Review of 2013 on the Phuket Blog

It's time for the annual review on the Phuket Blog. The year 2013 (or 2556 in the old Thai calendar) is just about done. New Years Eve tomorrow and my family and I have just been discussing our options. We are not heading to any big parties. I think we all find kind of tired. A fun family movie and an early night might suit us! Followed by a nice day out somewhere on January 1st. Hope everyone has had something to be happy about this year. Best wishes for 2014 from Phuket!

Way back in January 2013, which seems like more than a year ago we did have a nice day out on January 1st including a New Year lunch at the new Dairy Hut Seafood restaurant in Phang Nga, north of Phuket Island. Later in the month I blogged about a temple between Phuket and Phang Nga that really should get more visitors - Wat Manee Sri Mahathat - featuring a huge black statue of a revered monk.



(above) Wat Manee Sri Mahathat



(above) Sunset 5th January 2013

A new blog post was written about Rang Hill in Phuket Town, and later in 2013 I also updated an older blog post about the Tunk Ka Cafe which sits at the top of the hill.

In February, a new blog post about an old restaurant called Naowarat, near the main market in Phuket Town. And another post about one of those days when we just go exploring, heading to a remote corner of Phuket Island called Laem Sai. And also in February we had the Phuket Old Town Festival, which was a lot of fun.



(above) at Laem Sai, Phuket



(above) Street in old Phuket Town during the Old Town Festival

Having 2 kids, much of what appears on the blog is things we do with the kids.. so I finally wrote something this year about Phuket for Kids. Unfortunately the kids missed a great day out in March when I joined a trial speedboat tour circumnavigating Phuket Island.



(above) Best way to see Phuket? Take a boat trip right round the island!

Also in March I went to the main Phuket Town market one morning for some photos. If you want to see local life in Phuket, a market is a good place to be!



(above) at Phuket Town Market

During 2013 I have updated quite a few older blog posts, adding new photos or new information. The blog has been going since 2006, so a bit of housekeeping is needed sometimes. In April, a couple of updates were made to posts about the Shrine of the Serene Light and Koh Rang Yai island.



(above) Shrine of the Serene Light in Phuket Town

And a new blog post about the Bang Wad Reservoir in Phuket where many people, including me, go for exercise.



(above) It's a 6.5km walk/run around the reservoir. This is a side of Phuket that most visitors don't know about.

There was a lull in blogging during April and May, as I was on holiday, with my parents visiting from the UK. Quite an active holiday actually even though I intended to take it easy on them! The end of April was when we "discovered" Khao Lak. I mean, we know about Khao Lak but had never stayed there. We had a couple of nights, plus one night at Khao Sok, but liked Khao Lak and went back again for a couple of nights the very next week! During our stay we visited the tsunami memorials, Ton Prai waterfall and had a great day trip to Koh Tachai Island.



(above) Police Boat, tsunami memorial in Khao Lak



(above) Enjoying the trip to Koh Tachai

June was a month of work and school. The Thai school year starts in May, so the kids were busy, and I was working after the holidays. We found time for further explorations in Phuket Town, finding a new coffee shop called Since 1892, and a great place for a burger called Rider Cafe. And in June, we also had the Baba Weddings, celebrating the Baba / Peranakan culture in Phuket.



(above) Phuket Baba ladies



(above) Want a good burger? Try the Rider Cafe!

We visited Khao Lak yet again for a weekend in July, so I finally wrote a blog post about Holidays in Khao Lak. Makes a nice change from Phuket, very relaxing and only about 90 minutes drive from home. And we got lucky with the low season weather.



(above) Khao Lak beach in July

During July and August, lots of new things ... we visited the Phuket Botanic Garden which had opened in 2012, also the Phuket Bird Park, which opened earlier this year and we had a lovely evening on a sunset / dinner cruise to Coral Island with the MV Sai Mai.



(above) Sunset trip with the MV Sai Mai



(above) Palm garden at the Phuket Botanic Garden



(above) My kids enjoyed going to the Phuket Wake Park quite often this year :)

The year moves on. A couple of new blog posts in September - a whole page devoted to a single road! Not Bangla road in Patong. No, that's not my Phuket. For me, the heart of Phuket is Thalang Road in Phuket Town. And a post for monkey lovers - Where to See Monkeys in Phuket :)

Later in September we had a family holiday away from Phuket, mostly on the east coast of Thailand around Chumphon and Hua Hin. A nice area. I came back to Phuket in early October with my wife and we spent several days painting our house while the kids stayed with family in Chumphon.

Main event in October was the Phuket vegetarian festival. 3 blog posts this year about my favourite time of year .. despite the weather not being great at the start of the festival. Firstly - a post about the food, then 2 posts with photos from the Jui Tui Shrine street procession, and the Kathu Shrine procession.







(above) Some pictures from the 2013 Phuket Vegetarian festival

I gotta be honest, since the festival, since high season began and the kids were back at school I have had little time for blogging or taking photos. Indeed, I sold my camera recently, and have just an iPhone right now for photos. Will get a new camera sometime in the new year. The last couple of months has been all about school, early mornings, work and occasional days off which, while I would like to get out and see things, often end up as lazy days at home! One great evening we did have earlier this month was at the Phuket Siam Niramit Show.



(above) At Siam Niramit - we'll go there again!

2013 is done. I am hoping for a great 2014. Hoping that Thai politics, if you can call it that, calms down a bit. Hoping my kids do well at school, hoping for good health for all my family. You know, same things everyone hopes for. Hope if you are reading this, that you'll click through a few links and read more, and then come back and read something new later. Please do follow me on Twitter, and please do *LIKE* the Phuket Blog page on Facebook! Lots more photos on my Flickr page and I post things most days on Instagram too! Many thanks. See you on the other side in 2014!

A Waste of $90

Anyone who reads this site regularly knows that I would not pay for a buffet that costs $90 for two, but we were invited to one and we went with relatives. I have written of this annual Christmas Eve excursion before but this year the price is higher and the meal was just not good. The restaurant is not a buffet normally. It is a menu restaurant with a catering hall on the side that has been

Merry Christmas from Ciejay and Me

Merry Christmas to all our friends and family , have a great holiday season with your friends and family and remember that Jesus is the reason for the season

It is Christmas time and that means its time for IKEA's Julbord Smorgasbord!





I have written about these dinners for the past few years. The IKEA stores celebrate the holidays and the summer with a special Swedish buffet dinner in there store restaurants for one night each. There is a Christmas dinner, an Easter dinner, a Midsummer dinner, and a special Crayfish feast dinner in August. I just returned from the  Christmas smorgasbord and it was great as always.

I have

Golden Corral Adds More Fountains

I have written before about Golden Corral's Chocolate Wonderfall - a chocolate fountain at the center of their dessert bar. Apparently, despite the, perhaps unrealized, drawbacks of melted chocolate fountains, they must feel that this is very popular - they have just added two more similar fountains to their restaurants.

Golden Corral buffets now have THREE "wonderfalls" - fountains - the

The Siam Niramit Show in Phuket

The Siam Niramit Phuket cultural show opened in December 2011, located just outside Phuket Town, and not too far from our house. I must have driven past it 200 times and thought "we should try it one day". but we generally tend to avoid the most obvious tourist attractions and find our own favourite things to do and places to visit in Phuket, so Siam Niramit went un-visited until now! I figured the show would be similar to Phuket Fantasea which opened about 15 years ago ... we finally visited in 2011! Siam Niramit I knew was a successful show in Bangkok and the company decided to open in Phuket too, obviously creating direct competition for Fantasea. I can anticipate people asking me "which one should I see?" - I think my answer is "both"! Phuket has a lot to do in the day time, but good quality evening entertainment is hard to find. Personally I can skip the ladyboy shows, but Fantasea and now Siam Niramit - this is top class entertainment and certainly worth doing. Well, it took only 2 years for us to visit Siam Niramit. And I think we'll go again as it's just a 10 minute drive from our house and our kids loved it (so did my wife and I, but you know amazing things are even more amazing for kids!).

And next time we will go earlier to have more time to look around the grounds. We got there at about 6:30pm, but the place opens at 5:30pm. As it turned out, at least another half hour would have been useful. We were still looking around the 'Thai Village' when staff came to find us and shepherd us off for dinner. Now we know the place, we can see more next time ... Next time! When we arrived, we could pose with some of the show's characters outside ...

At Siam Niramit Phuket

Just inside the entrance is a selection of souvenir shops - first thing to see when you arrive, and last thing you see when you're heading home. Well, sure we bought a bunch of stuff for the kids :) Little souvenir items started at just 30 Baht, but there's also an antique shop with some very nice items that might catch someone's eye.

Shop at Siam Niramit

Past the shops is a wide open area featuring a giant Naga (a mythical serpent) in a pond. The way to the main stage is to the right and the 'Thai Village' is on the left. And there were elephants! Of course I bought some bananas for 30 Baht a bunch for the kids to feed the cute little ellies who (I think) would be part of the show later.

My boy and elephant at Siam Niramit

(above) My boy and the elephant :)

At the entrance to the Thai Village are some sideshow stalls of the "olde style" which is very popular at local fairs in Thailand - things like "throw a ball at the cans and win a teddy if you knock them all over" or "throw a ball to try and knock the ladyboy in the water". My boy tried both .. needs to improve his aim!



The Thai Village is bigger than I thought, so we do have to go again! There are demonstrations of handicraft making, preparation of local snacks, typical old style houses, and more. The kids took a ride on a boat (20 Baht each), and fed a buffalo which would also be part of the show later. And then we had to dash off for the buffet dinner. Maybe next time we can skip dinner, tasty though it was, and have more time to enjoy things outside - we had to miss the Muay Thai demonstration, and my son wanted to see that (but he was hungry too, so we could not watch it all!). Yeh, so what I am saying is, you need to come twice :)

Feeding Buffalo at Siam Niramit

(above) Feeding a buffalo



(above) Muay Thai at Siam Niramit

Boat ride at Siam Niramit

(above) A little boat ride for the kids

Muay Thai at Siam Niramit

(above) Posing with the Muay Thai fighter, but we did not see them fight, we had to dash off for the buffet dinner. Only just got a table, the restaurant was already all but full. We were in the VIP restaurant, as we'd been invited for a "press" evening along with local newsies like the team from The Phuket News and I saw a Thai couple I know who both work in the media. Speeches were being given as we found a seat and I was happy to find some cold beer available :) The food was good, some really tasty fish dishes, in fact way too many different options to try them all! My daughter tried Khao Soi for the first time, I stuffed myself with chicken and cashew nuts. There were curries and mussels and salads and fruits and all kind of things. At this point, I should say - get there as early as you can, see the Thai Village and then spend as much time as you can at the buffet. The buffet is optional, so if you skip that you have more time to enjoy entertainment outdoors. I read that while people eat there is also dancing and a "war elephant" display outside...



And then time for the SHOW! It's a walk of a couple of hundred meters to the theater. You cannot take cameras inside. Cameras can be deposited and you get a receipt before you enter. The pictures below are provided by Siam Niramit Phuket. The show has many scenes taking you through some of the history of Siam (the country was only called Thailand after 1939) starting with the ancient kingdoms of the north, then the south (Phuket!) where you see Chinese traders coming to trade with and marry the locals. There's a Khmer scene and then the old capital Ayutthaya. The scenes are impressive, with a huge stage and many performers / dancers and some animals too. Scene changes are cleverly done, performers are not only on stage, but appear around the theater, even overhead.



(above) The South .. my area! A Chinese Junk arrives to trade with the local people.



(above) Ayutthaya. Lots of fighting!



(above) Hell (Buddhist version) ... there's a temple in Phang Nga Town called Wat Tham Tapan which has some rather scary images of hell. Certainly not where you want to end up. So be good for goodness sake.



(above) Heaven - only nice things. Can I have a few beers in heaven?



(above) The mythical land of Himapan, a place where strange creatures dwell. It's in Buddhism and Hinduism.

As you might be able to see .. the stage show is pretty spectacular at times, my son was sitting next to me and was continually pointing and saying "Dad, look at that!" and "I can see the wires" ;) At one point during the show, I think a big set change was needed, so there was a little musical comedy involving a group of players with bamboo rattles that all played different notes. An audience member was chosen to join them .. my daughter :) She enjoyed that ... was a bit stage shocked afterwards "I've never been on a stage with so many people watching before!" and people were commenting when we left the theater "that's the girl who was on stage!". My girl :) But I don't have any photos as cameras are not allowed :(

Another view of Siam Niramit .. the team from The Phuket News made a little video on the same night ...



We had a great evening! The show was great, the kids loved everything, I can certainly recommend it. The Siam Niramit show is open every evening except Tuesday. More information on the Siam Niramit Website. Many thanks to Siam Niramit for inviting us!

You can book for the Siam Niramit Show with my friends at Easy Day Thailand - and they can help with other trips, tours and days out too.

Update 2014 - we went again on January 12th! My wife's parents were visiting so we went with them and everyone enjoyed the show :)

Siam Niramit Phuket - Location Map


View Siam Niramit Phuket in a larger map

No Buffet for Thanksgiving This Year

For the past several years we have had Thanksgiving dinner at Old Country Buffet. I know that it appears at times that I don't like OCB, but we have more buffet meals at OCB than any other. The reason is that OCB is the only "American" buffet in this area and any other involves leaving the state.

This year we decided that we would make Thanksgiving dinner at home. There are somethings about a

Aleenta Resort near Phuket

There are tourists who like to be in the middle of the action, like to be within easy walking distance of shops, bars, restaurants, tailors and tour agents .. and for you there is Patong and other main beach areas. Other visitors to Phuket are looking for a bit of seclusion and maybe a hint of luxury too, and Phuket has plenty of quiet beaches with very nice resorts in a different world to the crowds of Patong. The Aleenta Resort advertises itself as being in Phuket, but actually it's just off Phuket over the bridge and turn left. It's in Phang Nga province, far less developed that Phuket, and an area that we have explored a lot in recent years (check out blog posts about Phang Nga Bay, Bang Riang Temple and Tha Sai Seafood for example).

Aleenta is certainly a "getaway". I recommend you have transport if you stay here, hire a car to get around and explore. Or just spend a few days relaxing at the resort. Most of the rooms are private villas, ranging from one to four bedroom villas. The four bedroom place is HUGE, with 1,000 square meters of space! Some villas are beachfront and some are just behind the beachfront ones. Want a quieter place to stay? Here it is ... but don't moan that it's too far from the shops or nightlife!

Aleenta Resort Beach Aleenta Resort - Room

(above) Beach at the Aleenta and view from a room

There are several restaurants and bars on site. Maybe you can wander up the beach and find a local place, but otherwise it's a bit of a drive to find other dining options. I can recommend Thanoon Seafood right by the bridge on the Phang Nga side. There's a spa at the hotel and yoga, and they do weddings too. Yeh, I would stay here if I was about 10 times richer :)

Aleenta Resort - Beachfront Room Aleenta Resort - Spa

Aleenta Resort - Booking & Information Links

Aleenta Resort - Info, Rates and Reservations
Aleenta Resort - Reviews

Phuket Hotels - More Info & Online Booking

Jamie's Phuket Hotel Recommendations
Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016
Book Phuket Hotels at Agoda.com

Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord, Bird-In-Hand, PA

It has been about a year and a half since I have been to the Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord in Lancaster County in the town of Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. This buffet has not been one of the buffets in this area on my short list of where to go because it has been higher priced and at times has been inconsistent. We were in Pennsylvania recently and we discovered a coupon for $2.00

Mandarava Resort (Karon Beach)

Another new hotel in the Karon beach area, Mandarava opened earlier this year (2013) on the hillside towards the north end of the beach, near the well known Pacific Club resort. Seems like a lot of newer hotels in Phuket are being built away from the beach. I guess there is no beachfront left or, if there is, the land is just too expensive. Mandarava has quickly become popular, looks very nice and the owners seen to understand the power of TripAdvisor reviews (too much power if you ask me!). We've had several customers in the dive shop this week staying at Mandarava, and so I've heard a few things about the resort. It's in the hills, so not by the beach. Probably about 10 minute walk to the beach. Lots of hills to climb to get to the resort, or to your room, as the rooms are on different levels. For sure they have a shuttle bus and hotel car, but will it always be there exactly when you need it?! It's all very green, jungly ("lush" would be a word you could use, but not a word I like) and there are several pools and little waterfalls built into the resort. I can imagine it's very relaxing.

Mandarava Resort Pool Mandarava Resort - Panoramic Deluxe Room

(above) Mandarava is in the hills, so you get some great views from the pool and from some of the rooms

There are 130 rooms, built into villas with split levels - the upper floor rooms mostly have some kind of seaview ("it's over there between the land and the sky"), while ground floor rooms either face a pool or the green jungle. The hotel has it's restaurants and bars of course, or you can walk to the main street at the north end of Karon in about 10 minutes. The location up the hill and just *slightly* out of the main strip would appeal to some, not to others. When I look at the reviews (see link below) it's the location that brings the overall score down. I'd say if you are unable to walk up hills, find a place to stay by the beach! Otherwise, the hillside is nice, you get views and can catch any breeze that's blowing.

Mandarava Resort - Standard Room Mandarava Resort - Sunset

Mandarava Resort - Booking & Information Links

Mandarava Resort - Rates and Reservations @ Agoda.com
Mandarava Resort - Reviews

Phuket Hotels - More Info & Online Booking

Jamie's Phuket Hotel Recommendations
Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016
Book Phuket Hotels at Agoda.com

Buffets, Inc. Changes Its Name

During the last week in October, 2013, Buffets, Inc. the parent corporation of Old Country Buffet, Ryans, Country Buffet, Fire Mountain, and Hometown Buffet changed its corporate name to Ovation Brands, Inc. A new logo was unveiled at corporate headquarters in Greer, South Carolina at the same time. The new logo is white and blue showing a plate and spoon.

The company claims that the name was

Centara Grand Beach Resort (Karon Beach)

I find it hard to keep up with new hotels in Phuket! Every year there are new resorts, or renovated resorts with new owners. In the first few years of this Phuket blog, I wrote lots of hotel pages, with suggested hotels all over the island. More recently I have added pages with Top 10 lists - best hotels, best romantic or family hotels etc. But it's been a long time since a hotel "review" - about time for a new one. Now, the hotels that are recommended here are normally recommended due to reputation, or "what I've heard" as a resident, or comments from customers at the dive shop, or top marks when I look at reviews on Agoda. I don't work for a big online travel company or anything like that, don't get free hotel stays .. last hotels I stayed in with the family were in Khao Lak and Hua Hin on our holidays. Here in Phuket, we have a house, so why stay in a hotel?!

The Centara Grand Beach Resort is right at the north end of Karon Beach. It opened a couple of years ago and does get great reviews, and to me it looks like a great place for a family holiday hotel. It's quite a big hotel, run by the Centara group who also have the Centara Karon, Centara Villas, Centara Kata and Centara West Sands resorts in Phuket! The facilities look to be very good including a kind of water park (well, a slide and a 'lazy river' at least)

Centara Grand Centara Grand Beach Resort

(above) It's all about water ... pools and the beach nearby too.

Centara Grand is right by the sea, so you have beach access, but actually you have to walk about 1km to the main center of Karon with lots of restaurants, bars and a few shops. Or take a taxi which will be 200 Baht each way. Karon beach is much much quieter than Patong to the north. I'd imagine the Centara Grand as ideal for families or couples who might book some tours for the day, and then have an evening with dinner, a few drinks and enjoy the resort for a couple of hours. For sure Phuket has a lot to do, but it's nice to have a resort to come back to after a day out and relax in the pool or have a massage!

Centara Grand - Family Fun Centara Grand - Spa and Massage

Centara Grand Beach Resort - Booking & Information Links

Centara Grand Beach Resort - Rates and Reservations @ Agoda.com
Centara Grand Beach Resort - Reviews

Phuket Hotels - More Info & Online Booking

Jamie's Phuket Hotel Recommendations
Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016
Book Phuket Hotels at Agoda.com

An Open Letter to Anthony Wedo, CEO and President of Buffets, Inc.

Dear Mr. Wedo:

A week ago I published an article on this website in review and reaction to your appearance on the television show, Undercover Boss. One could look at why you decided to go on television on this "Reality Show" as either a publicity "stunt" for your restauants or to actually show your sincerity about helping a business that has seen two bankruptcies in managing several chains of

The Boss of Buffets, Inc. Goes Undercover To Find Out What We Already Knew

A week before the airing of the CBS television show, Undercover Boss, on which Anthony Wedo, CEO and President of Buffets, Inc. corporate owners of Old Country Buffet, Ryans, Hometown Buffet and Country Buffet, we told you here that this show was coming. This is a reality show in which a boss of a corporation is disguised and put into the retail outlets of his own company to discover first hand

Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet, Lititz, Pennsylvania

It has been five years since I have been to the Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet in Lititz, PA. I am not sure why it has taken me this long to go back - other than perhaps the other buffets in this area that always come to mind first. This is a nice, small buffet that is just off the main tourist area in Lancaster County and one that like some other buffets in this area is located

To Pai, Mae Chaem, Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai and Home …

As I said, we came down the mountain in near zero visibility and though it was a relief to be able to see again, my hopes for clear skies and perfect conditions for taking pictures never materialized.  Still I like driving on cloudy days.  The soft muted light which dulls photos is strangely seductive for me when driving long distances.

At the bottom of the mountain we rejoined the 107, following it all the way to Mae Taeng where we turned right onto the 1095 heading toward Pai.  People complain about the many tight turns and rough conditions on the road to Pai, and sure there are accidents every year, but I can’t help but think there would be more if the road were in better shape.  People drive too fast as it is, so a better road surface would only encourage greater speed.  

It is probably a good idea to take a coffee break along the way and there is no shortage of places to stop.  Baan Pa Pae was the place we chose to stop at and it was a lovely place perched on the side of the road.  Looking out near the tops of the trees one got the feeling of being suspended high in the canopy and the wet misty conditions only made it more romantic.

For me the drive is perhaps the greatest attraction on these trips and destinations provide a direction to travel and places to rest up before continuing down the road.  Arriving in Pai we set about searching for a place to stay.  Enquiring at several places, we found some were full and others just a bit overpriced.  My wife, with the aid of her iPhone, kept looking until she found a really nice place right on the river and close enough to the walking street that we had no more need to drive that night.

We enjoyed walking up and down the street, eating, shopping, people watching and topped it off with a massage.  There was even a parade with everyone being invited to a local temple for a traditional Pai celebration of the end of Buddhist Lent.

In the morning, after breakfast, we continued on through Mae Hong Son where the road turned into the 108, headed for Khun Yuam.  We had intended on staying at the same place we stayed last time we were in Khun Yuam but when we drove up, the place looked deserted and not as inviting as before.  We made a quick, yet reluctant, decision to keep driving.

We turned off the 108 onto the 1263, hoping to find a place to stay on the way to Mae Chaem.  This road was the worst of our trip with many potholes, so our progress was slow.  There were roadside signs for a place to stay so we stopped to check it out, finding an Australian biker already there, drying out after a wet cold day on the bike.  I talked with him while my wife inspected the room and found it not to her liking.

Even in the dimming light, there was nothing for it but to continue on to Mae Chaem where we assumed there would be a better selection of rooms.  It was quite dark by the time we made it to Mae Chaem, which made finding a place to stay that much more difficult.  Stopping at a market to eat, we asked one of the vendors for suggestions.  She directed us to what she assured us was the best place in town.

Turns out she was right, but to my wife’s great disappointment, the four lovely bungalows were all taken and we had to look elsewhere.  Just down the road we found a place, not nearly as nice, but it would have to do.  We needed to get some rest before tackling the next section of road.

In the dark the night before, the 1263 had turned into the 1088 and now we were to take on the 1192/1009.  This is twenty kilometers of torturously steep, narrow and twisty road with blind switchbacks and signs warning you to honk your horn before proceeding around these bends.  I have done this road before and know the risks, so I settled in behind a local truck and followed him up the road, allowing him to run interference for me.

You come out just inside the main entrance to Doi Inthanon Park, half way up the mountain, on a road labeled 1284 and turn left to continue up a very nice road to the top of Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand at 2565 meters above sea level.  I suppose it would be nice to visit the mountain on a perfectly clear day, have great views and take amazing photos but every time I have been on the mountain it has been cold and misty.

So this visit felt very familiar, though a little more wet than usual.  Still by being patient I did get a few pictures when the mist parted momentarily.  My wife got a lot more shots with her iPhone because I was too worried about getting my camera wet.  After taking in the sites we headed down the mountain and turned left onto the 108 for Chiang Mai.

Typically we go to Chiang Mai to visit a good friend when she flies up from Bangkok to visit her parents.  She not only spoils us with a lovely place to stay but she drives us around to interesting places we would never find on our own.  Without her we are a bit lost so thought we would find a hotel close to the weekend walking street.  Somehow I thought it was held on Saturday but I was off by one day so our conveniently located Hotel M on the corner ended up not being quite so convenient.

The room was quite small but we had a very good night’s sleep and a delicious breakfast downstairs at the Coffee Club, on the corner of Rajadamnoen Road.  We were eager to check out the new shopping mall Pramenada on the outskirts of Chiang Mai but in spite of a great meal at Duke’s, we left disappointed with the shopping experience.  Before heading home the next day we had to make a stop at the old Airport Plaza Shopping Mall to look for things my wife couldn’t find at the Pramenada.

The drive home from Chiang Mai on the 118 was uneventful but pleasant and we got home just before dark.  It had been a wonderful trip and a great break from our routines but it was really great to be back home, to see Cookie and sleep in our own bed.

Baan Pa Pae for coffee on the way to Pai.

The Pai River next to our hotel.

Hotel in Pai.

View from our balcony.

Inside our room.

The road to Mae Chaem.

The road to Mae Chaem.

The highest point on Doi Inthanon.

A shot of the gardens on Doi Inthanon.

Classic shot of one pavilion taken from the other.

Closeup of the other pavilion. 

The Coffee Club.

Our room in Chiang Mai.

2013 Phuket Vegetarian Festival (Part 2)

So, as I was saying a few days ago in Part 1 of my Phuket vegetarian festival 2013 report... Due to a mix of rainy weather, tiredness (staying up until after 2am painting our living room 2 nights in a row) and general apathy, I was really not feeling any great excitement for the vegetarian festival this year. Hard to summon up the energy for an early morning at the shrine when it's drizzly and I had 4 hours sleep. So that changed on Friday 11th October when I was in Phuket Town for the big Jui Tui Shrine procession. I think it was all the firecrackers that woke me up! Now I was looking forward to an early morning at Kathu shrine on Saturday 12th October. Kathu is the area of Phuket where I live, between Phuket Town and Patong beach. It's a historical area and was the center of the tin mining industry in Phuket in the mid 19th century, maybe even the most important town in Phuket for a while before Phuket Town became important due to easy access to the sea via the wide Bang Yai canal (which is not wide any more!). The canal did reach as far as Kathu, but was smaller there, only navigable by small canoes. Kathu was where Chinese miners were camped sometime after 1825 when Chinese theater artists came to perform, got sick and cured themselves by sticking to a special vegetarian diet. And thus the festival was born.

Well, I wanted to be there earlier than 6am, but I am not a morning person! So, got there just after 6am. For Kathu, that's a bit late. The shrine was packed already, and many of the Ma Song were already pierced and ready to go. First guy I saw had candle piercings ...

Pierced by candles, Kathu shrine, 12th October 2013

Oh, and hooks through his ears too. Many other piercings were already done. Damn, I really do need to wake up 5am next year! They start early in Kathu, as the procession starts here and they walk all the way into town and back. From the shrine into town as far as Sapan Hin shrine is about 10km each way. On a hot sunny morning, do you want to walk 20km with this in your face?

Phuket Vegetarian Festival - Pierced Face at Kathu shrine

Pierced face at the Phuket vegetarian festival 2013

(above) I was hoping for the eyes-rolled shot here .. and I hope that's not real ivory. Historical note - Phuket used to be a major port for the shipment of elephants to India. The province was full of wild elephants 200 years ago and the next province Phang Nga means "broken elephant tusk".

Getting pierced at Kathu shrine, Phuket Vegetarian Festival 2013

(above) Getting pierced. Some of the Ma Song were still getting their faces done after 6am. This guy we see often around Kathu and we always stop for a chat. I see him every year with different piercings. Here he in 2012, and 2010. In real life, he's a local policeman .. see here.

And then, time for the main procession to begin. Groups of young men gather to carry the statues of the gods. Many of the pierced Ma Song have already left. Drums sound inside the shrine, and blessings are given to those who will carry the gods ...

Ma Song giving blessing

My friend Tim and I wondered who is actually in charge here.. no specific order seems to be given to start, but everyone knows their place. The noise, colour, faces and traditions of this festival never cease to amaze me. I am totally not sure if the Ma Song are for real. Are they possessed, in a trance, very good actors? The guy below I see every year. In normal life he looks like an average guy. On the day of the Kathu procession he appears from the shrine bent over like an old, old man.

Ma Song at Kathu shrine

The guy being held aloft seems to be the most important of the Ma Song in Kathu. He's carried through the streets, though I have seen him get off his perch a couple of times. He leads the procession of the gods out of the shrine.

Ma Song in Kathu Shrine, Phuket Vegetarian Festival

And then follows a crazy 25 minutes when I take about 200 photos as the emperor god statues are carried through Kathu village through a constant barrage of firecrackers either thrown or held out on bamboo poles by the local residents of Kathu. Next time, aside from waking up earlier... earplugs and a facemask. Essential.

Vegetarian Festival procession in Kathu village, Phuket, October 12th 2013

Firecrckers, firecrackers and firecrackers!

Firecrackers as gods are carried through the streets, Phuket vegetarian festival 2013

Phuket vegetarian festival 2013 street procession in Kathu village

It's madness! And now they head off through the old village of Kathu towards Phuket Town. On this day I decided not to follow them. Maybe next year I'll do a 20km walk with the procession. That should be an experience. I bought myself a set of white trousers and shirt this year intending to use them on the crazy last night of the festival in town, but never went. Might be ideal for a long walk on the day of next years Kathu shrine procession. The festival next year looks like it will be from September 23rd - October 3rd. There is so much going on during the processions, so much energy, that the quiet moments are sometimes overlooked. Last photo for 2013 ... in Kathu village, a female Ma Song stops to bless a small child.

Ma Song blessing a small boy in Kathu village, Phuket

If you can tell me what that young boy is thinking .. I might better understand this festival. Until next year.