Phor Thor (Hungry Ghost Festival) @ Jalan Pasar, Bukit Mertajam


I bet you already know that it’s the Hungry Ghost Festival currently. During the Ghost Month the realms of Heaven and Hell are open, which releases ghosts, spirits including those of the deceased ancestors to roam the living world.

Hungry Ghost Festival

So, the Chinese are often advised to stay at home and prevent from going out late at night to avoid any unfortunate incidents that are believed to be caused by some mischievous hungry ghosts. There are also plenty of taboos to observe too, for example not to simply pee at the streets (especially true for kids) or referring the ghosts as your ‘heng dai’ or ‘hia ti’ (buddies).

Phor Thor Festival

When I was a child I used to believe in such things but as I grew up, these beliefs slowly vanished. My mom would bring me to Jalan Pasar in Bukit Mertajam where the festival has always been held to pay respects to the dead, and of course to seek protection and good luck from the ‘Tai Su Yah‘ (King of Hades). He is, after all the ruler of the underworld.

Tai Su Yah

Although the Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated all around Malaysia, the celebration is usually done in greater scale in Penang. If you didn’t know, the first Phor Thor celebration in Malaysia was held in Penang in 1965, which means we were the pioneers.

King of Hades

And I don’t know if I should be proud of this but the Bukit Mertajam’s Phor Thor committee always come out with a really menacing-looking effigy of the underworld ruler. I used to be very afraid of him, very afraid. Heck, which kid wouldn’t be?

King of Hades

The amount of details that were put into creating the effigy is just simply stunning. We used to make the largest effigy in Malaysia too. But this year I think the largest one is created in Selangor, which even made into the Malaysia Book of Records.

Hawker stalls

So what is a non-believer doing in a Hungry Ghost Festival you ask? Well I was there simply for the food (according to my sis there’s a kick-ass Jawa Mee here) and to capture the festival in images. When there’s a festival, there’s hawker stalls to be found.

Jawa Mee

True to my sis’ claim, the Jawa Mee here is really delicious. Cheap too considering it was only RM3.20 a plate with extra prawn fritters. The fritters and crackers were crunchy, the sambal was a perfect complement, and the gravy was oh so flavorful. And this is coming from a person who actually dislikes Jawa Mee!

Loh Bak

Loh Bak was not bad too, I liked the spicy and starchy dipping condiments. And now, for the rest of the images of the festival.

Pillar shaped Dragon joss sticks

Dragon Joss Stick

Large pillar-like Dragon joss sticks at the entrance of the festival.

Incense burning

A burning incense stick with the Pek Kong Cheng temple in the background.

Praying to King of Hades

Devotees praying to Tai Su Yah.

Jee Pek

Jee Pek (Second Uncle), one of the assistants to Tai Su Yah.

stacked Teow Chew steamed buns

Wooden altar

Teow Chew steamed buns stacked up, for what I am unsure of. Maybe as decoration?

Stacked folded papers

Joss paper folded into ingots and then stacked into an elaborate pagoda shape.

hungry ghost festival offerings

food offerings


Offerings made to the deceased like food including roast piglet, fruits, buns, candies and not to mention hell notes too.

lighting joss sticks

An elderly lady lighting her joss sticks outside the temple.

Removing candles

Phor Thor committee members clearing up excessive candles and incense sticks from the urns to create space for other devotees.

Ho Hiah Di Gong

好兄弟公 – ‘Ho Hiah Di Gong’, where the wandering spirits and ghosts are appeased by offering them prayers and food by distributing the food offerings under the table.

Da Zu Ye

Tai Zu Yah is worshiped mainly by the opera singers.

Tai Zu Ya

touching child God's face

Tai Zu Yah had devotees offering candies and biscuits. A father was seen holding his daughters hand to wipe the face of the statue as a gesture of asking for blessing and good fortune.

Hungry Ghost Festival flags

Small Hungry Ghost Festival flags (written as Yu-Lan festival here)

Hungry Ghost Festival Opera Stage

A Chinese stage opera next to the Pek Kong Cheng food court to entertain the living and the dead. I am glad that it wasn’t a Ko-Tai with sexy singers and dancers.

Chinese Stage Opera

Chinese Opera

As technology advances, traditional stage operas have a technology twist – now even with subtitles displayed on electronic message boards!

King of Hades

At the end of the festival, the paper effigy would be burnt along with the offerings to mark the sending off of the deity. So far, I have yet to witness this ceremony in real yet but I plan to do so this year. So have you attended any Hungry Ghost Festival in your area?

Leave a comment:


  1. Hi Vkeong,

    I’ve not visiting this hungry ghost festival since i left Msia, and glad to say that it is still going strong in 2010. Simply the finest ghost festival in Msia, in my opinion, probably deserves at least a guinness records just for the sheer quality of workmanship and statue of the effigy.

    Furthermore, I’ve never had a bad meal here in Pek Kong Cheng and it comes with my highest recommendations.


  2. The pics are amazing, the colours are so vibrant!

    My friend did an assignment on the Hungry Ghost Festival before. But when she took pics to be included inside her assignment, some of the effigies are blurred, no matter how many times she tries to capture it.

    Unexplainable at all.

  3. Nice coverage here, do you know more detail about the Hungry Ghost effigy in Selangor? If do, please share more with us.

    I’m one of those Hungry Ghost festival “Fan”.. :P

    some of the photos can be seen here:

    Sorry for the bad quality, its taken using camera phone and digital compact only.. cheer

  4. Hi…i left bkt mertajam few years ago,this year i would like to go they for the prayer ! So this year when will the prayer start?

    Thanks alot for the info..bro…

  5. I’m also doing a review on Hungry Ghost Festival. Your review is so complete. In KK, we don’t really make it a big event. Residentials only burnt money paper, light candles and offer candies, peanuts, belly button biscuits to the ‘buddies’.

  6. Great post n photos :) makes me miss my home.

    My family and I were from BM! Does anyone happen to know what’s the recipe for making the teochew steamed buns which were shown in the photos above?

    My 90+yo granny misses those so much and I’m determined to find the recipe to make some for her. :)


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