Jamie's Phuket Blog

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11 October 2016 

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2016

Well it's all over for another year! The 2016 vegetarian festival was on from the night of 30th September until the night of October 9th. I did go and get my dose of festival atmosphere and I did stick to the vegan diet with no alcohol for 9 days. For the first few days we thought things were very quiet. We were in Phuket Town several times and there were very few people around compared to previous years. The weather was maybe putting people off, as we have had plenty of rain and not much sun recently. Seemed like it was raining every night in early October, so I was not too keen on attending early morning processions. I must say, rather like last year, that I'm not getting quite the same buzz from the festival as I used to. Maybe I have seen too much of it. Combined with the the weather, this lack of enthusiasm meant that I skipped all the main street processions in the first week of the festival including the big ones from Bang Neow and Jui Tui shrines. Also our dive shop suddenly got busy and I had lots of work to do. I am still fascinated by the vegetarian festival, and if I could somehow blog full time, I am quite sure that I would be taking photos every day!

The only street procession I saw in the first week was an evening event in Kathu village near our house. The official schedule lists this as "Birth-Death Gods Propitiation". Statues of the gods are carried through the streets of the village accompanied by plenty of firecrackers thrown by the local people or hung over the street on long bamboo poles. Again, this procession seemed quieter than previous years, or maybe I am just getting used to being in the middle of hundreds of exploding firecrackers! This was on the evening of October 3rd.

Evening Street Procession in Kathu village 3rd October 2016

Evening Street Procession in Kathu village 3rd October 2016

(above) Street procession in Kathu on October 3rd

Although I was feeling too lazy for the morning processions, I did manage to complete 9 days of vegan food and no alcohol. 9 days with no beer is a bit of a miracle! Food stalls and restaurants sell vegan (เจ) food all over the island, though it's hard to find in some parts. But I live in Kathu, which is said to be where the festival originated, and we can drive into Phuket Town in 10-15 minutes and that's the center of the festival. Where I work at Karon beach it's trickier to find this food, but one restaurant opposite Karon post office is always open during the festival. A few photos below of my food during the festival ...

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Food

On Friday it was the Jui Tui Shrine procession, which is normally the biggest. I did set my alarm for 5:45am, but after waking up decided to reset the alarm for 8am. Extreme laziness. But on Saturday 8th October, I was up and awake even earlier for the Kathu Shrine procession. The shrine is only a few minutes drive from our house, so .. no excuses! To see all that goes on, it's best to arrive at Kathu shrine before 6am.

(above) The video shows Ma Song ("entranced horses") before they head outside the shrine for face piercing. I have always wondered .. are they acting? But acting to who? There's no crowd of tourists here. They are not being paid. And they have been doing this for many years, since way before Phuket was a well known place.

Outside the shrine, face piercing takes place and Ma Song sit getting pierced or waiting for the procession to begin. This all happens before about 6:30am.

Face Piercing at Kathu Shrine - Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2016

Phuket Vegetarian Festival - Face Piercing

(above) Getting pierced at Kathu Shrine, 8th October 2016.

And then the procession heads off. The pierced Ma Song along with other Ma Song who are not pierced but take on the persona of old men or young girls (there are male and female Ma Song) head off first in no particular order. They are followed by teams of young men carrying statues of the gods along with lots of firecrackers again. And by 7am the procession has left Kathu village and everyone walks into Phuket Town - quite a hike, about 10km AND they walk back too! The return to Kathu happens at about 11am accompanied by yet more firecrackers.

Procession through Kathu village, 8th October 2016

Procession through Kathu village, 8th October 2016

(above) Procession through Kathu village

I had thought of following the procession into Phuket Town, but went home for coffee instead :)

However, to make up for this I was up early again the next day. The last procession in Phuket Town, on the last day of the festival, starts from Sui Boon Tong shrine which is close to the big Jui Tui shrine. I had never seen this particular procession before and it was on this morning that I started to enjoy the festival again. I was on the street outside the shrine not long after 7am and had time to buy some breakfast and an iced tea. This one does not start too early! The various Ma Song were in the street, mostly sitting down, and the young guys with their god-chariots were waiting to follow at the rear of the procession.


(above) Ma Song blessing a team of god carriers





(above) The Sui Boon Tong shrine has many female Ma Song, most of whom are free of face piercings.

Starting at the shrine I was able to walk along with the procession. I don't like to simply stand by the side of the road - hard to get photos from that position. I wanted to get some photos showing the Ma Song blessing people along the route of the procession. People set up shrines outside their houses or businesses. And many of the female Ma Song stop to bless children and give them candies or tie a string around their wrist. Older people also tend to receive plenty of blessings.



(above) Blessings along the procession route.

This is the less bloody side to the festival processions! The devotees who get most attention from photographers are those with bizarre piercings. The face and body piercings can be simple skewers or larger items like swords, or guns, or .. well, over the years I have seen anything from bicycles to tree branches. Is that a bit silly? A bit non-traditional? Do they just want to get their faces in the papers? Here's a few of the pierced faces from the Sui Boon Tong procession ...




(above) Oh yes and some pierced tongues too. This piercing certainly divides opinion. Some people (like me) find the festival fascinating. Some people can't grasp the idea that another culture exists with old traditions that don't match their own ideas. Three cheers for diversity. I walked with the procession down a couple of streets that I'd never really walked before and then into the center of town. It was not a wet morning, and the sun was up. I was hot and thirsty by 8am. Imagine doing the same walk with swords in your face or carrying a heavy statue!



(above) Ma Song stopping to bless people outside their homes

And now for a small video all about firecrackers ... A couple of Ma Song at the front of the procession, and then some of the action with the gods being carried through the streets.

The firecracker action at the rear of the processions has become my favourite part! I like to get close and get covered in debris. The noise and smoke can be pretty intense.



I would have stayed longer, but my camera battery ran out. I had a spare .. in the car, which was parked a couple of kilometers away. And the phone was giving me a low battery warning too. Shame .. I was just starting to get into the spirit again! Will make more of an effort next year. Hopefully with a new camera. These photos are taken with an old Panasonic Lumix G1 which has seen better days. The focus is a bit dodgy and it has a maximum aperture of only f/3.5 which is not ideal for portraits. Anyway, I was glad to have made the effort on this last morning.

One more picture ... Sui Boon Tong shrine seems to have an axe fetish. A group of 9 Ma Song (1 for each of the emperor gods?) were all walking together slicing themselves. Sorry about the blood!


The Sui Boon Tong procession was on October 9th, the last of the morning processions. The big crazy final night procession through Phuket Town took place the same night, but due to a combination of rain and laziness I decided to skip it this year. Next year's dates are 19th - 29th October 2017. The festival is based on the lunar calendar so the dates change every year. See you there!

Related posts on Jamie's Phuket

Introduction to the Phuket Vegetarian Festival
The Crazy Final Night of the Festival
The Hungry Ghost Festival
More Phuket Festivals

7 October 2016 

Phuket Waterfalls

Where to start ... Waterfalls - I like waterfalls. I once detoured across half of South America by bus and train to get from La Paz (Bolivia) to the absolutely incredible Iguazu falls which are on the border between Brazil and Argentina and not far from Paraguay either. Niagara falls are maybe the most visited in the world. I've been there too, and it's quite nice, that little boat ride on the Maid of the Mist. I tell you what - you can't do a boat ride at Iguazu! Certainly not when I was there in wet season. An unbelievable torrent of chocolate brown water was shooting from the jungle. One of the most amazing places I have ever been and well worth the ride on the "Train of Death" to get there.

Iguazu Falls

(above) Iguazu falls - not in Phuket.

Sorry for the non-Phuket photo. But I really do like waterfalls. The waterfalls in Phuket seem to be mentioned in just about every guidebook and website (and blog), and if you like nature and like to get away from the majority of tourists who like to stay at the beach, then Phuket has a number of waterfalls, all of them quite jungly and quiet, which are worth a visit maybe as part of a tour, or worth a look as you explore the back roads, but I would not say that you devote a day to a "Phuket Waterfall Tour" unless maybe you live in Saudia Arabia or some other dry country and you have never seen a waterfall or jungle. Don't be expecting anything like Iguazu, but you can get a nice little jungle walk and maybe take a swim in the fresh water running off the hills. Phuket has hills that rise up to over 1700 feet above sea level, and yes, we do get quite a bit of rain too. And so Phuket does have some waterfalls ....

Kathu Waterfall

Only a few kilometres from where we live is the highest point in Phuket, over 540m above sea level, and near this hill you have Kathu waterfall. It's only a short drive from Patong beach into the Kathu area of Phuket. The road up to the falls is a residential area, we have many friends up this road. There's space to park at the end, you cross a bridge and start walking up some steps .. and up.. and up... you can climb for quite a long time and get nice and sweaty! There are several cascades as you climb and locals are always there playing and swimming.

Kathu Waterfall - More Information

Kathu Waterfall, Phuket

Ton Sai Waterfall

In the northeast of Phuket island is a large green area which is designated as a National park. It's called Khao Phra Thaew, and on each side of the 1,000 foot jungle covered hill in the middle are 2 waterfalls. There is Ton Sai on the West side and Bang Pae on the east. In between is pretty wild country - I have read that you can hike between the 2, but a friend of mine (who is a real fit hill runner/marathon runner/hiker) has done it and tells me it's tough, and he was attacked by a wild gibbon up there!

Ton Sai is easy to find - turn right at the traffic lights at Thalang Town (right if you are heading north). Follow the small road. I believe entry is free after 3pm. Don't quote me on that. Otherwise 200 Baht. There is a nature trail and again several small falls up the jungle path. And on the way there you are really in rural Phuket, so close to the main tourist beaches but in another world.

I've blogged Ton Sai twice - A walk at Ton Sai Waterfall in 2011 and Ton Sai Waterfall in 2007.

Ton Sai Waterfall

Bang Pae Waterfall

And on the other side of the hills from Ton Sai is Bang Pae Waterfall - and also the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project. Actually the Bang Pae area is one of our favourite in Phuket. Lots of little back roads, some great rural scenery, huge areas of rubber plantations, pineapple fields, and a few restaurants that we like too such as Bang Pae Seafood and Peang Prai which is just at the entrance to Bang Pae - again, there is an entry fee here of 200 Baht per person. Note that the entry fee does not go to the Gibbon project which you can visit for free, and a small donation is appreciated there. Bang Pae is very popular with locals at the weekend. There are several small restaurants just inside the entrance, and many people come here for a splash!

Bang Pae Waterfall
Phuket Gibbon Rehabilitation Project

Bang Pae Waterfall Phuket

(above) Kids playing in a pool under Bang Pae Waterfall.

Sri Phang Nga National Park

Back in 2012 we found a new place, and we visited again twice in 2013. We were driving back to Phuket from Khao Sok National Park and decided to look for Sri Phang Nga national park. A friend had posted some photos on Facebook, it looked good and seemed to be not far off our route (but far enough to call said friend and ask "where the **** is it?"!). Sri Phang Nga is not in Phuket, it's in Phang Nga province, you have to drive from Phuket via Khao Lak to Takua Pa and then on northward towards Kuraburi. About 30km from Takua Pa is the turnoff and then you have about another 10km on a narrow road, becoming a dirt road.. no wonder it's not well known! And here we found a really superb waterfall called Tamnang Waterfall, with a cool fresh swimming pool beneath it filled with fish which will swim freely all around you! Great!

Sri Phang Nga National Park - More Information

Tamnang Waterfall at Sri Phang Nga National Park

(above) Tamnang Waterfall at Sri Phang Nga national park. The park has more falls which need a bit of a hike. We'll explore again sometime soon!

Ton Prai Waterfall

We based ourselves at Khao Lak for a few days in April/May 2013, and again a few months later and visited a couple of waterfalls. Ton Prai is certainly worth a visit, and it's better after some rain. In April, at the tail end of the dry season it was still pretty good, but in July - wow! It's about 30km south of Khao Lak, or 30km north of the Sarasin bridge that connects Phuket to Phang Nga. It's a jungly up and down hike of about 800m from the visitors center to the waterfall.

Ton Prai Waterfall - More Information

Ton Prai Waterfall

(above) Ton Prai Waterfall between Phuket and Khao Lak

Sa Nang Manora Forest Park

Just a few km north of Phang Nga Town, Sa Nang Manora does not have any huge waterfalls but is a very nice relaxing spot in the jungle with several small cascades where local folks like to relax. Great for a picnic, a splash in the cool water on a hot day, easy to fit in a visit here if exploring the Phang Nga area.

Sa Nang Manora Forest Park - More Information

Waterfall at Sa Nang Manora

(above) A waterfall at Sa Nang Manora Forest Park in Phang Nga province

Lampi Waterfall

Lampi is not far from Ton Prai, just a little bit closer to Khao Lak. Amazingly, we had never stopped here until 2014! Lampi is a little more crowded than Ton Prai, since you can park very close to the falls, there's no hiking involved, plus there's a little shop and restaurant by the carpark and even a place to buy swimming shorts :) And the waterfall is pretty impressive too. There's a pool for swimming under the falls.

Lampi Waterfall - More Information

Lampi Waterfall

(above) Lampi Waterfall

Wat Khao Waterfall

Only about 10km north of Phuket Island, just outside the town of Khok Kloi, we found Wat Khao waterfall in 2016. Must have driven past the sign many times, but never visited and it's very nice! Not too spectacular, but tumbles down the hillside in a pleasing manner and has pools for swimming, plus a restaurant with great local food.

Wat Khao Waterfall - More Information

Wat Khao Waterfall

(above) Wat Khao Waterfall

There are a few other little waterfalls around Khao Lak, and I have also read about a small waterfall in the hills near Kamala Beach and a waterfall at Manik (on the other side of the hill from Kathu waterfall) - we tried to find it one time but only ended up driving up a narrow track which needed a 27 point turn to get down again! There is also a place called Raman Waterfall Park which is near the Wat Suwan Kuha (temple in a cave) near Phang Nga Town. We stopped once at Raman but had no time to explore... one day.. there is always more to explore in the Phuket area and not enough time!!!

Phuket Waterfalls Map

View Phuket Waterfalls in a larger map

5 September 2016 

Wat Khao Waterfall (น้ำตกวัดเขา)

I thought we had visited all the waterfalls in the Phuket area (including north of Phuket in Phang Nga province), but I was wrong! After so many years of living here, there have been many changes. Tourist attractions, restaurants come and go, but nature will (hopefully) always be there. To the north of Phuket island, on the way to Khao Lak, there are a couple of very nice waterfalls - Ton Prai and Lampi. And there's another, much closer to Phuket, only about 10 kilometers after the Sarasin bridge, and just north of the town of Khok Kloi. I had seen the roadsign many times, but for some reason we never went to check out Wat Khao Waterfall until a couple of weeks ago. We were always on the way somewhere else, or on the way home, so Wat Khao remained unvisited. Also, I had never really seen anything about it online, and nobody had ever told me they had been until recently, we bumped into a friend while at Samed Nangshe viewpoint in Phang Nga, and he told me he'd just been to Wat Khao Waterfall, so it was in the back of my mind as we drove home from a long weekend in Chumphon a few weeks ago and saw the sign. It was 5pm and we were an hour from our house, but thought "let's have a look!"

This occasional tendency of ours to randomly detour does lead to some great finds sometimes! There is a lot to see here, but you do need to get out and explore! The side road to Wat Khao Waterfall is only about 1.5 km long, passing a temple on the way, followed by a side road heading uphill to a restaurant called "Nern Khao View Talay". Passing this, you get to the waterfall, with a fair amount of parking space. Our first visit was a quick one, as the hour was already late. We had a quick look at the waterfall. "Nice", we thought. And then since we discovered a restaurant right there near the waterfall, we decided to have a nibble. The food was decent, the beer was cold and we decided to return the next weekend.

Wat Khao Waterfall

(above) Wat Khao Waterfall. On our first visit it was very quiet (after 5pm). Nobody swimming. But it was a rather grey, drizzly day.

Actually, I took another photo on that visit. A sign listing "waterfall rules" had an English translation that must have come from Google Translate or something similar. Thai is very hard to translate automatically! I posted this sign on Twitter and it went slightly viral, ending up with well over 100 retweets! (see below) :

So we visited again the very next week, heading up there in time for lunch on a Sunday. And it was a sunny day too. Naturally we expected things to be a little busier. This waterfall seems to have very little promotion online, but nevertheless, the parking area was quite full when we arrived just after midday. Oh, this place seems maybe more popular than we thought! The little restaurant just by the parking area is called Krua Klangdong (ครัวกลางดง). It only has maybe 10 tables and it was all full, but we got lucky as one table was just leaving. The tables are all under grass roofs, not all packed in together. The waitress told us that during the week they are open, but quiet. Then the weekends are crazy!

Restaurant at Wat Khao Waterfall

(above) Krua Klangdong restaurant at Wat Khao Waterfall.

As we'd managed to snag a table, we told the kids to hold off on the swimming until after lunch. The staff at the restaurant were friendly, a bit hurried though! But our food came pretty fast (I mean, they don't have that many tables). Kids had simple things like fried chicken with garlic, while my wife and I ordered some more interesting dishes. The menu had some rather odd translations, just like the sign above! You cold get things like "Mushroom bloody drown", "Egg salad bully", or "Hnnoaamgngm fried shrimp". We ordered a few different dishes :

Yam Gung Siap

(above) Yam Gung Siap - crispy dried shrimp salad

Nam Prik Gung Siap

(above) Nam Prik Gung Siap - shrimp paste with crispy shrimp, served with veggies

Fried morning glory

(above) Fried morning glory

All good food, I think we'll visit again. Not a huge drive, about an hour from our house. The waterfall is right there behind the restaurant. The kids ate faster than us, and then ran off to jump in the water. Even in low season, and we'd had plenty of rain, this waterfall is not too big. There are pools to sit in and splash about. And there were plenty of families and kids there on that Sunday.

Restaurant at Wat Khao Waterfall

(above) Another view of the restaurant.

A path headed uphill on the left side of the waterfall, and I hiked up quite a long way, but couldn't see any great views, plus the path turned from good to overgrown .. I don't think many people walk up here. My wife and I did not jump in the water, just let the kids splash around for a while before heading home.

Wat Khao Waterfall

Wat Khao Waterfall

(above) Playing and cooling off in the water at Wat Khao Waterfall.

So on the way out from the waterfall, we decided to take the steep road up to the other restaurant - Nern Khao View Talay. I thought it would maybe be rather a fancy place, and indeed it was very well presented, looks like it's not been there too long. We had a look at the menu and ordered a drink. Prices a little more than Klangdong by the waterfall, but the view was pleasant, you can just about see the sea from there (see photo below).

Nern Khao View Talay Restaurant

I think we'll come to eat here sometime, either lunch or maybe a sunset dinner. Always something new to try, either because it's new, or because we just haven't found it yet. Wat Khao Waterfall can be fitted in with a tour in the area, maybe visiting several waterfalls, or on the way to Khao Lak or combined with Samed Nangshe Viewpoint or just a quick trip for lunch. Nice to have a couple of restaurants there. Keep on exploring!

Wat Khao Waterfall - Location Map

25 August 2016 

Chillva Market

Phuket has many markets that might in some way interest a visitor. The most popular is certainly the weekend market which is open Saturday and Sunday nights near Phuket Town. But it has plenty of competition now. The Indy Market opened a few years ago in the old town area and is popular with young people. And then the excellent Sunday market is on every Sunday on Thalang Road in the heart of old town. If you want a real working market (you know, vegetables, fish, meat, fruit, fresh foods) I'd suggest visiting the main market in Phuket Town or maybe Kathu fresh market. I think what people want is a mix of food/restaurants and bars and stalls selling clothes and arty things. The Sunday market is probably my favourite, but it's only in Sunday! The weekend market is an experience, but can be too busy for me. So, now there's something new!

The Chillva market officially opened at the end of April 2016 with the aim of being a bit more cool and trendy, and without the alcohol free experience of the Indy market, which has many local teenage customers. Chillva has a mix of shops, market stalls, bars, restaurants, food stalls and often has live music too! Some of the shops and bars are open every evening, but the main market is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday starting late afternoon and closing around 11pm. Best to visit from about 6pm. My last visit (to take some photos for the blog!) was about 5pm and that did seem too early, it was very quiet. Gets much busier after dark and has quickly become popular.

Chillva Market in Phuket

(above) View of Chillva Market

Chillva Market at Night

(above) And a very similar view after dark with a lot more people! You can get elevated views as in places there are shops and bars made from shipping containers with seating up top. Cool!

Chillva is located in the Sam Kong area of Phuket Town, which is in the north of town. It's between the Tesco Lotus store and the Bangkok Phuket hospital, close to the Sam Kong Chinese shrine. There's a map below. I avoided the market for a few months mainly because between our house and Chillva is a big messy roadworks where an underpass has been built and it's taken a lot longer to complete than planned. We should be able to drive straight from Kathu to Sam Kong, but for a long time we've had to make a big detour down the bypass road and u-turn back towards town. That is now almost complete.

Chillva Market Phuket

(above) Another elevated view of Chillva market with the live music stage in the foreground and the road to the left. The market occupies a fair slice of land and has quite a large car park too, although one time when we visited the car park was all full and roadside parking there is like gold dust. You could park in Tesco and walk about 500 meters. Moped parking is less of a problem. As it's quite new, it is currently one of the local hotspots :) The various markets do pretty well at not clashing with each other, or are located a fair distance apart (like the weekend market is on the opposite side of Phuket Town).

So, what do we have at Chillva market? Well, first of all (on Thursday, Friday, Saturday) you have the market - lots of stalls selling clothes, arty things, and quite a lot of food stalls. It's not a huge place like the weekend market (where you can easily lose your way!) and is open air. Not too hot after dark.

Busy night at Chillva Market

Chillva Market

(above) Stalls at Chillva market

There are also a fair number of restaurants with outdoor tables, plus a seating area for eating food from the stalls. Anything from burgers to Thai noodles.

Eating out at Chillva Market

Lots of food for sale at Chillva Market

Food stall at Chillva Market

(above) Chillva is great for a cheap tasty dinner!

Aside from the market area, there are some more permanent shops, mostly selling clothes. My daughter found one she likes selling earrings. Yeh, I have a teenage daughter now.

Clothes stalls at Chillva Market

And there is a bit of night life here too! Every time I have been there was some live music, just local musicians playing or another visit there was what looked like a school talent show going on! And there's a little street of trendy bars too. Nice to sit up on the roof with a beer.

Bars at Chillva Market

Bar at Chillva Market

(above) Bars at Chillva Market.

I imagine we'll go a bit more often once all the roadworks are complete, it'll be a very quick drive from home. If someone asks which is the best market to visit, hard to answer. These places are more for locals than tourists, but I'd say try this one, and the Sunday walking street, or the weekend market if you want the big one! As a local, it's good to have these options now. A few years ago, the weekend market was on it's own.

More markets in Phuket

Phuket Weekend Market
Sunday Market in Old Town
Indy Market
Karon Temple Market
Phuket Town Fresh Market

Chillva Market - Location Map