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16 October 2014 

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2014 - Part 3

My favourite Phuket event finished on October 4th and there are already 2 blog posts online about the 2014 Phuket Vegetarian Festival - see Part 1 and Part 2. I wanted to see lots of the festival this year and thus we need 3 blog posts :) Part 2 covered the big street processions in town for the Bang Neow and Jui Tui shrines. Those are the biggest of the morning processions, and really are quite a buzz for me, even after many years. It's not to everyone's taste, can cause some traffic issues and some people just don't get the point of all the face piercing. Well, it's not your culture. This festival dates back about 190 years, is certainly not a tourist event and if you stick around the main beach areas of Phuket, which most visitors do, you really won't notice anything. The big events happen at Chinese shrines around the island and the biggest street parades are in Phuket Town. It all started back in about 1825 when members of a visiting Chinese theater got sick when entertaining tin miners in the Kathu area of Phuket to the west of Phuket Town. Kathu is where this began, even before Phuket Town existed as a town. And Kathu Shrine had it's procession on October 1st. I tend to visit this shrine every year since it's very close to my house. Every year I try to get there really early, like 6 - 6:30am, and then realise that's not early enough. So, this year I was there at 5:30am. It was already crowded. The whole local community takes part as Kathu is very much a Chinese-Thai area and takes pride in being the origin of the festival.

Say a Little Prayer

(above) Saying prayers at Kathu shrine - this photo taken at 5:40am on 1st October.

I have taken plenty of the face piercing photos over the years and Kathu has plenty of that. This year I wanted to try and capture what was happening inside the shrine as the entranced Ma Song came to the shrine before heading outside to get pierced. Managed to find a photo vantage point next to the main "altar". I think video would be better, will try that next year. The Ma Song are sitting around the shrine and then suddenly, one by one or in small groups, they start to grunt and shake their heads and in some cases dance wildly, slam their hands down on the altar and are dressed in their ceremonial outfits by their helpers. Hard to get a photo in the dim light with the camera I was using (an old Panasonic G1). The experience was worth more than the photos.

2 Ma Song inside Kathu Shrine

Ma Song at the shrine getting prepared for piercing

(above) Ma Song at the altar inside Kathu shrine, about 6am on 1st October

Outside things get real busy after 6am. Ma Song are exiting the shrine every minute and finding a place to sit and get pierced. There are male and female Ma Song here at Kathu although most of the ladies are not pierced. It was not long before the procession started to form up and get ready for the walk to Phuket Town - it's something like 7km from Kathu, quite a walk on a hot day especially if you are carrying extra weight.

Face piercing at Kathu Shrine

(above) Face piercing at Kathu shrine, about 6:20am 1st October

Not long after the above photo was taken, the Ma Song start the walk to town. The procession seems a bit random, with people setting off when they are ready. I waited a while outside the shrine, as my favourite part of the procession is in the rear - groups of guys carrying statues of the gods, and local residents throw firecrakers or hang long strips of firecrackers on bamboo poles and dangle them overhead as the gods are carried past. If you get in the middle of this, it's best to wear ear plugs and a mask.

Gods coming through!

Firecrackers in Kathu village

(above) Carrying the gods through the firecracker storm in Kathu village. This is still before 7am. The streets get carpeted in red firecracker debris. I'd forgotten to get a mask and a couple of times had to beat a hasty retreat as the smoke was too much.

"Old" Ma Song near the rear of the procession

(above) The rear of the procession. This particular Ma Song, a young guy, seems to take on the form of a bent old man, walking with a stick. It is said that the Ma Song are possessed by spirits. I have no idea what is true, I have no reason to doubt what I see with my own eyes. If not true, there are some damn fine actors in Phuket!

On the last night of the festival there is a huge procession in Phuket Town with Ma Song (not pierced) and hundreds of god statues being carried through the streets. I had never been into town on the last night until this year. Earlier in the evening all the shrines have a ceremony called "Crossing the bridge for purification" - we'd been into Kathu for this a few years ago and it was a lovely evening (see here). The crazy last night procession always seemed a bit too crazy to me, but this year, properly equipped (long trousers, running shoes, long sleeved white shirt, facemask, cotton wool plugs for the ears) it was time to get a new experience. And it was worth the effort. I will certainly go again next year, armed with a better camera I hope and a better knowledge of where to get the best views. I went in with the family although my wife and kids soon retreated to a safe distance, and met Tim along Phuket Road near the large roadside shrine set up by the Phuket Town municipality. At one point with the smoke getting too much I retreated behind this shrine and found myself standing net to the Mayor of Phuket Town!

A few photos ... I tried to get close to the action!

Have some of that!

Running the Gauntlet

Not a job for the boys

Move Move Move

The procession goes on from about 9:30 / 10pm until midnight or later. As I was there with the family, I did not stay too late - the photos above were all taken around 10pm. It gets wilder later on. I think I better aim to be in town until after midnight next year. This was just a taster! While waiting on Phuket Road for more of the procession to pass I became aware through the constant din of firecrackers that the next street over (Montri Road) seemed noisier, so I found a shortcut and found myself in the middle of a firestorm! Along with the firecrackers, piles of paper were being burnt in the street as the gods were carried past. Chaos and one facemask was not enough! But as the madness eased for a second I got one of my favourite photos from this year's festival.

Prayers in Phuket

Finally a short video. I was using a very basic Lumix camera on this last night, but I think with a little preparation, like wrapping the camera up in cloth and plastic, a nice camera would probably survive! Anyway, the Lumix had a video setting, so here's a little burst of madness ...



And that just about does it for the 2014 Phuket Vegetarian Festival, except there is a second festival this year from 24th October until 2nd November, as there are 2 ninth lunar months. I have no details of what will happen during this second festival. I get the impression that the answer is "not much" except for maybe another 9 days of vegetarian food for the faithful? I'll post any info that arises on my Facebook Page or you can follow me on Twitter for Phuket news and more. See you in Phuket!


 Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2014 - Part 3   |   Jamie's Phuket Blog




7 October 2014 

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2014 - Part 2

So, the vegetarian festival is over for another year. Or is it? Actually, 2014 sees a rare event since the 9th lunar month occurs twice and there will be a second vegetarian festival from about October 24th to November 1st. Apparently this only happens every hundred years or so, and it does seem that nobody is quite sure what to do second time around! I know that only some shrines will be participating and there won't be the massive street processions of the main festival which took place September 23rd - October 3rd. I'll have to wait and see what happens!

I already blogged Part 1 of the 2014 festival. This post covers all the events that I attended from September 27th until the end of the festival. I admit to getting a bit lazy over the weekend 27th - 28th September. Alarm set for 5am, with intentions to visit shrines, but both Saturday an Sunday mornings I turned off the alarm and enjoyed a rest. Fair enough, I do work all week after all! But when we hit Monday 29th, it was time for some action. I headed into town before 7am to watch some of the street procession from Bang Neow Shrine. This year I have tried to spotlight some of the more spiritual aspects of the vegetarian festival, not so much of the face piercing which tends to get most of the press.

A blessing on the street

(above) One of the Ma Song (entranced spirit mediums) blessing a man on the street

Ma Song blessing a household shrine

(above) Ma Song blessing a household shrine

Ma Song giving gift to a baby

(above) Ma Song giving a gift of fruit to a young child

Of course the face piercing cannot be ignored! By their pain is the bad luck of the community cast out!

Wide traffic coming through!

Piercings

And at the rear of the procession come the gods carried by teams of young guys through a hail of firecrackers.

Boom!

Only the brave

The very next day, September 30th, was the biggest of the street processions starting from Jui Tui shrine and winding around the old town, down to the sea at Sapan Hin and back to the shrine. It takes about an hour for the whole procession to pass, and you can then move location and see it all pass again :) Jui Tui features something that Bang Neow does not - female Ma Song, and not just a few. The morning started thundery and a little wet, but thankfully the rain stopped.

Ma Song Girls

Ma Song in the parade 30th September

Gift from a Ma Song

Ma Song Girl on Thalang Road

I stood on Thalang Road in the center of old town for this procession. Businesses along the street set up shrines outside their door.

Shrine set up outside a business on Thalang Road

The respect shown to the Ma Song by the local people is obvious. And I am glad to see the old traditions being passed down to the young kids.

Respect

Prayers, respect, wonder

Blessing in the street

As the biggest shrine, you might expect a few bizarre piercings to be found on this morning ...

We're impressed, now plug them in and turn them on!

Hot Day? Bring your own Shade!

Did I overdo the HDR?

At one point, I was standing in the street with my little Lumix G1 camera and the whole procession stopped and posed for me. I looked around expecting to see some pro photograher next to me, but no .. this group shot was just for Jamie's Phuket. Thanks everyone!

Happiness is a Vegetarian Festival Procession

And along came the gods. Every year I try to get a perfect photo of firecrackers exploding as these guys carry their chariots through the streets. Will try again next year, although there are always a few good photos if you press the shutter enough times!

Through the Fire

Carrying the Gods

Onward Onward

This procession really is a buzz for me. I'd happily have stayed another hour but of course I have to work. Lots more photos can be found on my Flickr account - see Phuket Vegetarian Festival Photos. I'm going to need a Part 3 on the blog to cover the last couple of days. I love this festival and although I can understand people who don't like it either due to it's bizarre rituals or just that the traffic gets held up around town every morning, I think it's brilliant. And some people may say it's getting more commercial. I don't see that. Maybe a few more young guys doing odd piercings so they can get on TV. And despite claims that the festival brings tourists, I don't see that either. Not too many tourists watching these events, mostly locals. Certainly more tourists than when I first looked in 2006, but still there is not way you can call it a tourist attraction / something for tourists .. This is a 180+ year old event and tourism has been big in Phuket for less than 30 years.

Part 3 coming soon featuring early morning at Kathu shrine and the final night procession in Phuket Town.


 The Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2014 - Part 2   |   Jamie's Phuket Blog




28 September 2014 

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2014 - Part 1

So we're in the middle of the 2014 Phuket Vegetarian Festival, I have been sticking to "the diet" since September 23rd and have managed to find the time and effort to visit a few shrines for festival events. Maybe my enthusiasm for the festival is not what it was, and (without going into to many details) it's been a hard couple of months. I have spent 5 weeks in England in 2 separate visits, the second time arriving only a couple of days before Mum passed away. And my Dad now has dementia, plus he fell over and broke his hip a couple of days after Mum died. Not the easiest time. Got back here to Phuket just 10 days before the festival started and straight back to work, so I have been a little tired. One of my main motivations over the last few years has been photography, trying to get better photos of the vegetarian festival, but earlier this year I sold my camera and have been only using an iPhone for quite a few months now! Well I picked up my Dad's old Panasonic Lumix G1 from England, it's a bit of an old camera, but I have been trying it out this week.

September 23rd the festival began in the evening with the raising of the Go Teng pole at the shrines around the island, the pole is where the gods are said to descend into the shrines. I was working so missed the ceremony this year, but you can see photos from 2011 here. I did go to Kathu shrine (my local) in the evening to snap a few photos and then into Phuket Town to get some food.

Prayers at Kathu shrine

Flags at Kathu shrine

(above) at Kathu shrine, 23rd September

Vegetarian dinner at Kopitiam

(above) Starting "the diet" .. dinner at Kopitiam in Phuket Town, 23rd September

Normally I east whatever I feel like, including lots of meat and I drink plenty of beer. So sticking to the alcohol-free vegan diet for 9 days is quite a challenge. The key is to eat a good variety of food, not just 9 days of spring rolls, and find a few restaurants where you know you can get something good. And drink plenty of juice or ice tea instead of beer :) I wrote a page about the Food at the Vegetarian Festival last year. A few photos below of some tasty dishes ...

Vegan Fried Rice



Yentafo (vegan style)

(above) 3 of my meals this week ... fried rice, "mee hoon" noodles and yentafo noodles. All vegan and all tasty.

Note : After October 3rd I will certainly be back on the meat and beer :) But this current diet is certainly good for a change and good for a clean out!

On September 25th, I was at Naka shrine in the morning. Got there a bit late really, 6:45am. I think 6am is a better time if you want to see what goes on at the shrine in the morning of a street procession. I'd not been to Naka shrine before and thought it might be quite small and quiet. Wrong! It was packed and my first view inside the shrine showed that it might be hard to get a photo, with a line of backpack-wearing "pro" photographers taking up much of the space. I find some of these photographers rather pushy and slightly disrespectful - all that matters is the photo. They shove cameras to within inches of pierced faces and have no qualms about getting in the way of obvious amateurs like myself!

Want to get a good photo? Good luck getting in front of the pros with their big backpacks.

I was there for about an hour and did manage to get some decent photos with the Lumix camera. As faces get pierced all around the grounds of the shrine, it's hard to know where to look, and you can't see it all at the same time. Here's a few pics from the 25th ...

Look to the skies

Beating the rhythm of the shrine

Face piercing taking place

On September 26th after a day at work, I headed into Kathu village in the evening for an evening procession of the birth and death gods, or are they the gods of the living and the dead? Something like that. Statues of the gods are carried through the streets by teams of young guys and most of the Ma Song from Kathu also join the parade (no piercings on this day). It takes place just after dark, starting about 6:45 - 7pm. In the shrine before the procession, the young lads sit and wait for their walk through the firecrackers and people light incense and candles for an evening prayer.

Young lads ready for the parade

Lighting incense at Kathu shrine

A team of very young lads lead the way carrying flags on bamboo poles ...

Younger kids ready to lead the evening parade

And then they're off! Hard to get great photos here. The procession keeps moving pretty quick, there are firecrackers going off randomly everywhere, it's dark and I just kind of point the camera and hope. It's all noise and smoke for 10 minutes and the procession heads through the village .. then a 25 minute wait and the procession passes again heading back to the shrine.

Evening parade of Ma Song and god statues in Kathu

Walking through the firecrackers

Over the weekend (27th and 28th September), well, I should have maybe woken up early one morning and visited a shrine, but yesterday and today I set the alarm for 5:45, woke up, turned it off and decided that sleep was better than pierced faces. But for sure in the next few days I'll be heading out a couple of times for street processions, firecrackers and pierced faces. The next 3 days feature processions from Bang Neow, Jui Tui and Kathu shrines. And there are evening events too such as bladed ladder climbing and fire walking. Schedule Here. There will be a "Part 2" next week. See you in Phuket!


 Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2014 - Part 1   |   Jamie's Phuket Blog




23 September 2014 

Top 10 Romantic Hotels in Phuket

This page is for all you loving couples out there. Phuket can be great for a family holiday, a diving holiday, a luxury getaway or a party holiday ... There's lots to do, lots to see, you know that already. Phuket also has some very nice resorts, most of them with private villas, that are great for couples, great for a honeymoon or a romantic holiday. The list below is based on the top 10 from TripAdvisor, so it may not be perfect, but it's a good start! Feel the love in Phuket ...

Top 10 Phuket Romantic Hotels

1. The Shore at Katathani (Kata Noi Beach)

The Shore at Katathani

The Katathani Resort has been open for many years. The Shore is the newer luxury pool villa wing, which opened in 2010 on quiet Kata Noi beach. And it looks wonderful! Pool villas, many have sea view but the view does vary, all villas with private pools of course. Very popular with couples. Check the reviews below - most are from couples.

The Shore - More Information and Online Booking
The Shore Reviews

2. Paresa (Kamala Beach)

Paresa

Not really at Kamala beach - like many of the luxury villa developments in Phuket, Paresa is seaview, but not beachfront - amazing views from the headland between Kamala and Patong. Nightlife within easy reach, but if you were staying at Paresa for a romantic holiday, I can't see why you'd go to Patong for more than 10 minutes! Paresa has less than 50 villas, many with pools, great place for a honeymoon stay.

Paresa - More Information and Online Booking
Paresa Reviews

3. Pavillions Phuket (Bang Tao Beach)

Pavillions Phuket

Close to Bang Tao beach, but again, not on the beach, Pavillions is on the hillside, great views, and lots of privacy. Villas have pools and some have their own private spa too. It's a 'no kids' resort, very popular with couples and honeymooners. Has several restaurants, and do note that it's a good idea to have transport when you stay at a more remote, quiet hotel. Bang Tao is quite a drive from any of the main beach centers or Phuket Town.

Pavillions - More Information and Online Booking
Pavillions Reviews

4. Centara Villas (Karon Beach)

Centara Villas

Located right at the north end of Karon Beach, with about 70 villas on the hillside, with beach access down lots of steps! Nice to be close to Karon to have lots of eating options nearby and Patong is not far away too, but then one can retire to a pool villa over the ocean, and there are a couple of larger pools too. And it's quite a bit cheaper than some of the others on this page!

Centara Villas - More Information and Online Booking
Centara Villas Reviews

5. Cape Sienna Hotel and Villas (Kamala Beach)

Cape Sienna

Just off Kamala beach, Cape Sienna has a mix of studio rooms and big pool villas, jacuzzi villas and some 'penthouse suites' too. I'd go for one of the villas, again, great seaviews, got to be a good place for a sunset overlooking the Andaman sea, just the two of you.

Cape Sienna - More Information and Online Booking
Cape Sienna Reviews

6. Villa Zolitude (Chalong)

Villa Zolitude

Villa Zolitude is "up in the hills" between Phuket Town and Chalong Bay. Not near any beaches - about 10km to Kata or Karon. Villa Zolitude is reached by driving up the road towards the top of Radar Hill (highest road in Phuket). Certainly quiet up there. Good idea to have some transport if you stay at this hotel. Don't book a remote romantic villa and then complain about it being too far from the nightlife!

Villa Zolitude - More Information and Online Booking
Villa Zolitude Reviews

7. Sawasdee Village (Kata Beach)

Sawasdee Village

Seems to never lose it's popularity - very much an older Phuket hotel, Sawasdee Village opened in 1991, but seems they keep renovating and adding and it keeps getting good reviews. The simpler garden rooms are quite inexpensive, the pool villas more "pool villa" price. Big plus, you are close to Kata beach and close to many restaurants unlike all the more remote hillside villa resorts. But at Sawasdee village, no sea views.

Sawasdee Village - More Information and Online Booking
Sawasdee Village Reviews

8. Mom Tri's Villa Royale (Kata Noi Beach)

Mom Tri's Villa Royale

Mom Tri Devakul was one of Phuket's tourism originators. His Boathouse hotel opened many years ago on Kata Beach. Villa Royale was built later on the rocky headland overlooking Kata Noi beach. A stairway from the hotel takes you down to the beach. Great views from the rooms and from the restaurant too. It's got a certain touch of class, only 35 rooms and is often fully booked well in advance.

Villa Royale - More Information and Online Booking
Villa Royale Reviews

9. Ayara Hilltops (Surin Beach)

Ayara Hilltops

Ayara Hilltops - yes it's on a hillside with views over Surin Beach (between Kamala and Bang Tao). It's a 'no kids' resort, and has about 50 suites, some with their own private pool. As with most of the romantic resorts, it's a quiet location, but Surin has restaurants and some nightlife. It's quite a hike to some of the rooms on the hill, but there is a free buggy service which I reckon you will be using!

Ayara Hilltops - More Information and Online Booking
Ayara Hilltops Reviews

10. Anantara Phuket Villas (Mai Khao Beach)

Anantara

Mai Khao Beach is actually Phuket's longest beach, about 10km from north to south starting from the airport and reaching up to the top of the island, and within that 10km there are only about 10 resorts. Beach is uncrowded and a resort like Anantara with it's private pool villas looks like just the place I'd like to have a romantic getaway .. or with the family, as this one allows kids :)

Anantara - More Information and Online Booking
Anantara Reviews


I am sure everyone has a favourite - if you stayed at a great romantic hotel, do let me know. For Phuket hotel bookings, I recommend using Agoda.com first - it's what I use. Any comments or questions about hotels or Phuket in general, please do leave a message on the Phuket Facebook Page.

Related posts on Jamie's Phuket Blog

Top 10 Hotels in Phuket 2014
Top 10 Family Hotels in Phuket
Top 10 Luxury Hotels in Phuket
Jamie's Suggested Phuket Hotels


 Top 10 Romantic Hotels in Phuket   |   Jamie's Phuket Blog