Phuket Events in November

November 18th through the 20th from 9:00 am to 10:30 pm is the Two Michelin Star Chef Edouard Loubet event, located at Trisara; on the 18th, it’s Mediterranean BBQ for 3500 THB per person, the 19th a short cooking demonstration/class for 2200 THB per person, then on the 20th, a degustation dinner with expertly matched wines for 5500 THB per person. November 20th from 7:00 pm 9:00 pm Jim Newport’s book launch for “Tinsel Town” takes place at Hung Fat Restaurant, in Kalim. For more info call +66-86-518 9597. November 21st through the 22nd from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm is the 4th Andaman Phuket Soccer 7s event; men and women over 35 are invited to play at FIFA Phuket Tsunami Football Center for 7 minute halves. November 21st through the 22nd from 2:00 pm to 9:00 there’s a Lamborghini & Lotus Exhibition with free admission being hosted at the Royal Phuket Marina, Town Square. Call +66-81-797 3364 for more info. November 21st from 5:30 pm to 10:30 pm  the Phuket Yacht Club’s or Ao Yon, is celebrating its 40th birthday with a big event, to which people of all ages are invited; it’s a family event being held at Skippers at the Royal Phuket Marina. Call Donna at +66-86-120 0752 for more info. November 22nd from 10:00 am to 12:00 is the FREE Computer Clinic, this week held in Chalong, same as ever, at the local Sandwich Shoppe. The next week’s computer clinic will be held at the same time and location, on the 29th of November. November 25th through the 28th is the Phuket Int’l Sportfishing Tournament for 2009; registration needs to be completed at the Captain Hook Bar and Grill on the 25th. November 26th and 27th, from  7:00 pm to 9:00 the WET & WILD exhibition of art by Robin Gillow will be held, and after the 27th, the exhibition will be open through December 4th, from 12 noon to 2:00 pm. November 27th through 28th from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm is the 7th annual Phuket International Soccer 7s, –the 7th anniversary of the Phuket 7’s soccer tournament will be a huge event not to miss! Check it out at the FIFA Phuket Tsunami Football Center. November 28th through December 5th     from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm is the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta, sailed to commemorate the King’s birthday, will be sailed at Kata Beach in Phuket. November 28 from 6:00 pm to 11:30 pm is the Porsche & Bentley South Speed Tour at Phuket for 2009; the Tour will be...

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Final day of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival

It was like songkran festival with firecrackers instead of water. The final day of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2007 was an absolute cacophony of intense madness. We have never seen or heard anything like it. Imagine every single firework display that ever took place, all happening at exactly the same time. There was an incessant roar of fireworks going off all around, and it was happening in the street. When we were, we were lucky if our parents would let us hold a sparkler, but at the Vegetarian Festival there were children and parents joining in this mad event, lighting fireworks and firecrackers and throwing them in the road, at passing motorbikes or just at each other. People stood holding babies with one arm and fireworks in the other. The noise was deafening and the heat was intense. My ears feel like they are burning. As the maa song (entranced horses) marched through the street, thunderous choruses of firecrackers erupted under their feet or else above their heads, thrown at them from all angles. Smoke filled the air as thousands of people lined the streets to send off the Vegetarian Festival and receive blessings from the maa song. We were terrified. Fireworks were shooting off everywhere. We saw the spectacle at Saphan Hin. It was about as fitting a way as any to end what is one of the most bizarre events we’ve ever seen. Even though it goes on every year, and even though there are dubious elements to the Vegetarian Festival (sponsorship of shrines, for example), it is something you have to see. It isn’t even a religious festival – it’s just an incredible, cultural...

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Phuket Vegetarian Festival pictures
May28

Phuket Vegetarian Festival pictures

Even though you know what to expect, and even though you read about the whole thing before, nothing can prepare you for seeing the Phuket Vegetarian Festival with my own eyes. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s real or not; when you’re there in the thick of the action, the Phuket Vegetarian is as real as any movie you’ve ever watched or any book you’ve ever read. On Saturday night in 2007, we went to Jui Tui Shrine in Town for a birth-death god ceremony. The road was closed off and people will be milling about among the food stalls when the maa song (entranced horses) arrived. These were the people who become possessed by the gods during the Vegetarian Festival. The maa song, both men and women, marched to the shrine with their entourage of white-clad followers. They were shaking their heads, some prancing, others dancing. Every now and then a piercing cackle would come from one of the possessed, and when they spoke, it was in a high-pitched voice. Some of the women had babies’ dummies in their mouths or carried babies’ bottles (birth gods), while other gave candies to people as a form of blessing. The whole thing was totally surreal. The maa song made their way to the shrine and the gods exited their bodies. Although this was all a bit strange, it was what we saw Sunday at Samkong Shrine that really weirded us out. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is famed for the self-torturous acts the maa song perform while the gods watch over and protect them. The maa song are said to feel no pain and they perform these acts of self-harm to remove bad luck from the community. It gets gory from this point. The maa song pierce their cheeks and faces with all manner of objects. We saw poles, wrenches, a steering wheel, blades, swords and vegetables piercing the cheeks of these guys. We don’t want to speculate about what this festival is because seeing these acts was extraordinary. The people involved don’t f-ck around. The din of firecrackers and the smoke and pungent smell they produced added to the atmosphere. What interested us most were the trance-like states these guys seem to be able to induce. From what we can tell, it’s a kind of self-hypnosis that allows them to perform these brutal acts without so much as flinching. At one point, a group of men stood around in a circle and hit their own backs with axes and swords. You could see the wounds these blows made. The maa song paraded from Samkong Shrine to Phuket Town. That’s...

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Bladed ladder climbing at the Phuket Vegetarian Festival
May28

Bladed ladder climbing at the Phuket Vegetarian Festival

The whole concept of bladed ladder climbing sounds so gruesome and you may be curious how such a feat could be achieved. Samkong Shrine is as good a place as any to watch the event, so one day in 2007 we headed there for day eight of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. The show was scheduled to kick off and 8 pm. We arrived on time and saw that a crowd of about 200 to 300 onlookers had gathered around a large structure that was about 30 feet high, with one bladed ladder leading up to a crow’s nest, and one back down to the ground. This was the “ladder”, although it looked more like a prop from American Gladiators. I couldn’t get that thought out of my head as about 30 maa song (“entranced horses) arrived to the arena to take up the challenge. The 30 possessed warriors prepared for battle with patches of fabric held in their mouths between their teeth. A string of firecrackers was lit and the resulting smoke filled their air as the maa song lined themselves up in single file. Contenders, ready! The climbing began with the first maa song making his way up the ladder. We were disappointed that only his feet came into contact with the bladed rungs. The first guy only touched every other rung and his climbing was slow and steady. The next maa song touched every rung, and with every step he rocked back and forth as if trying to shake the whole structure. Each maa song had a different way of climbing the ladder. Some would run up it as fast they could, while others were more methodical in their climbing. When the maa song reached the crows nest, they took the pieces of orange fabric out of their mouths and threw them to the ground below. Other maa song gave out pieces of string to people in the crowd. Sometimes we think that Thai people will wai anything that moves. There really was no significance to this string, but the people in the crowd received it as if it had come from Buddha himself. One maa song came over and showed us his feet. While the whole thing did look painful, the rungs weren’t covered with blood as we had expected, and the whole thing felt more like a “show” than the other feats we’ve witnessed at the Vegetarian Festival. Other shows during the week included walking on fire and bathing in hot oil. The real action, as it were, is to be found in the street...

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History of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2008 will kick off in October for 10 days, with all manner of curious events scheduled to take place daily until Saturday October 20. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival began in 1825 when Thalang Governor Praya Jerm moved Phuket’s primary town from Thalang to Kathu, an area filled with Thai and Chinese tin miners. Phuket has a long history of tin mining, the remnants of which can be seen in tourist shops across the island. Scores of men had fallen ill with fever, and Phuket was covered with thick jungle. A Chinese opera company arrived in Phuket to perform for the miners. Members of the company soon succumbed to the same illness as the miners, but through a strict diet of vegetarianism honoring two gods – Kiew Ong Tai The and Yok Ong Song Teh – the troop was able to recover its health, much to the astonishment of the locals. The people of Kathu then embraced this ritualistic vegetarianism and the festival was born, taking place every year from the first to the ninth evening of the ninth lunar month. On the afternoon before the festival begins, a pole at each temple is raised to invite the gods to descend. The festival opens with the hanging of nine lanterns on the pole at midnight to invite Kiew Ong Tai The and Yok Ong Song Teh back to the island. Ceremonies take place throughout the festival in which devotees pray to the gods. Ma Song are those whom the gods enter, passing on supernatural powers to these people who then perform gruesome self-torturous acts to draw evil from others to themselves, thus cleansing the community and bringing it luck. Those who follow the festival eat a strict vegetarian diet and refrain from all vices, including sex and alcohol. Devotees dress entirely in white for the duration. There are 16 shrines at which ceremonies take place during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Those shrines are: Kathu, Jui Tui, Bang Neow, Ban Tha Rue, Sui Boon Tong, Lim Hu Tai Su, Cherng Talay, Yok Ke Keng, Sapam, Bangkoo, Jang Ong, Tae Gun Tai Tae, Sum Sae Su Hud, Kiu Tien Kiong and Gim Tsu Ong. Eight of the shrines are located in Phuket Town, with the others scattered across the island. You’ll need to wake up early to see the street processions at the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, as they usually begin some time between 6:30 am and 8 am, with people marching through Phuket Town, Patong, Sapam Village and a couple of other areas. Highlights at the various Chinese temples include bladed ladder climbing, bathing in hot oil and...

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