I first learned about the Phuket Vegetarian Festival when I watched a documentary on it on the telly in the mid-2000s. First impression was that it’s like the Thaipusam we have in Singapore, but on steroids. Devotees inserting objects through their mortal flesh in the name of god, hmm, that would be interesting to witness first hand. When I learned that Angie’s mom is going to this year’s festival, I obviously signed up for that.
A little back story
The year was 1825. A traveling opera troupe from China were performing for the local miners in Phuket when mysteriously, they all fell sick from an unknown illness. The troupe then went on a strict vegetarian diet to honour two of the emperor gods, Kiew Ong Tai Teh—Ninth Emperor God—and Yok Ong Sone Teh—Jade Emperor God, and miraculously, they got healed. This interested the locals and they learned that the vegetarian diet, together with rituals performed were the reason for their recovery. The locals then went on to continue these rituals.
Through the knowledge of one of our acquaintances—a medium himself, we knew that Metropole Phuket is the best place to stay if we want to experience the festival, as many of the street processions will pass by a roundabout just right outside the hotel.
Our flight on Silkair brought us to the sunny island of Phuket at about 0735 local time. It was an early flight and most of us are pretty stoned when we touched down—I know I was. The initial plan is to catch our beauty sleep and then spend the rest of the day or night walking the streets after we’ve woke up—naturally.
We took one of the mini-vans right outside the airport and head to our hotel. As we got closer, we soon realised that the procession for the day has already begun, and had to get to the hotel by foot for about 150m as some of the roads are closed off for traffic.
After unpacking our belongings—basically just dumping our luggages in one of the rooms and grabbing my camera gear—we went downstairs and say goodbye to our beauty sleep.
The Street Procession