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7 December 2016       

Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016

This is the new 2016 Top 10 Phuket Hotels list! It's based on Trip Advisor rankings and ... well, are all the reviews really real? I think on average it should be about right - some of these hotels have thousands of reviews. There are again a couple of new hotels in the list, but much of the top 10 is similar to 2015. For each hotel there are links for checking online rates and availability - I suggest using Agoda.com to book your hotel in Phuket. There are also links to reviews for each hotel - also mostly from Agoda where possible. Hotels get scores out of 10 on Agoda so you can easily compare, and reviews can only be left by people who have booked the hotel, but Agoda does not have any ranking lists, so this top 10 uses TripAdvisor rankings.

1. Trisara Phuket Villas & Residences

Trisara

Trisara has amazingly been top of the top 10 for 3 years running, so I guess it's no fluke! And it's also not cheap :) Oh, I'd love to stay here a few days! Trisara has spacious private pool villas by a private beach to the north of Bang Tao beach in the north of Phuket island. Trisara is a "private, luxury, amazing view, relax and unwind" style hotel. Only 48 villas, lots of space, no crowds. There are also some "private residences" with 2 - 6 bedrooms, ideal for families or big groups, or even weddings. Or just for a relaxing getaway for a romantic couple. The location is miles from any busy areas, so you will need your own transport or get taxis everywhere.

Trisara - Online Booking
Trisara Reviews

2. The Chava Resort (Surin Beach)

Chava Resort

The Chava jumped into the top 10 last year at number 7, now pushing for top spot. Surin Beach always has something in the top 10. The Chava Resort is actually a collection of 2 - 5 room apartments (they call it an "apartment resort"), some are run by the hotel, some privately rented. Rooms are enormous, not normal hotel size, good for families and small groups. Again, it's a place with views, slightly up in the hills, not by the beach but really only a few minutes from the sea.

Chava Resort - Online Booking
Chava Resort Reviews

3. Andara Resort and Villas (Kamala Beach)

Andara

Up from 6 to 3 ... Andara is a 5 star resort, on the hillside near Kamala Beach with luxury villas. It was rated highly on my best family hotel list, and with individual villas and private pools, will suit couples as well as families. Andara resort is in the hills, not right by the beach. Some (not all) of the villas have superb sea views. There is a trend of non-beachfront luxury the last 5 years. Maybe because the beach areas - certainly the main beaches - are too full, and also because beachfront land is impossibly exppensive. If you want luxury and seclusion, it's there, but not necessarily right by the beach.

Andara Resort & Villas - Online Booking
Andara Resort Reviews

4. BYD Lofts (Patong Beach)

BYD Lofts

2nd place in 2014, 3rd in 2015, 4th in 2016 - BYD Lofts seems to be keeping up standards if you want something near the heart of Patong Beach close to the action and in the middle of the busiest beach area in Thailand - this hotel offers serviced apartments (again, you see - apartments, rather than just rooms), featuring a rooftop pool (and a view over the beautiful concrete jungle of Patong). There are one or two bedroom apartments of various sizes. I hardly ever visit Patong, it's not my style, but for sure Patong beach is very convenient for visitors, with huge numbers of restaurants plus shops/the Jungceylon Mall and tour agents near you. And bars and nightlife.

BYD Lofts - Online Booking
BYD Lofts Reviews

5. Point Yamu by Como Resort (Cape Yamu)

Point Yamu Resort

A quite new resort (opened 2014). And a great location, if you don't mind being miles from anywhere! A few years ago when Cape Yamu started being developed, we took a drive to explore the area. It looked terrible. A beautiful natural headland covered in concrete and cranes. Of course now it looks totally amazing and I'd be very very happy to stay a night here. Oh, by the way ... it's not cheap! Not at all! Cape Yamu is on the east coast of Phuket, and there are great views. There are 79 rooms plus 27 private villas. It looks amazing. Did I say that already?

Point Yamu Resort - Online Booking
Point Yamu Resort Reviews

6. The Shore at Katathani (Kata Noi Beach)

The Shore at Katathani

The Katathani Resort has been a fixture for many years at quiet Kata Noi beach to the south of Kata beach. The Shore is the newer luxury "pool villa" development, which opened in 2010 catching the popular wave of private villa style hotels - as you may see from this top 10! And these villas look great. They are all private pool villas, some with seaview (note: if you ready the reviews you can see that the view does vary from villa to villa). A great hotel for couples. Most of the reviews are from couples and I see lots and lots of honeymoon reviews. Well, you have to spoil yourselves once.

The Shore at Katathani - Online Booking
The Shore Reviews

7. Navatara (Rawai Beach)

Navatara

And the surprise new entry for 2016 .. I've not heard of this place, but it's been open since 2013! I can't keep up with new hotels! Navatara has just 37 rooms, is built "Thai style", some rooms have direct pool access, all rooms look pretty big! A small, Thai style resort away from the main beaches, but not too far - sounds like what a lot of people ask me to recommend! Not by the beach, about 500m from Rawai beach and a few minutes drive from Nai Harn beach and Phromthep Cape. A very nice corner of Phuket.

Navatara - Online Booking
Navatara Reviews

8. Amari Phuket (Patong Beach)

Amari Phuket

The Amari Phuket Resort has been open for a very long time. It was one of the first big resorts in Phuket, opening way back in 1984. For an olde hotel like this to make the top 10 is quite an achievement. Great location to relax at the far south end of Patong Beach away from the madness, but you can walk to the busy center of Patong in 15 minutes. A new "ocean wing" just opened in January 2016. They do keep on improving and last time I looked it, everything looked perfect. Yes, please!

Amari Phuket Resort - Online Booking
Amari Phuket Reviews

9. Pen Villa (Surin Beach)

Pen Villa

Pen Villa was a new entry on the 2013 list and then moved out of the top 10. It's back! Again, a smaller resort, away from the beach (Surin about 700m away). It looks quite simple from the outside, but certainly seems popular, it's a family run place and quite a bit cheaper than the rest of the top 10. Reviews on Agoda are good too.

Pen Villa - Online Booking
Pen Villa Reviews

10. The Surin (Pansea Beach)

The Surin

And to round out the top 10 another Oldie but Goldie. The Surin (formerly called The Chedi) reopened with the new name about 5 years ago, but The Chedi had been there for nearly 30 years already, with it's ridiculously good location on a private beach between Surin and Bang Tao beaches. And it's not ridiculously expensive. Actually the beach is not quite private, it's shared with the Amanpuri.

The Surin - Online Booking
The Surin Reviews

So, that's my Top 10 hotels in Phuket as of early 2016. Have you stayed at a hotel that's not listed, but you think it should be? So you better review it big time on TA,. Phuket, now that it's been on the mainstream tourism route for about 30 years, has a mix of old and new resorts, big hotels, small guesthouses, villas, apartments, hillside, beachfront, busy areas, very quiet areas... There is actually something here for everyone and any budget, but doing some proper research is important especially checking hotel location. Look at a map. In recent years many new luxury resorts have opened in more secluded areas and the trend is for sea view hillside (not on the beach) villas. Land prices and rents are so high that beachfront is a mega investment. Phuket has a big luxury market now, but at the same time small guesthouses and "backpacker price" places are flourishing.

Check agoda.com for hotel booking. Lots of reviews on agoda for most of the hotels listed here and certainly do read the reviews, but do think carefully also about what suits you - location, resort size, hotel style, price(!), do you want something for couples, or suitable for families / kids, close to the airport or close to nightlife etc. Some like it quiet and secluded, others want action. If you get it wrong, doh! If you have any questions, please do ask on my Jamie's Phuket Facebook Page. See you in Phuket!




23 November 2016       

Top 10 Trips and Tours from Phuket

Most of the trips we do as a family from Phuket are done "our own way" without joining any organised or paid tour. And for us that's easy enough as we have transport, we know the roads, we can speak the lingo plus we enjoy exploring on our own. On many of the blog posts about trips such as Phang Nga Bay or visiting waterfalls I will post directions and maps so if you want to hire a car and explore, go for it! For other trips we get help from our friends who have a tour company called Easy Day Thailand - such as when we visited Koh Tachai Island and we've done trips as a group with these guys to Racha Yai Island, Koh Yao Yai Island and more. There is a lot to do here, lots of trips and that does not include local sightseeing to places like the Big Buddha, Cape Phromthep, old Phuket Town. When I stop to think about it, there is way too much to do here! Indeed after 17 years here, we still find new places to explore and there are lots of trips and organised tours that we have not done, I guess because we're not tourists!

My friends at Easy Day Thailand started by offering private tours and personal service. The private tours they offer are my recommendation, but they will also sell cheaper group tours and can offer airport transfers plus some tours in other parts of Thailand like Krabi, Kanchanaburi or transfers from Phuket to Samui or Koh Tao. Pretty much anything really, just ask them - contact here.

I have resisted adding any "top 10 attractions" list on the blog, because I think that depends what you are interested in. There are hundreds of pages on this blog and please do spend an hour browsing for information and ideas. You'll find there's more to Phuket than is shown in travel agent brochures. A lot more. Rather than "my" top 10, I asked the Easy Day team for a list of their 10 best/most popular/most recommended tours. The list is not in any particular order. For bookings or questions, contact Easy Day Thailand.

Exploring Phang Nga Bay

This would normally be the first trip I would suggest to anyone. We have done Phang Nga Bay trips many times, most recently in 2015 - see here : Phang Nga Bay. Great scenery, several iconic views. You can do trips like we have done by longtail boat in private groups visiting places like Panyee village and James Bond Island (see photo below), or there is a very popular (and lower price) tour including sea canoeing around several islands and caves in the bay. It's their best selling tour.

Koh Tapu

Sea Canoes in Phang Nga Bay


River Tubing & Jungle Safari at Kapong

Kapong is in Phang Nga province to the north of Phuket Island. We have been in this area for a white water rafting tour, but the trip that is really recommended (and I must do it sometime) includes river tubing, swimming at a waterfall and elephant bathing and trekking .. and yeh, I know elephant trekking is not so trendy now, with concerns about cruelty, but I am assured this place really looks after the elephants and they only take small groups.

Elephant Bathing at Kapong in Phang Nga


Private Phi Phi Day Trip

I have not been to Phi Phi for quite a long time. It does tend to be rather crowded and most tours are on big boats with maybe 40 or 50 people. So they can be very cheap and that sounds attractive, and yes the scenery is very pretty despite the crowds, but a private tour is the way to go! Actually, it's best to stay overnight in Phi Phi and get a boat either late afternoon or early morning to avoid the daytrippers from Phuket! Easy Day can arrange that, or a private tour for a day from Phuket, so you get your own boat with a private guide in Phi Phi after taking a fast ferry from Phuket. And yes, this is more expensive that some of the real budget tours, but really worth the extra. Me and the family must go again sometime! Last time we went was years ago on a seaplane!

Losamah Bay, Phi Phi Islands from a seaplane


Khao Sok National Park

Day trips are possible to Khao Sok, although it's about 3 hours drive from Phuket and it's certainly best to stay a night. We have been many times and Easy Day Thailand use the same hotel that we have used - Cliff and River Resort. Tours include rafting or tubing on the river and/or a trip on the huge Ratchaprapha Lake. We love this area, great scenery, fresh jungle air, a nice change from Phuket! Read more about the area here : Khao Sok National Park.

Khao Sok View

(above) View from our room at the Cliff and River Resort in Khao Sok National Park

Lunch stop at Khao Sok

(above) On the lake at Khao Sok National Park


Krabi Kayaking and Adventure Day Trip

Krabi is on the east side of Phang Nga Bay, and has some attractions that are a bit too far for a day trip such as the Emerald Pool and the Tiger Temple, plus many small offshore islands. You can also ask Easy Day about tours if you stay in the Krabi area. This particular tour, offered as a private day trip includes a stop at an animal sanctuary, a stop at the very impressive Bang Riang Temple. Then kayaking in the mangroves and a stop at a waterfall. Lots of nature and scenery.

Wat Bang Riang, Phang Nga

(above) Wat Bang Riang

Kayaking Mangroves near Krabi

(above) Kayaking in the Mangroves


Koh Yao Yai and more Islands

This is a new tour based on a trip we did earlier in 2016 - see Koh Yao Yai Island. Day trips are possible, taking a boat from Bang Rong pier on the northeast coast of Phuket, but an overnight trip is better. Koh Yao Yai is a quiet island and the views from the east coast are great, looking across the bay towards the Krabi coastline. Tours will also include stops at Hong Island and others. Some more great scenery here. I think you can actually do several day trips in different parts of Phang Nga Bay .. and we have!

Thiwson Resort Pool

(above) View from Thiwson Resort at Koh Yao Yai Island


Similan Islands Overnight Snorkeling

The Similan Islands I know very well! I spent many months on dive boats there and I am still manager at Sunrise Divers, booking people for diving trips right through the high season from mid October to early May. So please do contact me at Sunrise Divers for diving trips. Easy Day can book snorkelers on a couple of different trips. Day trips are possible, but are a bit rushed. An overnight trip is much more relaxed. There is an option to sleep in tents, but this is not really comfortable (yes, it's cheaper) or you can stay in aircon cabins on a boat called the Pansa Queen. The Similan Islands really are beautiful!

Similan Islands

(above) Similan Islands "Donald Duck Bay"


Surin Islands Overnight Camping

The Surin Islands are quite a long way from Phuket, it's an easier trip if you are staying in Khao Lak. Overnight or 2 night stays are possible, camping in the Surin Islands national park. A day trip is possible too. It's less crowded than the Similan Islands (because it's further away) and there is lots of great snorkeling plus you can visit the Moken Sea Gypsy village. Staying overnight is a real "get away from it all" experience.

Moken Village, Surin Islands


Racha Yai Island Early Bird

Racha Yai island, also called Raya Island, is a very popular day trip destination from Phuket. There are lots of boats and lots of snorkelers, plus dive boats along the reef and in the bays. I have dived there many times - see : Diving at Racha Yai. And a few years ago we joined the Easy Day folks for an overnight trip - see : Overnight at Racha Yai. To beat the crowds on a day trip, the early bird tour is a must. Hotel pick up 6 - 6:30am means you get to the island a couple or 3 hours before anyone else! Or you can ask Easy Day about overnight options. If you stay on the island and wake up early, you also beat the crowds!

Siam Bay, Raya Island

(above) Arriving at Racha Yai Island


Private Phuket Island Sightseeing Tours

As I mentioned at the top of the page, Phuket Island itself has many attractions and it's a big island! Easy Day do have a few "set tours" (half day, full day, evening weekend market tour), but you can also contact them for a private tour to see whatever you want .. like maybe you want to start with sunrise at the Big Buddha and then visit Chalong Temple, maybe the Botanic Garden, then lunch in Phuket Town, then up a hill, or a stop at the aquarium and catch an evening show at Siam Niramit, the options are more or less unlimited. Just ask!

Phuket Big Buddha

(above) The Big Buddha

Phuket 3 Beaches Viewpoint

(above) View at Karon Viewpoint

Walking Street Market in Phuket Town

(above) Sunday Market in old Phuket Town

Of course, you can't see it all, which is why I do find that many people come back to Phuket. If you have a couple of easy beach days and a few tours that's a week gone and then you start to realise that there is a lot more here! For trips, tours, transfers, please do contact Easy Day Thailand. The trips above are suggestions, some of their best sellers and trips that get the best feedback. If you have questions you can ask them or you can post a question on my Facebook page. See you in Phuket!




8 November 2016       

Exploring more islands in Phang Nga Bay

Yes, it's another trip just over the bridge from Phuket into Phang Nga province. We have done lots of exploring in our neighbouring province, which is about 8 times the area of Phuket and, in general, much quieter, more rural and with way less tourism. For sure there are some popular places like the Similan Islands, James Bond Island and there are lots of hotels in the Khao Lak area, but Phang Nga is mostly green and peaceful with quiet roads and lots of beautiful scenery.

Back in August 2015 we explored down some quiet roads just over the bridge and to the east, in an area called "Klong Kian". A very nice day out discovering a new area so close to Phuket. Early in 2016 I saw photos taken from a new viewpoint in that area, so we went again and found Samet Nangshe Viewpoint, which I'd classify as a "must see"! A couple of months ago my wife and a friend and our kids went up the same road to the viewpoint and found that a new restaurant had been built in the mangroves at a village called Hin Rom, which we'd visited in 2015, but the restaurant was not there at that time. My wife also noticed that there were boat tours on offer, so our little plan for this day (5th November 2016) was lunch and a boat trip to some islands we'd never visited before.

From our house near Phuket Town it took a bit more than an hour to reach the village of Hin Rom. Nothing special at the village, just a (rather dirty) fishing village, but it seems they have a new village co-operative running the restaurant and tours from the village. The final stretch of "road" down to the restaurant and boat jetty is a bit dodgy looking ...

Road to Hin Rom Jetty

We were surprised to find other people already there, but it was a Saturday. I thought this place was our secret! First stop was lunch. There is a simple looking restaurant there, but my wife told me the food was very good last time. One group of about 10 was already there and a German family appeared too - they were staying at a small homestay right by the restaurant. We ordered food and I wandered off to take a few photos before our trip.

Hin Rom Restaurant

Hin Rom Restaurant

(above) Restaurant at Hin Rom

Hin Rom Jetty Panorama

(above) Boats at Hin Rom jetty with a view out to sea. Quite a few boats there, and I wondered how many visitors they would get, given that the boat trip idea is very new. As I sat in the restaurant again, 5 brand new jeeps arrived full of tourists (they looked Scandinavian). Seems that a tour company has made contact, and has money to burn on new cars too!

Tourists at Hin Rom

We let them all go before us. We did not see them out on the water. Our food took quite a long time to appear, as they had only 1 cook working, but the food was certainly good. Very fresh seafood. While we waited we checked out the various options for boat trips. They offered a bunch of different islands and caves. You can do James Bond Island and Panyee village from there, although it's a bit far - better to do these well known sites from other starting points. We've done it a few times, you can read more here or here. The boat prices we thought were a little high, but the guy was up for negotiation and we settled on 3 different islands including some caves for 2000 Baht. My friends with the Easy Day Thailand tour company might be checking this area out to make a new tour, probably combining a boat trip with some other nearby attractions to make a full day. The islands we chose were all new to us. There are so many islands in the bay .. I would love to have my own boat and explore all of them.

On the boat departing from Hin Rom

(above) And we're off ... my daughter and her friends on the longtail boat heading out from Hin Rom.

Longtail Boat Crew

(above) And our longtail boat crew were very friendly!

So, the first stop was a cave. The island is called "Koh Sa Ang" according to the locals. It's marked as "Koh Sawang Yai" on Google Maps. There were photos of a cave next to the restaurant, and I was not expecting too much, but actually this was quite an impressive cave. The longtail boys said they had only found it recently, not sure if that's true. A sign outside said "flamingo cave". I can't seem to find any mention of it on the web, so maybe this is true and it's only been found recently. Some wooden ladders have been built to get into the entrance a few meters above the sea. You have to climb out of the longtail onto the rocks and up a few wooden rungs.

Longtail outside Flamingo Cave

(above) Getting the boat tied up outside the cave at Sa Ang island.

We were the only people at the cave and I was happy that we were all given head torches to wear, which did indicate that there would be some darkness up ahead! Here we all are ready to explore the cave ...

Going Caving in Phang Nga

And it was impressive! The photo below shows the outer chamber, just inside the entrance, with enough natural light for a photo, even with a phone camera.

Flamingo Cave

Having been prepared for something underwhelming, this was a nice surprise. Aside from the size of the cave, there were lots of interesting and beautiful limestone formations - stalactites and stalagmites, plus rimstone dams which are like natural bowls forming stairs down steep slopes. You can see this behind the kids in the photo above. The torches were needed as we ducked through a very low passage into another large chamber behind the first. It was warm in there, and we were all sweating by the time we came out. Some beautiful limestone formations, but very hard to get a photo with a headtorch and an iphone! One of the formations did look a bit like a flamingo. We were all pretty impressed by flamingo cave!

In between the islands, our longtail boat chugged along in the way that only longtail boats can. The view in the Phang Nga Bay area is always good, no matter where you look. A little video below with a few scenery shots from our boat. I really must remember to take more video!



From the flamingo cave we longtailed a little south to Koh Hong. We could only pass by (slowly), as the lagoon here is roped off - no boats allowed. This is a place to visit on a canoe trip. A boat was there from John Gray Sea Canoe and many people were paddling around the sheer cliffs of the island. Up to now we've not done a canoe tour, but it's on the list!

Kayaking at Koh Hong

Rock wall at Koh Hong

(above) Canoe and rock walls at Koh Hong .. Note : there's another island called Koh Hong further south and closer to Krabi, which we visited earlier this year while on a trip to Koh Yao Yai island.

Next stop was another cave! These limestone islands are full of caves. The island (according to Google Maps) is called Koh La Na. The entrance to the cave is at the north of the island. The longtail boat headed into a dark hole and we landed on a small beach inside the cave maybe 15 meters inside the island. It was a bit smelly at first. I believe this is normal in some limestone caves. The cave, they said, is called Tham Kaew, meaning glass cave, apparently due to all the shiny wet limestone inside. We donned headtorches again to look around ...

Tham Gaew Cave

(above) Tham Kaew Cave - another quite spectacular little place and again, hard to take a photo in the dark!

Tham Gaew Cave

(above) The kids found a cool spot to hang out. We do like to explore and do trips with our kids. They seem to enjoy it most of the time!

After a boat ride and a couple of caves, the question from the kids was "where can we swim?" And the answer was the next island, just north of Tham Kaew Cave. This island is called Koh Chao Talay Tai, which means "island of the people of the southern seas". There was a small beach. When we arrived, another longtail with a couple of tourists was just about leaving, so we had the place to ourselves for a while and hung out here for about half an hour. Kids went for their swim ...

Diving into the Sea

A little beach just for us. For 30 minutes we were Lords of all we surveyed :)

Koh Chao Talee Tai

And we found a guitar on the beach. Sort of. I was tempted to bring this lump of driftwood home.

Driftwood Guitar - Deserted Beach

Time to head home! The boat trip with cave visits and the beach stop was a little over 2 hours. I think very good value for our group of 7. A very nice afternoon. Phang Nga Bay is a huge area, and even with all our exploring there is more to see. Can I sell my house and live on a boat? We were back at the little restaurant before 5pm, grabbed a couple of cold Cokes (should have taken some water on the boat, we were thirsty!) and drove home. We even got a nice sunset through the rubber trees. Another fun day exploring new places. After so many years, I am always happy on days like this. Happy to find something new. Happy to see everyone happy!

Sunset 5th November 2016

(above) Sunset on the way home, 5th November 2016

Other places to visit in the area (Phang Nga)

James Bond Island and Panyee Village
Khao Lak
Old Takua Pa Town
Buddha Cave Temple
More about Phang Nga Province

Location Map - Hin Rom and Islands in Phang Nga Bay




11 October 2016       

Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2016

Well it's all over for another year! The 2016 vegetarian festival was on from the night of 30th September until the night of October 9th. I did go and get my dose of festival atmosphere and I did stick to the vegan diet with no alcohol for 9 days. For the first few days we thought things were very quiet. We were in Phuket Town several times and there were very few people around compared to previous years. The weather was maybe putting people off, as we have had plenty of rain and not much sun recently. Seemed like it was raining every night in early October, so I was not too keen on attending early morning processions. I must say, rather like last year, that I'm not getting quite the same buzz from the festival as I used to. Maybe I have seen too much of it. Combined with the the weather, this lack of enthusiasm meant that I skipped all the main street processions in the first week of the festival including the big ones from Bang Neow and Jui Tui shrines. Also our dive shop suddenly got busy and I had lots of work to do. I am still fascinated by the vegetarian festival, and if I could somehow blog full time, I am quite sure that I would be taking photos every day!

The only street procession I saw in the first week was an evening event in Kathu village near our house. The official schedule lists this as "Birth-Death Gods Propitiation". Statues of the gods are carried through the streets of the village accompanied by plenty of firecrackers thrown by the local people or hung over the street on long bamboo poles. Again, this procession seemed quieter than previous years, or maybe I am just getting used to being in the middle of hundreds of exploding firecrackers! This was on the evening of October 3rd.

Evening Street Procession in Kathu village 3rd October 2016

Evening Street Procession in Kathu village 3rd October 2016

(above) Street procession in Kathu on October 3rd

Although I was feeling too lazy for the morning processions, I did manage to complete 9 days of vegan food and no alcohol. 9 days with no beer is a bit of a miracle! Food stalls and restaurants sell vegan (เจ) food all over the island, though it's hard to find in some parts. But I live in Kathu, which is said to be where the festival originated, and we can drive into Phuket Town in 10-15 minutes and that's the center of the festival. Where I work at Karon beach it's trickier to find this food, but one restaurant opposite Karon post office is always open during the festival. A few photos below of my food during the festival ...

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Food

On Friday it was the Jui Tui Shrine procession, which is normally the biggest. I did set my alarm for 5:45am, but after waking up decided to reset the alarm for 8am. Extreme laziness. But on Saturday 8th October, I was up and awake even earlier for the Kathu Shrine procession. The shrine is only a few minutes drive from our house, so .. no excuses! To see all that goes on, it's best to arrive at Kathu shrine before 6am.



(above) The video shows Ma Song ("entranced horses") before they head outside the shrine for face piercing. I have always wondered .. are they acting? But acting to who? There's no crowd of tourists here. They are not being paid. And they have been doing this for many years, since way before Phuket was a well known place.

Outside the shrine, face piercing takes place and Ma Song sit getting pierced or waiting for the procession to begin. This all happens before about 6:30am.

Face Piercing at Kathu Shrine - Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2016

Phuket Vegetarian Festival - Face Piercing

(above) Getting pierced at Kathu Shrine, 8th October 2016.

And then the procession heads off. The pierced Ma Song along with other Ma Song who are not pierced but take on the persona of old men or young girls (there are male and female Ma Song) head off first in no particular order. They are followed by teams of young men carrying statues of the gods along with lots of firecrackers again. And by 7am the procession has left Kathu village and everyone walks into Phuket Town - quite a hike, about 10km AND they walk back too! The return to Kathu happens at about 11am accompanied by yet more firecrackers.

Procession through Kathu village, 8th October 2016

Procession through Kathu village, 8th October 2016

(above) Procession through Kathu village

I had thought of following the procession into Phuket Town, but went home for coffee instead :)

However, to make up for this I was up early again the next day. The last procession in Phuket Town, on the last day of the festival, starts from Sui Boon Tong shrine which is close to the big Jui Tui shrine. I had never seen this particular procession before and it was on this morning that I started to enjoy the festival again. I was on the street outside the shrine not long after 7am and had time to buy some breakfast and an iced tea. This one does not start too early! The various Ma Song were in the street, mostly sitting down, and the young guys with their god-chariots were waiting to follow at the rear of the procession.

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(above) Ma Song blessing a team of god carriers

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sui-boon-tong-9-10-16-11

(above) The Sui Boon Tong shrine has many female Ma Song, most of whom are free of face piercings.

Starting at the shrine I was able to walk along with the procession. I don't like to simply stand by the side of the road - hard to get photos from that position. I wanted to get some photos showing the Ma Song blessing people along the route of the procession. People set up shrines outside their houses or businesses. And many of the female Ma Song stop to bless children and give them candies or tie a string around their wrist. Older people also tend to receive plenty of blessings.

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(above) Blessings along the procession route.

This is the less bloody side to the festival processions! The devotees who get most attention from photographers are those with bizarre piercings. The face and body piercings can be simple skewers or larger items like swords, or guns, or .. well, over the years I have seen anything from bicycles to tree branches. Is that a bit silly? A bit non-traditional? Do they just want to get their faces in the papers? Here's a few of the pierced faces from the Sui Boon Tong procession ...

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(above) Oh yes and some pierced tongues too. This piercing certainly divides opinion. Some people (like me) find the festival fascinating. Some people can't grasp the idea that another culture exists with old traditions that don't match their own ideas. Three cheers for diversity. I walked with the procession down a couple of streets that I'd never really walked before and then into the center of town. It was not a wet morning, and the sun was up. I was hot and thirsty by 8am. Imagine doing the same walk with swords in your face or carrying a heavy statue!

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(above) Ma Song stopping to bless people outside their homes

And now for a small video all about firecrackers ... A couple of Ma Song at the front of the procession, and then some of the action with the gods being carried through the streets.



The firecracker action at the rear of the processions has become my favourite part! I like to get close and get covered in debris. The noise and smoke can be pretty intense.

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I would have stayed longer, but my camera battery ran out. I had a spare .. in the car, which was parked a couple of kilometers away. And the phone was giving me a low battery warning too. Shame .. I was just starting to get into the spirit again! Will make more of an effort next year. Hopefully with a new camera. These photos are taken with an old Panasonic Lumix G1 which has seen better days. The focus is a bit dodgy and it has a maximum aperture of only f/3.5 which is not ideal for portraits. Anyway, I was glad to have made the effort on this last morning.

One more picture ... Sui Boon Tong shrine seems to have an axe fetish. A group of 9 Ma Song (1 for each of the emperor gods?) were all walking together slicing themselves. Sorry about the blood!

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The Sui Boon Tong procession was on October 9th, the last of the morning processions. The big crazy final night procession through Phuket Town took place the same night, but due to a combination of rain and laziness I decided to skip it this year. Next year's dates are 19th - 29th October 2017. The festival is based on the lunar calendar so the dates change every year. See you there!

Related posts on Jamie's Phuket

Introduction to the Phuket Vegetarian Festival
The Crazy Final Night of the Festival
The Hungry Ghost Festival
More Phuket Festivals