Thailand's vegetarian festival celebrates a belief that abstinence from meat and stimulants during the ninth month of the Asian lunar calendar will bring about good health and peace of mind. However, what the festival is really famous for is the ritualised mutilation devotees subject themselves to in order to display their devotion and venerate their gods and ancestors. One common practice is piercing both cheeks and threading objects through the holes.
Most devotees use skewers:
However, for some the festival seems to be an opportunity to see who can have the most bizarre objects sticking out of their faces. If a slender skewer shows devotion to your beliefs, then you must be truly devout if you impale your face on an umbrella handle. Or a toy tricycle. Or a gun barrel or two.
Of all of the novel objects thrust into cheeks at this year's festival in Phuket, my own personal favourite was the selfie stick.
The piercings are done by doctors at temples. Instead of anaesthetic, devotees first attain a trance-like state in order to endure the pain. It is believed this trance also gives them superhuman healing powers. Reports say scarring is uncommon and devotees who impale their cheeks don't need any stitches.
Although the festival is celebrated around Thailand, the biggest celebrations are held in Phuket. Tourists flock to see the unusual rituals, which also include walking on burning coals, taking baths in hot oil and climbing ladders with razor blades embedded in the rungs.