If you’re in Bangkok at the start of October, a visit to the city’s vibrant China Town is a must. Yaowarat Road – an all-year-round popular tourist attraction in Bangkok – is where most of the action takes place. The street is decked out in bright yellow flags (a symbol for vegetarian food) and welcomes noisy parades, hundreds of street food stalls and thousands of hungry visitors.
However, things can get rather packed on China Town’s main road. For a more spiritual taste of the Vegetarian Festival, head a few minutes south to from China Town to reach Talad Noi. One of the main attractions here is the historic Chow Sue Kong Shrine; this has been a central part of life for much of Talad Noi’s Thai-Chinese community for the past 200 years and was originally built by Chinese immigrants. During the vegetarian festival, the colorful shine becomes a meeting point for locals who come to pay their respects by lighting incense sticks and offering gifts. The whole of Chow Sue Kong Shrine becomes alight with color and sound as yellow and red flags are strewn across the ceiling, dancers in traditional Chinese costumes move to the sound of the drum and the soothing smell of incense fills the air. Visitors to Talad Noi can also experience other events throughout the 10 days including Chinese opera and parades.
Here is full list of events to be held at the shrine and throughout the Talad Noi area:
• September 30 – the ‘opening ceremony’ is held at Chow Sue Kong Shrine to invite the god of Hook Jao out of the nearby river and stay at the shrine for the duration of the festival
• October 1 – officially the first day of the festival, also known as 'Chew Ik', and a time which many will converge on Chow Sue King (and other Chinese shrines in the area) for worship
• October 6 – this day is also a Thai Buddhist day, so expect more visitors and more activities such as parades, shows and locals releasing small animals such as birds and fish for good luck (from 2pm at the shrine)
• October 7 – on ‘Chew Chik’ day a boat procession starts from the Chow Sue Kong along the Chao Phraya River heading to other Chinese shrines and finishing at the impressive Wat Kalayanamit on the other side of the river (from midday)
• October 8 – merit making sessions and then a spectacular dragon procession through China Town starting at 6pm
• October 9 – officially the final day of the festival sees locals make offerings to dead spirits as well as donations of sacred rice
Of course, food is also a big part of the festival. For nine days, people across Bangkok observe the festival by only eating vegetarian food (known in Thai as ‘je’ and symbolized by yellow lettering). Much of the food is made from tofu and imitates both the taste, smell and texture of real meat, while other popular things to eat include yellow noodles, spring rolls and vegetable soup.
While ‘je’ food can be found all across the city, even in the build up to the festival and in 7-Elevens and road-side street food stalls, the highest concentration of vegetarian vendors can be found on Yaowarat Road and throughout the small streets of Talad Noi. Most of the street food dishes are served up in relatively small portions, which is ideal to snack your way through and until you finally cannot eat anymore.
To get there, from the southern end of Yaowarat Road (at Chinatown Gateway on the large roundabout) walk a few minutes down Yaowarat Soi 1 into Soi Charoen Phanit, then take a right down the narrow alley; the shrine is at the very end close to the river. If you get lost, you can always follow the crowds or ask for directions. For those traveling from across the city, take the MRT to Hua Lamphong Station and walk from there (taxis are best avoided in the evening due to traffic). Guests staying at the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers can also reach all the festivities in both China Town and Talad Noi on foot – simply follow the map for directions.
Do remember that this is a religious holiday, so it’s wise to dress politely by covering shoulders and avoiding short skirts and shorts. To blend in even better with the locals, follow the vegetarian festival traditions and wear all white clothing.