Chinese New Year
Get ready for noisy firecrackers, colourful sprocessions and local entertainment as the Phuket enters the Year of the Dragon this January. Vibrant celebrations and super shopping bargains are on offer as Phuket's local Chinese community prepares for its most important festival.
Adding to the celebrations is the Old Phuket Festival, held in the old Sino - Portuguese quarter of Phuket Town each year. Entertainment and highlights like the Dragon Procession promise a kaleidoscope of colour in the streets during the two day festival.
As well as Phuket's usual array of delectable food, Chinese New Year provides the perfect opportunity to sample special delicacies. Probably more food is eaten during the New Year celebrations than any other time of the year with huge amounts of traditional fare prepared for family, friends and ancestors.
Certain kinds of food eaten at this time are considered lucky, with specific ingredients added for a little extra luck during the coming year. Others like Fresh bean curd or tofu - considered unlucky are given a wide berth in favour of more auspicious fare.
Food plays an integral part in the traditional celebrations. On New Year's Eve, Chinese families celebrate with a special dinner dedicated to the spirits of the ancestors - revered for their past contributions to the family fortunes. The communal feast of weilu, literally "surrounding the stove" is arranged around the family banquet table and is a way of joining the spirits of the past with the family of the present, symbolizing family unity.
Throughout Phuket town, during New Year you'll see Chinese houses with their living rooms decorated with vases of flowers, platters of oranges and tangerines and a tray with eight varieties of dried sweet fruit. The entrances of many shops and houses will be festooned in red banners and decorations to encourage luck and happiness during the coming year.
Red is considered a bright, happy colour, so many people wear red for a sunny and bright future. It is believed that appearance and attitude during New Year's sets the tone for the rest of the year so children and unmarried friends, as well as close relatives are given "lai see" little red envelopes with money inside, for good fortune. Oranges and tangerines, symbols of abundant happiness, must be taken as a gift if you are visiting a Chinese family during the two week celebrations to ensure a long relationship with the person you're visiting.
Songkran Festival is the traditional Thai New Year celebrated on April 13th. Families and friends gather to celebrate by visiting temples, sprinkling water on Buddha images in reverence, and sprinkling water on each other's hands as an act of wishing good luck.
In recent years, the tradition of sprinkling water has been interpreted by youngsters as a great excuse for a water fight, and it is not uncommon to have buckets and containers of water thrown at you by teams of merry makers in the backs of trucks as you make your way down the street - particularly in major tourist areas like Patong.
While all of the island celebrates Songkran, the most active area is Patong. Driving there might take you hours as roads are gridlocked by pickup trucks carrying youngsters playing with water. At the end of the day, things quiet down, but if you are a party person, water battle will continue past midnight in the famous Bangla Road.
Por Tor (Hungry Ghost) Festival
Por Tor or the 'Hungry Ghost' festival is an important merit-making event for the ethnic Chinese. Special food, flowers and candles are offered to ancestors on altars. Other offerings are made to 'feed the ghosts without relatives' that are said to have been released from hell for the month.
Experience this beautiful event for yourself at any Chinese Shrine on the island or head to Seng Tek Bel Shrine on Phuket Road and the fresh market on Ranong Road to enjoy two of the biggest Hungry Ghost celebrations in Phuket.
Seng Tek Bel Shrine, (also known as Por Tor Kong Shrine) located next to Bann Bang Neow School, is considered the centre of the festival because it hosts this annual event for seven days and seven nights while most shrines do so for only a couple of days.
The Ranong Road fresh market and nearby areas also get busy during the time of the festival. The whole market is colourfully decorated and features interesting activities from about noon until midnight, including a traditional merit-making ceremony, lion dances, magic shows, live concerts, cabaret shows and many more stage shows.
Expect to see plenty of local food stands at both venues; it’s a chance to sample Chinese-influenced local food at very friendly prices. There are usually a few big parades going on during the festival (call TAT office for its schedule at 076-212213). School kids and local folks get dressed up in their best traditional costumes; many girls get to wear a red cheongsam (a Chinese-style dress) and to carry flowers, turtle cakes and fruits to the shrines. It’s a lovely sight to see.
The passed-down customs of the Thai-Chinese still show signs of a strong belief in the sense of family obligation and respect for their ancestors. For the main part, the offerings on the altars are red turtle cakes (or ang ku) of various sizes made from flour and sugar.
But why red turtle? Simply because, for many Chinese, the turtle represents strength and is a symbol of longevity. Plus, red usually means good luck. Therefore offering a red turtle is not only a good thing for their ancestors, it also means that they are extending their own life too in a sense.
Date: The annual festival is held on the first day of the waxing moon in the seventh Chinese calendar month, usually around late August to early September.
PHUKET Vegetarian Festival
A colourful event held over a nine day period in October, this celebrates the Chinese community's belief that abstinence from meat and various stimulants during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar will help them obtain good health and peace of mind.
Though the origins of the festival are unclear, it is thought that perhaps the festival was bought to Phuket by a wandering Chinese opera group who fell ill with malaria while performing on the island.
They decided to adhere to a strict vegetarian diet and pray to the Nine Emperor Gods who would ensure purification of the mind and body. On recovery, the people celebrated by holding a festival that was meant to honour the gods as well as express the people's happiness at surviving what was, in the nineteenth century, a fatal illness.
There are more than 40 Chinese shrines scattered around the island. Many of them are just small buildings but all participate in the festival. Visitors who want to experience the most of this event should visit the major shrines including the five oldest shrines in Phuket; Put Jaw, Jui Tui, Bang Niew, Cherng Talay, and Kathu Shrine. Alternatively, see the list below.
- Baan Tha Rue Shrine, Thepkrasattri Road, not far from the Heroines’ Monument
- Cherng Thalay Shrine, Sri Soonthorn Road, Thalang District
- Sapam Shrine, Thepkrasattri Road, Koh Kaeo, Phuket Town
- Yok Ke Keng Shrine, Soi Panieng, Samkong, Phuket Town
- Samkong Shrine, Yaowarat Road, on the north side of Phuket Town
- Kathu Shrine, Wichitsongkram Road, Kathu District
- Put Jaw Shrine, On the corner of Soi Phuthorn, Ranong Road, Phuket Town
- Jui Tui Shrine, Soi Phutorn, Ranong Road Soi 4, Phuket Town
- Sui Boon Tong Shrine (aka Lorong Shrine), Pattana Road, Phuket Town
- Bang Neow Shrine, Phuket Road, on the south side of Phuket Town
- Thep Rasi Shrine, Phuket Road, near Robinson Department Store, Phuket town
- Kiew Tien Keng Shrine, Sapanhin Park, Phuket Town
The festival always falls on the first days of the ninth Chinese lunar month, and for nine days participants observe the following commitments:
Cleanliness of the body during the festival
Clean kitchen utensils not to be used by others who do not participate in the festival
Wear white during the festival
Behave physically and mentally
Avoid eating meat
People in mourning should not participate
Pregnant women and menstruating women should not attend ceremonies
One of the most exciting aspects of the festival is the various, (and sometimes gruesome) ceremonies which are held to invoke the gods. Firewalking, body piercing and other acts of self mortification undertaken by participants acting as mediums of the gods, have become more spectacular and daring as each year goes by. Men and women puncture their cheeks with various items including knives, skewers and other household items. It is believed that the Chinese gods will protect such persons from harm, and little blood or scarring results from such mutilation acts. This is definitely not recommended for the feint hearted to witness.
The ceremonies of the festival take place in the vicinity of the six Chinese temples scattered throughout Phuket. The main temple is Jui Tui Shrine not far from the Fresh Market in Phuket Town. The first event is the raising of the Lantern Pole, an act that notifies the nine Chinese gods that the festival is about to begin. The pole is at least ten metres tall and once erected, celebrants believe that the Hindu god, Shiva, descends bringing spiritual power to the event.
For the next few days, the local Chinese/Thai community brings their household gods to the temple, along with offerings of food and drink. It is assumed that the household gods will benefit from an annual injection of spiritual energy that fills the temple. Visitors can observe and even participate in the lighting of joss sticks and candles that are placed around the various gods.
Loy Kra Thong Festival
Thailand, is a spectacular place where magic and mystery can be found in many places. If you are here in November, this magic flourishes and there is one evening during the month that a truly mystical experience, can be had. On this particular night, on nearly every expanse of water, be it a river, lake or the ocean, you'll notice thousands of lights. Drifting across the water like fairy dreams. Gently flickering, dipping and dancing in the breeze as they go, making a spectacular sight.
This is Loi Krathong, Thailand's 'festival of lights'. Held yearly, on the evening of the twelfth lunar month, it is the time of year when the waters around the country become alive with candlelight and look not unlike massive fairy ballrooms. When staying in a coastal area, you can see these 'ballrooms' extending for miles out to sea. In fact, sailors, making their way towards the likes of Phuket, have reported seeing them close to the Similan Islands and beyond.
This festival, falls in the 'not to be missed' category and if you believe in luck, joining in, is a 'must do'. It's also one of those celebrations that children absolutely adore and will certainly be one of their fondest memories of their visit to this part of the world.
If you happen to be holidaying in Phuket, one of the more popular festival venues, when this enchanting festival occurs, you might just have a better chance of a luck filled future. Phuket's west coast beaches generally have an off-shore breeze blowing at this time of year, which will help give your wishes a boost. How good your fortune will be, is up to you and the tides or currents during the festivities. There is one simple way to ensure that at least a little of the festival's blessing comes your way, however.
Loy Krathong is celebrated nationwide. In Phuket, major hotels usually host a special evening so that guests can join in.
Guests usually set the kratongs on the sea - a delightful scene as thousands of candlelit kratongs bob on the waves. In places like Patong, little boys will volunteer for a small fee to carry your kratong out a little further for a more auspicious start.
All of Phuket's major west coast beaches take part in Loy Kratong festivities, with a mix of locals and tourists. Nai Harn Lake and Patong Beach usually have the most activity with locals visiting beaches like Kata and Karon.
Two sites in Phuket Town: Saphan Hin Park and Suan Luang (King Rama IX) Park, are also popular places for locals to celebrate. Expect big crowds at both of these locations.
PHUKET King's Cup REGATTA
The Phuket King's Cup Regatta is Asia's biggest and most popular regatta. More than a regatta, the week long event consists of great parties, great sailing and lots of fun.
Inaugurated in 1987 to celebrate the 60th birthday of His Majesty the King of Thailand, the event has been held every year since during the first week of December.
With the Royal Patronage of His Majesty the King, the Regatta is organised by the Phuket King's Cup Regatta Organising Committee under the auspices of the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, in conjunction with the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand, the Royal Thai Navy and the Province of Phuket.
The Phuket King's Cup is the jewel in the crown of the Omega Asian Yachting Circuit, a circuit of the leading regattas in Asia including the Raja Muda International Regatta, the Singapore Straits Regatta and the China Sea Race.