The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is not for those with a light stomach or those that cringe at the sight of blood.
Between Sept. 27 and Oct. 5, spectators at the Phuket Vegetarian Festival will see devotes puncture their cheeks with knives, walk over hot coal, and commit other acts of self-mutilation.
According to legend, the event began in 1825 when a traveling opera company became ill while visiting the Kathu district of Phuket, Thailand. The company was visiting from China to perform for miners, most of which were Chinese. In order to beat the illness, the company followed a strict vegetarian diet in honor of emperor gods Kiew Ong Tai Teh and Yok Ong Sone Teh. Many locals yearned to learn more about the miracle cure.
Thus the Phuket Vegetarian Festival was born. It's held in coordination with the Chinese calendar of the first evening of the ninth lunar month and lasts for 10 days.
Most devotees refrain from eating meat for at least three days during the festival. They believe that the absence of meat will bring good health and peace of mind.
Of all the aspects of the festival, foreigners are most shocked by the self-inflicted torture. Ma Song, or entranced horses, are the devotees whom gods enter at the festival. They perform acts of self-mutilation in order to bring the community good luck, by shifting the evil onto themselves. Fireworks and drums can also be heard throughout the festival to drive the evil spirits away.
The festival does have 10 rules which festivalgoers should abide by including the use of clean kitchen utensils (thankfully what goes in someone's cheek doesn't go in your food) and refraining from alcohol. Those who are pregnant are forbidden to attend.
While this isn't the animal rights hippie festival many expect when they hear Vegetarian Festival, those who are traveling can partake in amazing Thai street food. Look for the vendors with a yellow flag, which signals there food has been cooked without meat. Although, after watching someone stab an umbrella through their cheek, it may take a while for an appetite to come back.