Vegetarian Festival - The Crazy Final Night
Until last year, I had only heard that the final night procession in Phuket Town, marking the end of the vegetarian festival, was "a bit mad". And I had seen live coverage on local TV with firecrackers being thrown everywhere as statues of the 9 emperor gods were paraded through the streets and Ma Song (the possessed spirit mediums) danced with firecrackers exploding around their bare feet. Over the last 10 years I have been to plenty of festival events, seen plenty of blood and pierced faces and walked through the morning processions also featuring lots of firecrackers. Somehow that last night always seemed a bit too crazy for me. I heard of people getting injured by fireworks, hardly surprising as they are being thrown all over the place! Well, last year I had a little taster, went into town with my wife and kids although they stayed well away from the crazy bits and I left by about 10:45pm - it goes on until after midnight. But I did learn you have to be dressed properly - long sleeves, long trousers, shoes (not sandals), earplugs, face mask, and it's not for the faint-hearted!
So this year I tried again, got dressed up in white, added a white towel for head and neck protection and headed into town about 9:30pm. The main action area is around the clock tower circle next to the Metropole hotel, and I hear that the "Cue Bar" on the circle is a good place to watch from .. maybe next year, although I do prefer to be in the street and feel the action! I found fellow blogger Tim down by the circle and we waited with many others for the procession to begin.
Along the streets were many tables filled with offerings of fruit and incense and candles. The Ma Song stop at the tables and take offerings and distribute them to people in the crowd as they pass by.
Anyone driving through the streets on a scooter or car was having firecrackers thrown at them - even with no procession the noise was fairly intense and face-masks essential to avoid breathing too much smoke - actually, already planning for next year, I'm going for a more industrial face-mask next time, not just a simple one from the pharmacy. When things really kick off, actually a scuba set would not be a bad idea!
The exact route of the procession I am not sure about. There are people coming from various directions from different shrines and they do wander all around the old town, but the circle is the well known center of activities. Things started before 10pm as groups of guys carried statues of the gods and got pelted with fireworks from all sides. Only the brave! I was using only my phone for photos. Still lacking a nice camera and not sure if I'd bring one anyway as cameras get coated in dust. I saw "pro" photographers and they had cameras all wrapped up in plastic. Another "maybe" for next year!
I tried dashing out into the street to take quick snaps. I am not sure the iPhone was quite up to this challenge, the noise of the firecrackers played havoc with the display, creating bands of light across the pictures. And I was getting a bit too close to being hit by fireworks. One did get me in the back of the neck and the smoke would very quickly get to be choking, so it was a matter of dashing in for a photo and then retreating! Very hard to get a photo with all the exploding lights and general darkness, it's a bit of pot luck really even with a good camera. I decided that some video might work better.
(above) Some video taken with iPhone on the last night of the vegetarian festival.
Maybe next year with a new camera that can also shoot video ... The procession passed by the circle, Tim and I cut through to the next street where the procession was now passing having done a little loop round the old town. In a narrower street I found the firecracker smoke really can be a bit nasty. You really do need to be prepared. I saw one guy watching with no facemask, trying to cover his face with his hand. I had a spare mask in my pocket and gave it to him.
(above) So, the guys on the left are holding strings of firecrackers on bamboo poles above the group of guys carrying a god statue, while their helpers on the right try to use towels to fan away the smoke a bit! It is just a little bit nuts! Well, I'd pretty much had enough by 11pm, although really had wanted to follow the procession down to the sea at Sapan Hin to see what goes on there. But .. too much smoke. I found a quite side street and a stall selling cold orange juice. Much needed! And then, walking back to the car which was parked on quiet Thalang Road, I found another section of the procession heading through the old town. Still crazy, but not quite as crazy as down by the circle. And with old buildings to make a nice photo!
(above) Passing by the former Standard Chartered bank, built in 1907 as Phuket Town grew rich from tin mining. I wonder what the vegetarian festival was like then?
(above) Last night procession in old Phuket Town.
Headed home by about 11:30pm. Could still smell smoke 2 days later. Clothes still smelled of smoke after being washed! Yes, it's a little crazy, but not too bad with some preparation. Need a better mask, might need a hat, and I think next year I'll risk a nice camera! Well, the vegetarian festival is done for another year. What's next?
Related pages on Jamie's Phuket
Phuket Vegetarian Festival - More Information
Vegetarian Festival 2015 - Part 1