For the first nine days of the ninth Chinese lunar month of every year since the 19th century, vegetarianism in Phuket, Thailand, is religion. Yes, the Chinese Thai community takes their Phuket Vegetarian Festival seriously. It’s not the kind of festival populated by gentle tree huggers in hemp pants playing djembes, doing yoga asanas, and drinking spirulina smoothies. And it’s not for the faint of heart. But itis a colorful event every vegetarian will want to attend, though perhaps not something every vegetarian will wish to participate in.
It all started a century-and-a-half ago when a Chinese opera group, while performing for the tin miners of Phuket, fell deathly ill with malaria. Recalling their ancient wisdom for body and mind purification, they adopted a strict vegetarian diet and refrained from alcohol, sex, quarrelling, telling lies, and killing. The epidemic ceased, and they believed the gods had been appeased, so they celebrated wildly—and the religious frenzy continues annually.
While pious locals visit, Chinese temples throughout Phuket host extravagant public ceremonies and rituals to honor the gods, eradicate evil spirits, and welcome good fortune, vegetarian tourists will find nirvana in the countless yellow-flagged stalls and markets offering unbelievably delicious “chicken” curries, “beef” steaks, and sweet and sour “pork,” all made without harm to animals. Good religion. No wonder Thailand is called The Land of Smiles!