Date: October 12th – 20th 2015
MRT: Hua Lamphong
The Vegetarian Festival in Bangkok 2015 runs from the 12th to the 20th of October. Chinatown is the gathering point for the festivities, and you will find rows of temporary stalls selling a wide variety of dishes from sweet cakes to noodle soups. The best time to come is early evening, around 17:00, so you can grab a bite to eat, enjoy the coming and goings at the temples and catch the Chinese Opera performing on Charoen Krung Road Soi 20. Be sure to bring your camera, as there are plenty of unusual sights in this colorful part of town.
Getting there is fairly easy, take the MRT subway to Hua Lumphong and then either walk: it takes 15 minutes, past Wat Traimit and the Chinatown Gate, or grab a taxi which will cost around 50 baht.
During Tesagan Gin Je Festival (Vegetarian Festival) yellow and red flags that signal a shop or stall is selling food in line with the festival regulations can be seen fluttering in the wind above Yarrowat Road. You will also spot stickers and signs in shops across the city, from 7-11 to large shopping malls like Central World. Fake meat is one of the strangest parts of the Vegetarian Festival in Bangkok. Some of it looks exactly like real meat and some of it is slightly cartoonish in appearance. The flavor also varies: we’ve tried satay sticks that could almost be mistaken for the real thing, and sausages that taste like the tofu they are made from. Because strong smelling foods like garlic and onions are not allowed during the festival, the food is kept simple.
One of the best places to visit is Soi 20 of Charoen Krung Road, an area usually reserved for shophouses selling car parts. During the festival it becomes a hub for events. If you walk past the food stalls and fruit sellers, you will come across and Chinese temple where you can quietly observe people making merit, surrounded by candles and incense. Lanterns hang from the ceiling and it’s a good reminder that this is first and foremost a religious event. Don’t stop there though, continue down in the direction of the river and you will find a stage, where every night a Chinese Opera is performed as thanks to the Gods. With painted faces and beautiful costumes, it is definitely a highlight of the event. The performances start between 18:00 and 19:00 every night during the festival.
The origins of the Vegetarian Festival are Chinese, a celebration to the nine Emperor Gods, and the festival happens during the ninth Chinese lunar month every year. Although it is called the vegetarian festival, the diet is strictly vegan, as the requirements include giving up all fish, dairy, meat and poultry for nine days as a way to cleanse your body. Rules also state that you should wear white from head to toe, but this is not as widely practiced outside temples. Phuket is often seen as the centre of Thailand’s Vegetarian Festival, as over 30 percent of the population have Chinese ancestry. Rituals during the height of the festival include tongue slashing and other gory rituals. Bangkok celebrations might seem a little subdued compared to that, but still very much worth a visit.