Just when I thought Thailand couldn’t surprise me anymore with its weird and wonderful culture. BANG!! it did it again when I attended the vegetarian festival this month in Phuket.
We woke up super early and hired motorbikes to drive into Phuket town for the annual vegetarian festival. Now when you think ‘vegetarian festival’ you think a festival serving vegetarian food. Well wrong, even though there was vegetarian food the festival celebrates the Chinese communities believe that avoiding meat during the 9th lunar moon of the Chinese calendar will help them obtain good health and peace of mind.
The ceremonies started early and let me pre-warn you, they are not for the faint-hearted, an experience like anything but gruesome at times. They are the most exciting aspect of the festival though, colourful, loud and extreme. The ceremonies you get to witness some things you never thought you would see. Gruesome acts of self-mortifications such as fire walking, body piercing, men and women puncturing their own cheeks with several swords, knives or various household items, people walking whilst slicing their own lips along sharp axes, blood dripping down their bare chests. Other acts include climbing up 8-metre ladders of sharp blades and walking down the street wrapped in lit fire-crackers. CRAZY?? But there is a purpose to why these ceremonies are held of course. They are held to invoke the Gods and the participants are acting as a medium towards them. The belief is that the Chinese Gods will protect them from harm in the future, as well as little blood and scarring from the result of the self-mutilation acts. The acts are to done to show their devotion to the Gods and their beliefs.
Before attending the ceremonies, I had heard very little about the festival, I had however heard rumours of some of the things that I would see but being there really opened up my eyes to even more deep culture that I apparently still have to learn about Thailand. I thought I had learnt about it but it all links back to the Chinese somehow. The ceremonies were as gruesome as you could imagine, and definitely not for the faint-hearted. At some points I was hidden behind cars, I was lost in thought at how people could voluntarily harm themselves the way they did, I had never seen so much blood come out of a human before in real life apart from on TV. The loud sounds from the firecrackers, the smells, the choking on the smoke, the whole atmosphere is something I won’t forget anytime soon especially getting hit by that firecracker. It was certainly an eye-opening experience and also frightening.
Culture is very important when seeing a new country, let it shock you and put you in awe. It’s all about the experience, even if you don’t really understand it, embrace it and remember that a foreign country is supposed to make the locals feel comfortable not the visitors. So embrace everything and accept their beliefs.
Photo credit to Julien Etienne. Check out more of his images here https://goo.gl/photos/kTRdE4i52cAV1TNcA