Thai Vegetarian Festival Roots
The famous Vegetarian Festival of Thailand, also known as the Taoist Nine Emperor Gods Festival, originated in Phuket in the 19th century. During this time, the island of Phuket had a large number of Chinese immigrants who, after widespread disease among the community, had introduced a period of fasting and abstinence to cleanse and heal themselves.
This hard going ritual gradually evolved from strict fasting to a simple vegan diet instead. During this period, participants must give up all fish, dairy, meat and poultry for nine days, plus, they should wear white from head to toe. Nowadays, you will see the wearing of white mainly practised within the temples rather than outside in the cities.
During this cleansing period in the past, individuals in Phuket were found to show bizarre behaviour such as self mutilation; this was a sign of possession followed by the escape of evil spirits from the body. The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket is still the renowned home to this behaviour and hence piques the attention a lot of curious tourists, both Thai and foreign.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is pretty grisly and perhaps not for the feint hearted – impaling, skinning, slashing and bloodletting are all common behaviours found during the Phuket festivities. On that note, Phuket is probably the winner for the most interesting area of Thailand to celebrate the Vegetarian Festival, however you can still enjoy the celebrations and variety of vegetarian food in Bangkok and the rest of Thailand as well.
Celebrating the Vegetarian Festival in Bangkok
As you might gather from the Vegetarian Festival’s Chinese roots in Thailand, it makes sense that the best place to celebrate it in Bangkok is in China Town. The Vegetarian Festival takes place all over Bangkok during October and lasts 9 days; the exact date differs slightly every year but the celebrations are always held in October.
Across the city of Bangkok, you’ll notice the streets come alive with yellow flags and bunting to represent the Vegetarian Festival. Most street vendors and many restaurants participate in the vegetarian celebrations with extra vegetarian dishes and tofu substitutes.
Among just a few of the typical dishes on offer during Vegetarian Festival are vegetable tom yam (spicy vegetable soup), tofu massaman curry, mushroom & tofu yakisoba noodles and a range of salads such as a sweet and sour pumpkin & mushroom. There are also a range of fake meats on offer like fake pork dumplings and meatballs made of flavoured sticky rice – some of the meat substitutes actually taste uncannily similar to real meat.
You can also find some colourful sweets and desserts on sale on the Bangkok streetwalks: Black bean sticky rice roasted in bamboo shoots; Thai breakfast doughnut served with sweet condensed milk (called Pa Thong Ko – pronounced Bpah Tong Go); and of course, the best Thai dessert of all: mango sticky rice with coconut.
China Town Vegetarian Festival Bangkok
Nowhere in Bangkok celebrates the Thai Vegetarian Festival quite like China Town does! With colourful lanterns and bunting strung across the road as far as the eye can see, Yaowarat Road becomes tinged with bright yellow during all the vegetarian festivities. Hundreds of food stalls line the road side, locals gather to pray at the many temples, and traditional Chinese Opera is performed in the evenings.
The bottom of Yaowarat tends to have the most activity during festivities and celebrations in China Town. You can take a taxi to Yaowarat 5 or the Golden Buddha Temple, Wat Traimit. This part of Yaowarat Road has plenty of food stalls and beautiful temples to explore. The best time of day to visit the China Town Vegetarian Festival for most people is during the evening from about 6pm.
Basically, the later you head to China Town, the more lively and busy it will be, plus you might just get to catch some of the Chinese Opera performances on Charoen Krung Road Soi 20. However, China Town does get pretty crazy during the evenings so if you hate crowds, you might prefer to visit during the daytime when the atmosphere is much more subdued and quiet.
China Town nearest public transport station: Hualumpong MRT/ BTS Sala Deng