Jamie's Phuket Blog

Phuket Vegetarian Festival - My favourite event in Phuket!

The 2013 Phuket Vegetarian Festival was 4th - 14th October 2013. The date changes slightly every year as it's based on the Chinese lunar calendar. As far as I can see, the date for 2014 will be 23rd September - October 3rd. My favourite time of year, and it's not because of the food. I am not a vegetarian, though I try to stick to "the diet" during the festival, meaning no meat, no alcohol, no dairy, no onion or garlic, no eggs. Over the years on this blog, I have posted many times about the festival.. no need to repeat everything here. For more general information and links to just about every post about the festival with photos from 2006 - 2013, information about the shrines and food and more - start here : The Amazing Phuket Vegetarian Festival.

Recent Phuket Vegetarian Festival Blog Posts

• 2013 Festival - Street Procession from Jui Tui shrine in Phuket Town (October 11th 2013)
• 2013 Festival - Kathu Shrine - Early Morning Procession (October 12th 2013)
Vegetarian Festival Food

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2012 Photos / Blog

It's not for everyone. If you know about the festival, you'll know why... some people love it, some moan about the street processions blocking traffic for a week (around Phuket Town, true enough), some consider it to be "just a show for tourists" (very untrue), and lots of people are turned off by the more bloody aspects of the festival. The festival has a long, long history. This is not a show, not a fake. The history, the tradition and the respect for the festival among the local people is plain to see. Just to be clear, not all local people get involved. The vegetarian festival is based on Chinese beliefs and the participants are generally from Phuket's Chinese-Thai community which makes up around 30% of the population. Most of the participating shrines are in and around Phuket Town or Thalang, the 2 old centers of Phuket.

Prayers and respect

(above) Prayers and Respect - Kathu village shrine outside Phuket Town is one of the main centers for the vegetarian festival. Dressed all in white, local people carry incense at the start of the fire walking ceremony.

Why do I love this festival so much? You know, the first couple of years I was in Phuket, I saw almost nothing of the real local life, knew nothing of the history of Phuket .. I just dived and hung around with diving people, went out to bars and never went out to explore the island. The first time I saw anything of this festival was in about 2003, driving into Phuket Town to pay my tax, and got stuck in traffic caused by some damn local street procession! Over the years we have enjoyed exploring Phuket and the surrounding area and discovering new back roads and new events. And I have read a lot about the history and traditions here. The vegetarian festival is celebrated in other parts of Thailand where there are Chinese-Thai communites, but Phuket is where it started back in 1825.

Inside Kathu Shrine

Lighting candles

(above) Kathu shrine is my "local". We live about a mile from old Kathu village where the shrine is located. Kathu is actually where the history of the festival began, being the center of the tin mining boom which attracted many Chinese people to Phuket in the 19th century. I like to head to the shrine at any time during the festival to "people watch". I love the atmosphere. Everyone is dressed in white. I mean not everyone in Phuket, but around the shrines, pretty much everyone. In the weeks before the festival, shops are selling the white clothes. It's a sign of purity. I like to visit the shrines to catch a glimpse of the tradition of the festival. On the first day (see below) the Go Teng pole is raised to allow the spirits of the Emperor Gods to enter the shrine.

Go Teng pole at Kathu Shrine

And then the street processions begin. Every day for a week. Each day with participants from different shrines. And this is where things get weird. Shrines, candles, prayers, traditions... and self mutilation and extreme piercing. By their suffering does the whole town receive good luck and blessings for the year. Purification by eating the right food, by wearing white and by sticking sharp objects in your face. If you have not seen this before, it's a shock. It's also a photographers paradise! Well, I am not a pro photographer, but during the festival I will take hundreds of pictures. Trying to select just a few for this blog is hard! You can find lots of photos on Flickr - see Vegetarian Festival 2010 - Vegetarian Festival 2009.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Street procession

(above) Vegetarian Festival procession carrying statues of the gods led by the "Ma Song" who have let the spirits of the gods enter their bodies. Some of these Ma Song are quite freaky. I have been up close in the shrines and in the streets. I do not believe they are pretending. Well, not all of them!

Feel no Pain

Sorry should have warned that was coming.. The Ma Song above walks the streets cutting himself with an axe. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I love the blood, but it all adds to the intensity of the experience. I try to get to some shrines early in the morning, like 6 - 7am before they start their processions. Photography a bit harder in the dim early morning light, but this is when the piercing takes place. The blood is fresh.... anyone who wants to vomit now should click here for a photo of a nice pretty cat. Don't come back just yet .. it gets worse. Too late.

Ouch

What a spanner!

If you go and watch any of the processions or early morning goings-on at the shrines, like I said, if you have not seen this before, you might be shocked. In fact I am still shocked. Swords in your cheek? No thanks! Oh, come on, just a small one... or an umbrella? Sometimes I don't know where to look. One pair of eyes, one camera. Many times I "miss" a photo opportunity. I try to take as many pictures as possible. Some will be good and it's true - better camera = better photos. Last couple of years I was using a Canon EOS 20D - hoping to get a newer model before September. Getting a really good photo here you need to get into the shrines or walk along with the processions and get involved, get close. Watching from the side of the road, hard to get a decent photo. Last year, when the Bang Neow shrine in Phuket Town had it's procession, I was running around in the sun for 2 hours, getting covered in firecrackers and loving it!

Firecrackers again

(above) in Phuket Town, carrying the gods through a constant barrage of firecrackers. Only the bravest local lads sign up for god-carrying duty! I like to follow them through the deafening noise and choking smoke trying to get a good photo!

Boom!

(above) Statues of the gods being carried through Kathu village - can get a bit crazy in Phuket Town. The 2 main shrines in town are Bang Neow and Jui Tui. On the days when they have their processions, the crowds are at their largest. In Kathu it's much easier to get a photo, not so many people around early morning as they begin walking to town, which is about 6km away.

He's bananas

Ready to march

The banana guy is also a local policeman. For weeks after the festival I see local guys with fresh scars! The scar tissue is often quite obvious especially on those who have been participating for many years. Old and young take part. The tradition is passed down, though there is the suspicion that some youngsters might be doing it for the street cred. And there seems to be a level of competition - who can do the biggest or most bizarre piercing.. Some examples:

Pistolero

(above) The classic "gun in face" style.

4 swords in the face

(above) 4 swords. Beat that.

8 Swords in the Face

8 swords. I thank you. Meanwhile, the young generation watch and learn.

Boy with firecrackers

Young Rambo (above) carrying firecrackers.. or maybe his Mum had enough of him. "If you don't stop that, I'll light those firecrackers!" - and below - respect.

Prayers and respect

Prayers

I love the tradition, the history, the firecrackers, the craziness, the street processions, the prayers at the shrines, the food is worth a try too. I love the way the local community comes together. The Phuket vegetarian festival is my favourite thing in Phuket.

Map of Chinese Shrines


View Phuket Chinese Shrines in a larger map


Phuket Vegetarian Festival - My favourite event in Phuket!  |  Jamie's Phuket Blog




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