Location: Phuket Town, Phuket Island, Southern Thailand.
Near death experience: being hit, no bombarded, by hundreds of firecrackers of all sizes (though mostly extra-large).
Becky and I arrived by ferry in Phuket town yesterday, traveling through here as a quick stop on our way up to Bangkok and on northward. We met a cool dude, Rodger, from Barcelona and all headed together to the On On Hotel– it’s an incredible old building with tons of rooms and is actually where the beginning of The Beach was filmed. (Ya know, those creepy scenes where Daffy kills himself, yeah that’s a few rooms down from us.)
We came to Phuket just in time (by sheer luck and big smiles) for the VEGETARIAN FESTIVAL. This is one sweet party- and the Thais know how to honor their religion. We walked up and down a crowded street filled with amazing market food; mango sticky rice (I ate some for Maura!), spicy thai salads, rice balls, pad thai, many mysterious fried bulges, and every drink you could desire, hopped up on extra sugar. Everyone was dressed in white and I stuck out like a sore thumb in my rainbow colored skirt.
After watching some kids throw firecrackers at each other at a temple along the party street. No parents or authority figure in sight, though I imagine someone gave them the gunpowder, these kids were hilarious. They would light all sorts of little balls and throw them at each other, and at the feet of unsuspecting people who were walking through to pay respects at the temple. We headed back towards our hostel to grab some baht ($$) and again right in front of our hostel we were attacked by firecrackers on all sides. A man with a face mask and earplugs helped Becky and I run across the street during a lull in the fire. Seriously insane.
The Parade, imagine this scene: standing up against the side of a building on a wide street as firecrackers louder than gun shots are perpetually going off. Small children are shrieking and throwing them at each other (a safety hazard?). Grandmothers are holding large incense and bowing repeatedly. Then the din increases, if possible, as parades of people carrying thrones with Buddhas and other statues pass by. Religious leaders in a meditative trance dance by in beautiful outfits. The entire time, onlookers are armed with hundreds of firecrackers that they proceed to throw forcefully at the parade as it walks by, showing them respect by challenging them not to react while they are being blasted. During the whole procession, I stood, fingers in ears and eyes wide open (expect every now and then when the particles and smoke were so thick I couldn’t see or breathe, then I had to hide in my shirt) completely in awe of what was going on.
Saphan Hin (Part 2 of the festivities): As if bombing each other on the streets isn’t enough, we headed to the coast to meet the procession again. Here they came to stop at a temple, the fireworks action more intense than before, and everyone sat around in huge fields lighting candles, incense, burning huge piles of gold paper, and throwing 8 ft. long strings of firecrackers at their favorite religious leader who was so tranced they didn’t seem to notice. We spent hours watching (and lighting) the fireworks, as well as getting hit by a few when daring Thai children who wanted to scare a farang (foreigner). The best part of the whole night was that we were right in the middle of a huge fiesta of purification in Thai culture (no meat for one week = purification) and there were almost no other travelers, only Thais of all ages. 70 year old grandfathers were right up in the mix throwing flaming paper and eating until daylight the next morning. It was super fun, interesting, and I’m hoping to regain my hearing again by next Thursday.
Forward ho!: Becky and I are off to Bangkok tomorrow, and on to Chaing Mai after that!