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The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket

Every year in October the Vegetarian Festival is being held in Phuket City for ten days. The Festival is a Religious Festival of Chinese origin. Hence it is being held in Phuket City, where many people of Chinese origin traditionally live. The highlight of the Festival take place in Phuket Town.
This page tries to give an impression in words and pictures of this famous and fascinating event.

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The Food

Kanda Restaurant selling vegetarian food Small restaurant selling vegetarian food

During the Vegetarian Festival you can eat vegetarian food in most restaurants. Traditionally restaurants selling vegetarian food have an opening on the street during the Festival, with red colored sheets facing the street, like the ones on the pictures above. The restaurant on the left hand side picture is Kanda Restaurant, which has a wide choice of vegetarian food during the Festival. On the right hand side picture is just one of those many (very) small restaurants on the street.

Vegetarian dishes (1) Vegetarian dishes (2)

Many people think that there is not much choice in vegetarian food. Forget about that! During the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket City, you can get anything you ever wanted to eat, in a vegetarian variety. The two pictures above illustrate this in just a modest way. The choice of dishes is enormous. All the dishes on the two pictures shown above are 100% vegetarian. Not shown (but also available) are dishes like "vegetarian duck". These two pictures were taken at Mae Porn Restaurant, a very popular restaurant with Phuketians as well as with foreigners, especialy during the Vegetarian Festival. It had (and hopefully still has) dozens of vegetarian dishes! It used to be opposite the On On Hotel, but has - sadly - moved to the outskirts of Phuket City. Ask your tuk-tuk driver where to find it now.

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The Procession

For tourists the main attractions of the Vegetarian Festival are the processions that are being held almost every morning and every evening during the ten days of the Festival. The processions pass most main streets in Phuket City, so if you are staying in Phuket City during the Festival, it is hardly thinkable that they will not pass your hotel. And believe me, due to the lots and lots of fireworks, you will definitely be waken up by the processions! They are very, very loud (take ear plugs with you!) And -as you will be able to see below- very worthwhile to see.

The Procession (1) The Procession (2)

Some people believe that they have become "mediums" for the Chinese Gods during the Festival. The "mediums" in the processions have put sharp objects (mostly metal objects) through their cheeks. On these pictures you can see two quite spectacularly -if I may use that word here- mutilated "mediums". As is also clear from these pictures (and the ones following), everybody who participates in the Vegetarian Festival is wearing white clothes. Commerce has entered the Festival too, however, and some dresses are printed with advertisements, in which case they are provided by the advertisers, free of charge. This comes with a price after all, because in that case they are not really white any more, as they should be.

The Procession (3) The Procession (4)

On the two pictures above this text you can see two more "mediums". The "medium" on the left hand side picture has put knives through his cheeks. The "twins" on the right hand side picture are bound together by the rings through their cheeks. I mention this, just in case you had not noticed this for yourself!

The Procession (5) The Procession (6)

Here are two more quite spectacularly mutilated "mediums". One has a large kind of sword through his cheeks and the other one has loaded the bar which is put through his cheeks with heavy pineapples. It is, by the way, quite common to put fruit on the object(s) you are carrying through your cheeks in the procession. Apart from that, along the route fruit is also being offered to the "mediums" by onlookers.

The Procession (7) The Procession (8)

Just in case you were thinking that only men are participating in this madness, here are two examples of lovely Thai ladies who are "mediums" during the ten days of the Festival.
The picture on the right hand side also shows one of the small altars that are placed before all businesses (hotels, shops etc.) to supply the "mediums" with fruit and cups of tea. On every altar you will find nine cups of tea. Nine is a number with a special meaning, not only during the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket, but in the whole of Thailand for every occasion.

The Ambulance Cleaning up after the Procession

But let us be realistic: Most of the "mediums" have to go to the hospital afterwards, something real mediums highly probably would not have to do. Hospitals in Phuket have busy times during the Vegetarian Festival! Just in case of an emergency during a procession, an ambulance in also present in every procession, as can be seen on the left hand side picture above.
And another procession in a few hours or not, the streets are carefully cleaned after every procession (see the right hand side picture above). The red material that is being swept away, is what is left over of the gigantic amounts of firework.



Knife ladder climbing

Another main event during the Vegetarian Festival is the climbing on ladders, made of knives. This events sometimes takes place at one of the Chinese Shrines, sometimes in the stadium, just outside Phuket City (in Saphan Hin). Consult the programs in town where it is when you are there.

Knife ladders Knife ladder climber (1)

As you can see on the picture on the left hand side above, the ladders that have to be climbed by the contestants are quite high. Another problem for them is, that they have to climb up at one side of the double ladder shown, and down along the other side! I admire those who fulfill this job. The knives may not be as sharp as the knives of your butcher, but they certainly are sharper than you or I would prefer to climb!
The right hand side picture above shown one of the heroes who does the job and fulfills it. On the picture he is on his way down already.

Knife ladder climber (2)

And here is another contestant. He too is on his way down. Both contestants on my pictures take the steps one by one. It is also allowed to take two (or, if you can, more) steps at a time. So, it is not compulsory to use all the steps, it is "just" compulsory to climb and descend the ladder. Whatever way you prefer to do it. You should realize, however, that if you take the steps two at a time, it will hurt more. Probably for that reason most participants take the steps one by one.

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Walking on fire

Another event during the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket is walking on fire. Also check the programs where it takes place. I saw it at a school, near Phuket City.

Fire walking

I must say that I was not very much impressed by what I saw during this event. The "mediums" took ages before they were inspired to go upon the coals, but when they were ready for it, they ran over the glowing coals as fast as they could, hardly touching them. I dare say that I saw this done better by Indian "fakirs" in a documentary about India, on TV. Maybe you are luckier when you see the event in Phuket.

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Related page:

Vegetatian Festival Procession in 2008

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This page was last uploaded:June 1, 2011 at 12:11