Despite Thailand being a Buddhist country I believe Phuket has more Chinese religious festivals than any other. The big one, of course, is the Phuket Vegetarian Festival occurring annually in September or October. This week we have the Por Tor Festival which marks the opening of the gates of hell and the liberation of restless evil spirits. These spirits are called “hungry ghosts” and the festival is often referred to as the “Hungry Ghost Festival.”
Por Tor occurs each year at the end of the seventh Chinese lunar month which, this year, is 14th August. As the “hungry ghosts” bear a grudge it is necessary to compensate them by any means possible. The deity Por Tor Kong (also known as the Gwan Yin goddess) is responsible for releasing the spirits and offering them food and gifts to appease them during the month they exist outside the “ghost door.” During this time it is considered bad luck for children to be outside after six o’clock at night.
Each clan worships its own ancestors, usually making merit with special food offerings. Platters full of steamed pork, duck, or chicken represent the wish for prosperity and plenitude. Yellow noodles symbolize the desire for longevity. Beautiful fruit carvings of animal figures and flowers are offered. Most common are the turtle-shaped cakes which come in all sizes, small to very large. These are made of semolina flour and usually red in color; the turtle is a symbol for long life and red is a very auspicious color for the Chinese.
The Por Tor Festival will be celebrated at all of the local Chinese shrines today but according to several websites the best place to observe this will be at Por Tor Kong Shrine (labeled on most local maps as Seng Tek Bew Kuan Im Tai Seu Shrine). This is situated on Ta Kua Tung Road which is just west of (and parallel to) Phuket Road and south of the intersection of Ongsumphai and Phuket Roads (the road is named Kra west of that intersection). Just keep going south past Bang Niew Shrine on the way towards Suphan Hin, keeping an eye out for the 7-Eleven on the left side of the road; you can access the shrine via Soi Saksit just opposite the 7-Eleven (you’ve gone too far if you see Phuket Public Library). Centered on the Ranong Road Fresh Market west of Nam Pu Circle (Yaoworat Road to the north, Bangkok Road to the south), the festival will continue with activities, lion dances, and numerous local food stalls set up from noon to midnight on 16 and 17 August. There should be plenty to see and do.
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