Taoist devotees take part in the world-renowned Vegetarian Festival – best known for followers piercing their cheeks.
The nine-day long Nine Emperor Gods Festival takes place around South East Asia but is most well known in Thailand, where the Thai Chinese communities often take part in the extreme religious rituals. It is known in Thailand as the Vegetarian Festival or thetsakan kin che.
Footage above from Hat Yai, southern Thailand, taken on October 14, 2018, shows locals slashing their tongues, piercing their cheeks with large spears while others inserted long needles in their arms.
The gathering from all of the local temples then walked through the town centre alongside Chinese dragons and firecrackers. The devotees perform ritual mutilation upon themselves while in a trace-like state without anaesthetic.
The practice is a show of devotion to their gods, their beliefs and their ancestors. Worshippers who have taken part claim that the practice leaves them with a feeling of serenity and heightened concentration during day-to-day activities in the weeks following the festival.
The Vegetarian Festival is most well-known in the neighbouring island of Phuket, which has a large Thai Chinese population. Tens of thousands of tourists attend the nine-day long festival with events being staged around the island.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival has become very popular in recent years and is therefor very busy. Prices are often increased and there is often many photographers there, both hobby photographers, travel bloggers and international media agencies like AFP and Reuters.
They’re all looking for the ‘money shot’ and things can get pretty hectic. That’s why we recommend visiting somewhere like Hat Yai, where the same rituals take place and it’s much less busy. There’s also not as much of the playing up to the camera, like Phuket, where devotees try to out-do each other by inserting ever more bizarre objects into their faces.
Hat Yai is easy to reach by airport from Bangkok and accommodation in the city is very affordable. That’s why the Hat Yai Vegetarian Festival is a great event to attend.