Monday 22 September, 2014 Thailand is set to celebrate one of the country’s most unique cultural celebrations, the Vegetarian Festival which is held annually for nine days in the ninth Asian lunar month or during 24 September to 2 October this year.
During the nine-day period, it is believed that abstinence from meat and stimulants will bring about good health and peace of mind to individuals and the community. Thus, a lot of Thai people, especially those of Chinese lineage, will restrict themselves to only a vegetarian diet for nine days and nine nights as a form of purification of a person’s body, mind and spirit.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recognises the pivotal role this festival plays in Thai society and its recognition among the international community. TAT has been promoting the event domestically and internationally so to invite people from within the country and all over the world to participate in this unique celebration.
TAT Governor Thawatchai Arunyik said, “The Vegetarian Festival is one of the most unique Thai celebrations. Each province and each region has a unique way of celebrating their belief in vegetarianism, and we want to invite all local and international travellers to take part or witness this special occasion at least once in their lifetime. From Phuket to Hat Yai and Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, each location presents an astonishing way of purifying one’s body and soul.”
The Vegetarian Festival in Thailand normally takes place for nine days or this year falls on 24 September to 2 October. But for those who are more restricted, they will go on a vegetarian diet for a longer period or from 23 September to 1 November. Here is where you can witness or participate in the Vegetarian Festival in Thailand.
Bangkok: In the Thai capital, visitors can expect to be mesmerised by a spectacular procession of floral floats and god images to mark the grand opening of the festival along Yaowarat Road in Bangkok’s Chinatown and a ceremony to choose a virgin lady to represent Guan Yin or the Goddess of Mercy.
Samut Sakhon: The beachside province of Samut Sakhon boasts a humble yet impressive celebration to mark the annual Vegetarian Festival at its nine sacred Chinese shrines.
This year, the provincial authorities and stakeholders have introduced a ‘passport’ programme to encourage visitors to visit and worship all the nine shrines and have their passport stamped in exchange for a special amulet of Guan Yin or the Goddess of Mercy as a memorabilia. Only 10,000 amulets are available.
Chon Buri: Another unique place to witness distinctive celebrations of the Chinese descendants in Thailand. Local and international visitors can join the celebration at the Sawang Boriboon Foundation in Na Klua district, about a 30-minute drive from Pattaya city centre. The celebrations include a sacred ritual to make a special vegetarian diet to please the gods. Special memorabilia will be distributed for visitors during the event.
Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat): A spectacular procession of god images from 25 Chinese shrines will be paraded around Korat town for people to worship and ask for blessings on 27 September, from 8:45 hrs. to mark the Vegetarian Festival.
Chumphon: All the Chinese shrines in the province will be joining the procession of god images that will be paraded around the city for people to worship and ask for blessings. The Festival will boast a range of special activities including merit-making rituals, light and sound presentation and films.
Phuket: The province boasts Thailand’s most famous Vegetarian Festival celebration that is also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. Two important gods: Yok Ong Hong Tae and Kiew Ong Tai Tae are invited to come down temporarily from heaven to grace the opening ceremony. Other notable ceremonies include the processions of god images and of celebrants in a trance-like state displaying awe-inspiring supernatural power; such as, bathing in hot oil, walking on fire, piercing their cheeks with spears or blades, and climbing ladders studded with bladed steps.
Hat Yai: One of the largest communities of Chinese descendants in Thailand, Hat Yai features a range of spectacular celebrations to mark the festival. Activities at the Tong Sia Siang Tueng Park include cultural performances, demonstration of cooking vegetarian dishes, vegetarian eating contest, healthy kids contest and many other activities.
Krabi: More than 70 Chinese shrines from all over Krabi will be joining the grand celebration with a procession of god images around the town, starting from Krabi’s Provincial Hall.
Trang: The lovely province of Trang will celebrate the festival with a grand procession of god images around the provincial town. At night time, there will be breath-taking rituals of supernatural power; such as, walking on fire and climbing ladders studded with sharp bladed steps, as well as merit-making activities to ward off bad luck.
Phang Nga: In the quaint town of Phang Nga, all the Chinese shrines will join the procession of god images. Here too, there will be displays of mind-blowing supernatural power; such as, walking bare feet on fire walking and climbing ladders studded with bladed steps, as well as merit-making activities.
Anywhere in the country, local and international visitors can expect to savour the most exciting variety of vegetarian dishes during the festival. Just look for food shops and restaurants that fly yellow flags with red Chinese symbols which signify vegetarianism.