The history of the festival goes all the way back to 1825, when a traveling opera company from China came to perform for the tin miners in Kathu, many of whom were Chinese. The performers fell sick, so adopted a strict vegetarian diet to honour the emperor gods. Their illness quickly disappeared and the miners and Phuket locals decided to adopt the same rituals and ceremonies in order to bring good luck to their communities.
There is a lot more to the festival than just the diet. There are many rituals that take place over 9 days, including some that are not for the faint of heart, such as extreme piercings. If you want to see one of the street processions, these 3 shrines are well worth checking out:
- Bang Neow shrine procession, 18 October
- Jui Tui shrine procession, 19 October
- Kathu shrine procession, 20 October
- Final procession, all shrines, 21 October – on the last night of the festival, all the shrines will take part in a massive procession in Phuket Town. Make sure you bring a face mask or scarf because there will be A LOT of firecrackers (you might even want to bring earplugs and glasses).
If you plan to go to any of the first three processions, make sure you get there around 6am if you want to watch the piercings take place. Other interesting rituals include fire-walking (8pm on 18 October at Saphan Hin, 8pm on 20 October at Bang Neow and Kathu shrines) and bladed ladder climbing (8pm on 19 October at Bang Neow and Sam Kong shrines).
Throughout the festival, you can find vegan food (also no onion or garlic, according to the festival rules) at any restaurant or vendor flying the yellow festival flags.