With constant firecrackers, beautiful costumes, shocking rituals, and vegetarian food the Phuket Vegetarian Festival overwhelmed and thrilled me. The festival is a time of purification and renewal begun around 1825 by Chinese tin miners. During the nine days of the festival participants are prohibited from stealing, sex, lying, alcohol, and killing (hence vegetarian food for everyone).
Everyone is required to wear white when entering the temples and it’s fun to see most people in town dressed in white all day. I’m a vegetarian and eating vegetarian was the easiest of any trip ever because many restaurants switch to vegi menus and hang yellow flags outside to let people know they have vegi food. Near the biggest temples, Jui Tui and Bang Liao, people crowd along blocks of food stalls selling tofu in seaweed, noodles, Thai fruit, fried dough of some kind and all kinds of vegetarian food.
During the festival Phuket’s Chinese temples hold ceremonies to invoke the powers of the gods and the North Star. Ornately dressed mediums, empowered by purity and the temple ceremonies, go in to a state of trance and take in the power of the gods. They show their devotion by immolating themselves, usually by displaying large sharp objects they’ve put through their cheeks.
There are large daily processions of mediums and shrines through Phuket Town where the mediums stop at the many food tables set up in front of homes and businesses and give blessings. Spectators honor the mediums and shrines are honored by throwing an amazing number of firecrackers at their feet. Fireworks and firecrackers are going off all throughout the festival.
I got very lucky with my choice of hotel, ‘The Memory at OnOn’. It was half way between the two main temple festival areas and all the processions passed right in front of the hotel. The hotel, Phuket’s first, was decorated in a Sino-Portuguese colonial style with many antiques and my room had a lovely 6′ tall display case of calligraphy tools. They also had a room that appeared in ‘The Beach’ with Leonardo DiCaprio, and a pretty room decorated with tools used by tailors. The staff were super friendly and the ‘Baba’ restaurant downstairs had the best food I ate in Phuket Town. If you’re going to the festival, I recommend the On On.
Taking procession photos was so much fun. I loved dodging fireworks to slip quickly in front of a mob of men carrying a large shrine, or trying to shoot but not to interfere with a man with sword through his tongue. Some of the mediums gave me blessings of fruit, bracelets, and prayer flags and I saw a lot of kids mobbing mediums to get candy. It was only when I got home that I noticed the firecracker burn marks where I’d been hit on my ankles and shirt. With so many fireworks, ear plugs, a face mask for the smoke, and eye protection are a necessity to watch the night processions. An overall amazing experience.