Backyard Travel’s GM Maeve recently went to catch the end of the Vegetarian Festival celebrations in the heart of Chinatown and we asked her to share her thoughts on the annual festivities.
Having lived in Bangkok for just over two years, one of my favorite things to do in the city is to explore the complex maze of streets that makes up the city’s energetic Chinatown district.
Usually, I prefer to explore on my bicycle with a GPS in hand and I thought I had a fair idea of the backstreets of this fascinating part of town. That illusion was broken recently however, when I went to visit the area for the annual Vegetarian Festival and – not for the first time – the city showed me there’s still so much to discover.
Soi 20, which branches off the busy Charoen Krung Road, is a warren of small streets that offer an intriguing glimpse into Bangkok of yesteryear, mostly filled with shops selling used truck engines; a backdrop of old shop houses intertwined with homes shared by several generations of the same family.
The motivation for my recent excursion was to check out the final moments of the ten-day Vegetarian Festival (known locally as ‘Tesagan Gin Je’). Every year the district is transformed with the Wat Mangkon Kamalawat Temple on the banks of the Chao Phraya River being one of the center points for celebrations and prayers.
As yellow is Chinese color associated with vegetarianism, it is a symbol of the festival and lanterns are hung throughout the streets to mark the event while street stalls and their vendors all adopt the auspicious color to signal they have vegan food available.
Thailand offers such an amazing choice of streetfood each and every day, and the festival did not disappoint in its selection of meat-free dishes on offer. As we navigated through the warren of colorful vendors on our way to the temple we spotted coconut-basted grilled corn, ‘Moneybags’, vegetarian noodle dishes with shitake mushrooms and handmade sweets of all colors – a veritable feast of vegan cuisine!
The scores of street stalls culminated at the Wat Mangkon Kamalawat Temple where devotees in white came to pay their respects. Hundreds of people of all ages were there to burn incense, give offerings and say their prayers. The atmosphere was joyful and everyone appeared in good spirits with broad smiles as they celebrated the end of the festival.
The main event was the Chinese Opera performance on the central stage in the main square of the temple. The ‘3 Thai Bhat Troupe’ perform during the festival to celebrate the festival’s Chinese heritage and give thanks to the gods.
We arrived just in time to catch the memorable performance and couldn’t help but be swept up in the joviality of the occasion. Not an opera in the western sense of the word, a Chinese Opera is more akin to theatre, with an elaborate set dressing and extravagantly clothed performers.
Although I’m aware this area is transformed considerably during the festival, it certainly offers a glimpse of ‘old-Bangkok’ that I find magnetizing. I can’t wait to get back and explore more before next year’s festival – an event that’s already fixed in my diary!
For pictures of the vivid festival, be sure to check out blogger Dennis Tern’s photos as well as Coconuts Bangkok’s Photo Essay feature by Camilla Gazeau which documents some of the more ‘extreme’ festival goers.
If you’d like to add an exploration of the exciting backstreets of Bangkok’s Chinatown, be sure to contact one of our local Thailand Travel Specialists who will be happy to arrange a day tour, or add an excursion to your tailor-made Thailand holiday.