Shooting Phuket’s mind-boggling Vegetarian Festival

14 Feb 2019

If you find yourself near Thailand around October and are looking for the most fun you can have with your camera on, we unhesitatingly suggest you talk to us about shooting the deceptively named Phuket Vegetarian Festival.

This is no green-grub gala for plant-based foodies. This event is not a celebration of eating more healthily, discovering wonderful things to do with Pak Boong (aka water spinach or Morning Glory), or wokking up a lemon-grassy stir-fry in two minutes flat.

No, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is way, way more tasty than that.

The fest traces back as a Taoist religious festival tied to a nine-day period in the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. It’s been culturally cradled and nourished over the last 150 years by Phuket’s thriving Thai Chinese community, who have enshrined it in their traditions and in the gorgeous Chinese temples scattered across Phuket.

So what’s in it for us photographers? The ultimate street photography experience. Not your enigmatic fleeting-shapes-on-cobbled-pavements style of street shooting, but a big, brutal, bloodthirsty in-yer-face spectacle happening across the temples and streets of Phuket Town.

On the shooting menu:

• Chinese temple interiors and pageantry
• Men and women working themselves into a possessed, trance-like state
• Ritualised cutting, mutilation, impalement, flagellation, bloodletting and other forms of self-harm
• Barefoot fire-walking and climbing of tall, razor-stepped ladders
• Fireworks and miscellaneous explosives of unbelievable intensity, quantity and duration
• Street processions featuring all of the above.

When we shoot this amazing jamboree of guts, gore and glory, we call in friends and favours. We seek out the very best vantage points inside temples, ride the procession vehicles, use minders to ensure access and safety, sweat cheek by bloody jowl alongside the spaced-out fire-walkers and button up tight to ensure an anaconda roll of exploding Chinese firecrackers can’t easily go off in our (mandatory) all-white festival garb.

We like to get you close. I swear I saw one of our clients lock down on a cheek-piercing in macro mode.

About the only thing missing here is a well-policed Health and Safety policy. And frankly, we love it that way: it means we can throw on wides or nifty fifties and guarantee that we have to stay very close to the action — rather than relying on telephoto lenses to distance ourselves from the fun. (We do like to get our shooters close: I swear I saw one of our clients lock down on a cheek-piercing in macro mode.)

If you’d like us to escort you right into the sharp end of the Veggie Fest action, get in touch. Hot tip: The Chonburi Buffalo Race makes a great, yee-haw follow-up shoot a few days later, while you’re still reeling from the blood, sweat and occasional tears of Phuket’s sharp-edged shindig.

Shoot this with us: