Of the many events that take place every year on Phuket, the vegetarian festival is arguably the most colourful, not the food event implied by its name but more an annual purification ceremony. The ‘chosen ones’, or Ma Song, entering a trance like state and puncturing their faces with anything from multiple skewers to beach umbrellas. Not for the faint of heart. Around the same time as the vegetarian festival is the setting adrift of the Chao Le, sea Gypsy, boats at Krabi. The ceremony takes place at midnight and makes for a beautiful, haunting spectacle.
The other festival of note is Songkran, Thai New Year, in mid April. The celebrations last for four days and have become a somewhat notorious, and embarrassing, spike on the road accident graph of Thailand. In earlier times Songkran, or ‘Water Festival’ as it is often translated, was an altogether different prospect. Thai people would leave their homes to greet friends and neighbours, anointing them with water or powder in a ‘good luck’ gesture. This gentle tradition has morphed over the years into the full-on chuck-fest that we see today.
Songkran is fun, people come out with buckets, water blasters of every size, and bags of dubious white powder to ‘anoint’ each other in a crazy, messy, high spirited romp that lasts for several days. If you don’t play well with others or are too kool for skool then maybe it’s not for you.
It’s often said that the arrival of foreign tourists, farang, was where the corruption of the festival of Songkran began. The statistics, shocking as they are, don’t back up this view though and the vast majority of road deaths occur among the native population. In 2008 the road death toll ran to some 350 over the seven days of Songkran from a total of just over 4000 accidents. Tellingly, Phitsanulok province, a place where most farang would struggle to find on a map, led the carnage with 15 fatalities. There is talk, serious talk from serious politicians, about making Songkran alcohol free. It may happen, and it would be wise to keep an eye on news coming from Thailand if you are planning a Songkran trip.
Loy Krathong, which is usually in November, is another festival on the cards. Less impact but non the less important to the Thai people as it is the beginning of the rice planting season. Through out Thailand the festivals can be found everywhere through out the year like the Thai king's birthday, the royal barge procession, the illuminated boat procession or ‘Lai Ruea Fai’ and many more found all over.
Even during seasonal peaks such as Christmas and Songkran there is accommodation to suit every pocket on Phuket, from 500 baht per night guesthouses to the 50000, yes fifty thousand, baht per night and enough to keep the most demanding of travellers busy. From the photo opportunities of Phang Ngha bay and the stunning sunsets of Laem Promthep, the balmy beaches all around the island, to the heat of the Patong nightlife, Phuket is a place that once visited, is never forgotten.