The Por Tor Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, is one of the most religious and culturally rich festivals celebrated in Phuket, and is a testament to the island’s long standing Chinese Hokkien history which began when the first immigrants from Malaysia and China came to work in Phuket’s tin mines.
It is believed by most Chinese people that during the Por Tor Festival the gates of hell are opened and the spirits of their deceased family are released for a month by the goddess Gwan Yin, during their release the spirits come to visit their past homes and relatives.
The Por Tor Kong Shrine in Bang Niew and the Talad Sod Satarana in Ranong Road are the main venues for the Por Tor Festival celebrations, and generations upon generations of Phuket’s Chinese families have flocked to these two shrines each and every year to carry out what can only be described as slightly amusing rituals in celebration of the festival. However, in recent years the Por Tor Festival has also grown into another of Phuket’s main tourist attractions, and has become famous around the world.
The Por Tor Festival falls on the first day of the seventh lunar month in the Chinese calendar, and on this day participants in the festival offer food, flowers and candles to the spirits of their ancestors and to worship Por Tor, the god of hell. In the afternoon families will prepare makeshift altars at their homes in readiness for worshiping their ancestors, and every household will set the table with a number of dishes usually consisting of fish, pork, fowl, vegetable, fruits and sweetmeats. These dishes are placed in the middle of the table, along with a plate of rice for each of the departed relatives. Incense sticks are speared into each serving of rice and lit, and then all the family members sit to the side or go to another room, the spirits are eating their meals. When the incense is fully burned it indicates the spirits have finished dining, allowing the living relatives to come to the table to start their meals. When their meals are finished, the families will then burn gold & silver paper, or hell money, specifically made to be burnt as offerings to the deceased as it’s believed that the spirits need money in the afterlife.
And no Por Tor Festival would be complete without the red ceremonial cakes in the shape of turtles (Ang Koo), of various sizes made from flour and sugar. These turtles are presented as offerings at the Chinese temples along with large quantities of savoury food, carved fruit and drinks. For many Chinese, the turtle represents strength and is a symbol of longevity. In addition, 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.