Phuket Vegetarian Festival, Thailand

Visiting the Phuket Vegetarian Festival (Nine Emperor Gods Festival)

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I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t know too much about the Phuket vegetarian festival before I arrived in Thailand.

It was only after being there for a short time and hearing about it from a friend of a friend that I first realised that the Phuket vegetarian festival was a thing.

Officially called the Nine Emperor Gods festival, this is a celebration that attracts pilgrims from around Thailand that follow Taoism, loosely based on Buddhism in Thailand but with the followers predominantly from the Phuket region of Thailand.

As I was in Thailand for a company retreat but had a few days after to explore by myself, I thought visiting the festival was a no brainer.

What I was to experience was so much crazier than I could have ever expected.

Jui Tui Shrine, Temple Phuket Vegetarian Festival, Thailand
The Jui Tui Shrine the night before the festivities

The start of the week

During the start of the festival you will find stalls lining the streets of Phuket where normally nothing of the such exists. These stalls sell street food, normally vegetarian, but some do sell meat if you aren’t in the centre.

My first experience was close to where I was staying in Phuket town with large white marquees lining the street close to the Lim Hu Tai Su Shrine which can be found here. It sells amazing food and every night there are pilgrims departing from the temple with music playing and incense burning.

Phuket Town

In Phuket Old Town is where most of the celebrations take place.

When having a beer one night, the sounds of fire crackers alerted our group. Heading outside from the bar, we saw a procession of people all dressed in white in a trance like state walking down Phangnga Road with pilgrims walking along and devotees throwing firecrackers in front of their feet.

Night before Phuket Vegetarian Festival, Thailand
Everyone in white with firecrackers going off

It seemed as if the firecrackers didn’t affect them at all. They kept walking in their trance like state as noise and explosions went off around their feet. Their helpers kept them on the straight and narrow.

But soon, with hundreds of pilgrims making their rite of passage along the firecracker strewn road, the air was filled with smoke, the noise non stop and dust and dirt filled my eyes and nostrils.

The following night, the same thing occurred, firecrackers were thrown in front of hundreds of people, to the point where the road was red with the leftovers of the crackers.

As the procession ended, cleaners came along and swept up all the left over of the firecrackers and within minutes the road was back to normal.

The highlight of the vegetarian festival in Phuket

I have done some pretty crazy things on my travels and seen some stuff that I could only have dreamed of when sitting in my teenage bedroom many years ago.

But watching the finale of the vegetarian festival one Saturday morning was like something I had never seen before.

Dan Phuket Vegetarian Festival, Thailand

Getting the chance to see the Jui Tui Shrine the night before made it all the more special. I thought it was a traditional Buddhist temple with incense burning and a display of deities.

But it is so much more.

This place is the start of the largest part of the annual vegetarian festival in Phuket.

Starting around 6am, pilgrims started leaving the festival after they have performed the act of self-mutilation.

9 Phuket Vegetarian Festival, Thailand

And by that I meant they had pierced themselves with large skewers like you would expect to see on a BBQ. They had put these skewers through their cheeks, their nose or their tongue.

Some had gone further and pierced themselves with swords, large sticks or even an umbrella.

I stood there in amazement watching one of the most unique festivals I had ever seen in the world and something of the sort I had never seen before.

It truly baffled me how these guys and girls weren’t in pain but in a trance like state as they pierced themselves. The pain must have been extraordinary.

What seemed like forever, but was only a couple of hours, the stream of pilgrims ended. Me and my friends moved onto another road a few streets over to see the pilgrims again as they passed back into town.

Below are some more images not for the squeamish:

Umbrella Phuket vegetarian festival, Thailand Sword Phuket vegetarian festival, Thailand Spear, Phuket vegetarian festival, Thailand Phuket vegetarian festival, Thailand 2

It was genuinely one of the most incredible things I have ever seen.

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Info on the Phuket vegetarian festival

There was little information online about visiting Phuket for the Vegetarian Festival so the best way to get information is to ask local people when you’re in Phuket. All of my taxi drivers and hotels staff knew when it was and the best places to go. There may be some smaller local temples closer to you on the island that have smaller festivities.

In 2024, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival will take place from 3-11th October. It is at a similar time each year coinciding with the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar.

Any attendees should wear all white like all the locals do. The only ones not wearing white and pilgrims that are dressed colourfully.

All food in the street markets is vegetarian but you would never guess it! The rice and noodles with a mix of tofu and other veg looks just like all the other street for you will see in Thailand and is incredibly tasty as well!

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