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Phuket Vegetarian Festival, Nice & Nasty

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It sounds so nice, 'the vegetarian festival'. Vegetarians wouldn't hurt animals, they're too nice. So naturally you'd expect the Phuket vegetarian festival to be a family friendly thing. Full of parades filled with flowers, lights, fireworks bouncy castles, and little toy scooters. Together with tasty vegetarian food, packed with flavor and meat free.

Well the vegetarian festival in Phuket certainly has toy scooters, fireworks, even flowers, but no bouncy castle, and its definitely not for kids. I caution you before clicking the 'more' link and reading the rest of the article, or watching the video.

Picture the scene, a man is playing with his young child. The child is scooting along on their little toy scooter, towards papa, "look at me papa, look at me". But where's the brakes? A toy scooter has no brakes! What kind of horrific scooter-papa accident might ensue?

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This is a religious festival, that comes from China. They believe that if they keep pure of mind and body during the festival then this won't hurt. Not only that, being pure of body means the vegetarian food shouldn't include strong flavours, like garlic! I wonder if the man cutting his tongue with a dagger is just trying to spice up a bland meal!?

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There's a whole street dedicated to vegetarian food in the center of Phuket town with plenty to choose from. Thankfully there's a popular vegetarian restaurant in the middle of it, and they know how to make tasty food with plenty of flavor. Looking at their dishes, it's difficult to accept there's no meat in these.

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It has texture too, the fake fish piece in curry taste like fish, with the fibrous texture of a fish, all without the bones. If anything that makes it better than fish. The chicken bottoms, again, they have texture, they have flavor, but without the gelatinous fat that I so dislike about that piece of chicken.

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Apart from the vegetarian street food, there's daily parades. One Chinese temple or another is either bringing the gods or sending them away. Holland has its Bloemencorso, a stunning parade of flowers to delight the eyes. Rio has its Carnival, all costumes and floats covered in lights. Phuket has its vegetarian festival, where the people are the floats, and fluorescent tubes and flowers are put through the cheeks of the participants.

We have fireworks too, as the religious relics are carried around, people through firecrackers at the relics. The carriers cover themselves with blankets and masks to protect from the flames, while men fan them to keep them cool and blow away the smoke.

The festival runs for 9 days at the beginning of the 9th lunar month. In 2012, this is October 15th to Oct 23rd. With an opening ceremony the night before. It is centered around the Chinese buddha shrines, most of which are on the East side of the island, around Phuket town and away from the tourist areas of Patong.

It's also surprisingly farang free. I saw almost no foreigners watching the festival. Perhaps it's the 7am parade time, or the lack of meat, or beer during the festival. Its a bit gruesome and families with small children are better off not visiting Phuket town side of the island for this festival. But if you're an adult, this festival is something you have to see in your life.

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Apart from the gruesome parades, there's some equally gruesome walking on fire, and climbing the bladed ladder. In the past a person was killed climbing that ladder, the climbing part was fine, but for some reason they believed they could fly and jumped from the top to their death.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has the dates and details each year. email them on tatphuket@tat.or.th
The most central shrine for the festivities, is Jui Tui shrine, next to Ranong Road (Thanon Ranong) where the vegetarian food stalls are set up.


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