Every year, according to the Thai lunar calendar, the country celebrates a plant-based food festival. The event mainly falls in September-October and is especially popular in areas with a large population of Chinese immigrants: Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket.
Many Thais stick to a vegetarian diet during the holiday, while eating meat the rest of the year. Some practice Thai vegetarianism on the day of the Buddha (full moon) and/or their birthday.
During the festival, Thais practice what is pronounced jay. The word is taken from Chinese Mahayana Buddhism and means the observance of the eight precepts. One of them is the refusal to eat any meat during the festival. Practicing jay, the Thai also adheres to high moral etiquette in his actions, words and thoughts. During the celebration, Thais are shown to keep their bodies and kitchen utensils clean, and not to share their utensils with people who do not observe the vegetarian feast. It is recommended to wear white clothes as often as possible, not to harm animals, and to be mindful of your actions and thoughts. Devotees abstain from sex and alcohol during the celebration.
In 2016, the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival was held from October 1st to 9th. Chinatown is the epicenter of the festivities, where you’ll find rows of makeshift stalls selling everything from sweet cakes to noodle soups. The best time to visit the festival is in the early evening, around 17:00 pm, when you can have a bite to eat, enjoy the Chinese opera and visit the temples full of people enthusiastic about the holiday. Yellow and red flags fly from food stalls. The parody of meat is one of the strangest phenomena of the festival. Some look exactly like the real thing, while other “fakes” are quite cartoonish in appearance. The flavor also varies: satay sticks, which can hardly be distinguished from real meat, tofu-flavored sausages (which they are made of). Since strong odors such as garlic and onions are not allowed, the food at the event is quite simple.
One of the best spots for the Bangkok Vegetarian Festival is Soi 20 on Charoen Krung Road, where car parts are sold at normal times. During the festival, it becomes the center of events. Walking past food stalls and fruit stalls, the guest will meet a Chinese temple, where believers, surrounded by candles and incense, are serving. Lanterns hanging from the ceiling are a reminder that the event is primarily a religious event. Walking towards the river, you will find a stage where a Chinese opera with painted faces and beautiful costumes performs thanks to the Gods every night. Shows start at 6 or 7 pm.
Although it is called vegetarian, the diet is prescribed as it includes avoiding fish, dairy products, meat and poultry as an opportunity to cleanse the body for 9 days. Phuket is often considered the center of Thailand’s vegetarian festival, as more than 30% of the local population is of Chinese ancestry. The celebration rituals include piercing the cheeks, tongue and other parts of the body with swords in the most skillful ways, which is not a picture for the faint of heart. It is worth noting that festivals in Bangkok are held in a more restrained format.