folk culture

On the eve of the ninth moon, temples of the deities hold a ceremony to invoke and welcome the nine emperors. Since the arrival of the gods is believed to be through the waterways, processions are held from temples to the sea shore or river to symbolize this belief. Devotees dressed in traditional white, carrying incense and candles, await the arrival of their excellencies.

A carnival-like atmosphere pervades the temple throughout the nine-day festival. During this period of time, the constant tinkling of a prayer bell and chants from the temple priests are heard. Most devotees stay at the temple, eat vegetarian meals and recite continuous chanting of prayer. It is believed that there will be rain throughout the nine days of celebration.

The ninth day of the festival is its climax. A procession which draws scores of devotees sends the deities back home.

Rules for the festival

Devotees are expected to wear white and keep pure thoughts; they give up meat, sex, alcohol, stimulants, and strong foods such as garlic and spice.

Tourists are invited to attend the procession and take photographs. As with any religious festival, enjoy watching, but keep your distance. Don't get in the way of participants who prepared for weeks before the event. Although the Vegetarian Festival can seem like a bizarre carnival, it is still a deeply religious event; show respect and stay out of the way!

Technically, people who are in mourning are not supposed to attend the ceremonies in temples. The same applies to women who are pregnant or menstruating.

Commitment of Phuket Vegetarian Festival

The festival always starts on the first day of the 9th Chinese lunar month (though the pole-raising ceremony is the night before). For 9 days, participants observe the following commitments: 

  1. Cleanliness of the body during the festival
  2. Clean kitchen utensils not to be used by others who do not participate in the festival
  3. Wear white during the festival
  4. Behave correctly, both physically and mentally
  5. Avoid eating meat
  6. Avoid sex
  7. Avoid alcohol
  8. People in mourning should not participate
  9. Pregnant women and menstruating women should not attend ceremonies

What to see at Phuket Vegetarian Festival?

The often-gruesome ceremonies during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival are definitely not recommended for the faint-hearted. Men and women puncture their cheeks with sharp items, including knives and skewers. It's believed that the Chinese gods will protect them from harm, resulting in little blood or scarring.

Even so, most injuries are usually sustained from the indiscriminate use of firecrackers. It is a good idea to stay well away from this deafening and sometimes frightening aspect of the Vegetarian Festival.

The ceremonies take place in the vicinity of 6 Chinese temples in Phuket. The main temple is Jui Tui Shrine in Phuket Town. The first event is called the Raising of the Lantern Pole, which notifies the 9 Chinese gods of the start of the festival. Once the 10-metre-tall pole is erected, celebrants believe that the Hindu god, Shiva, descends to bring spiritual power to the event.

For the next few days, the local Chinese/Thai community brings their household gods to the temple, along with offerings of food and drink. It is assumed that the household gods will benefit from an annual injection of spiritual energy that fills the temple. You can observe and even participate in the lighting of joss sticks and candles, before placing them around the various gods.

Street processions often involve participants walking in a trance, running across a bed of burning coals, and climbing an 8-metre ladder of sharp blades. Apart from the visual spectacle of this festival, you can partake in vegetarian dishes, which are sold at street stalls and markets around the island.

Many of these vegetarian dishes aren't easily distinguishable from regular Thai dishes. Soybean and protein substitute products are used to replace pork, chicken or fish – they even look and taste exactly like meat. Look for yellow flags with red Chinese or Thai characters to find vegetarian food stalls.

What to eat during Phuket Vegetarian Festival?

Although it may be referred to as Vegetarian Festival, the food sold and consumed is vegan.

During these nine days, participants abstain from eating meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products, as well as pungent vegetables, such as onion and garlic, which are believed to be "heating" and contribute to aggression and lust.

The belief is that by abstaining from these types of food, participants will obtain good health and peace of mind.

Vendors and restaurants all over Thailand participate by switching to "jay" food, using yellow flags with red Thai or Chinese characters to signal their participation.

You can see these everywhere from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to Thailand's many islands.

However, the art of "jay" food is that many of the dishes look and taste like meat.

To achieve this, soybean and protein substitutes are used to replace meat and are shaped to look like the animal products they represent, often with a cartoon-like aesthetic. 

When Is the Phuket Vegetarian Festival?

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival begins on the first day of the ninth month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, so dates change annually. Typically the festival is held in autumn, near the end of September and beginning of October.

The peak of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival is on the ninth, or last, day as the ceremony becomes a farewell frenzy for sending the gods home to the sky.

Year Date
2021 04-13 October
2022 24 September - 03 October
2023 13-22 October
2024 01-10 October
2025 19-28 October
2026 08-17 October

 

Where to Experience the Phuket Vegetarian Festival?

The Vegetarian Festival is celebrated to some extent in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and even Kuala Lumpur; however, the island of Phuket has the largest Peranakan Chinese population. To really see the festival at its best, you'll want to go there.

A few of the major shrines in Phuket for witnessing ceremonies include:

  • Jui Tui
  • Bang Niew
  • Phut Jaw
  • Cherng Talay
  • Kathu.

The festivities move between various temples throughout the celebration; picking up a schedule of events will help you be in the right place at the right time. If in doubt, just go toward the noise and chaos!

The official Phuket Vegetarian Festival website has a schedule of events, but information may or may not be available in English.

Other Places to Celebrate Vegetarian Festival in Thailand

Vegetarian Festival is not limited to Phuket, as it is celebrated throughout Thailand, particularly in cities with large Chinese populations, such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Vegetarian Festival in Bangkok

The best place to celebrate Vegetarian Festival in Bangkok is in Chinatown, where you’ll see rows upon rows of stalls selling all kinds of vegan and vegetarian dishes, many of which feature “mock-meat” made from non-animal products but look and taste like them. These markets are open from 5pm and are easy to access from Hua Lumphong MRT station.

If you go to Soi 20 of Charoen Krung Road, the area is transformed into an event space full of food stalls and fruit sellers. Incense and candles are lit at the Chinese temple, while down by the river a Chinese Opera is performed each night of the festival around 6pm.

Alternatively, simply look for the yellow flags which indicate that a food stall or restaurant is participating in Vegetarian Festival – these can be found all around the city, even at 7-Eleven.

Vegetarian Festival in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is already packed with vegan and vegetarian restaurants, but for Vegetarian Festival, the city takes things to another level. The best place to grab some vegan dishes is Warorot Market, Chiang Mai’s oldest market.

Practical information

How to get to Phuket?

Flight: The Phuket International Airport is the second busiest airport of Thailand after the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. There are two terminals in the airport; Terminal 1 is used for international flights while Terminal 2 is used for domestic flights. The airport is well-connected to Bangkok with daily flights. There are also direct flights to India, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and Germany, among other countries. Some of the airlines with frequent routes between India and Phuket are Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Jet Airways.

Road: Buses to other regions of Thailand including Bangkok, Krabi, Phang Na and Surat Thani operate at the BKS terminal located just off Thanon Phang Nga in Phuket Town. Buses from the Southern Bus Terminal of Bangkok to Phuket are the most reliable and convenient way of travelling between the two cities and take up to 13 hours to reach Phuket. Both air-conditioned as well as non-air-conditioned buses are available at different prices.

Train: Although there are no direct trains to Phuket, one can travel on trains going from Bangkok to Singapore and get off at Phun Phin railway station. Phuket is another 5 hours by bus from Phun Phin, which is located in the Surat Thani Province of Thailand.

Where to stay to enjoy the festival?

To have the best shot of the most gruesome actions on the street, we recommend booking your accommodation in the center of Phuket.
The capital of Phuket province, Old Town is a place steeped in history. It’s a world away from the urbanised jungles of Phuket.

The architecture is heavily European, and the streets are lined with Sino-Portuguese buildings, quaint mansions, charming cafes and boutique shops.

Here are our recommendation for your accommodation:

  • The Memory at On On Hotel: A little gem in the heart of Phuket Town, this was the first hotel built in Phuket during the tin-mining times. Adorned in traditional décor, the hotel is comfortable and conveniently located.
  • Casa Blanca Boutique Hotel Phuket: It makes for a good base to explore the rest of the city. Rooms are tastefully decorated, with the ones on the ground floor opening out to a garden outside. Walking in feels like entering a quaint country house.

Here is the travel guide for Phuket

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Photos

Below is the Youtube video about Phuket Vegetarian Festival if you want to go further

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My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!

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