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The chef who usually makes a great meat-lover’s pizza with ham, salami and sausage was on a ladder hanging yellow and red flags, ready for the Vegetarian Festival.

Sorry, no meat today.

All along streets of Phuket City, row upon row of restaurants servings veggies and only veggies are springing up. Until 16th of October, crowds dressed in white will swamp the stalls, eager to start nine days of no-meat abstinence. Sex and alcohol are also off the menu. So, for that matter, is coffee with real milk.

Goody-goodies go the whole nine days, but there’s no problem if you start with noble intentions and fall off the veggie-chastity-water wagon. While the remarkable and highly photogenic daily street parades in and around Phuket City offer a wild, engaging buzz between now and October 16, the food is also part of the process . . . and the fun.

To join the crowds decked in white is to gain a sense of what’s probably Phuket’s most distinct cultural experience. Phuket does veggies bigger and better than anywhere else. Spain and Italy may have their tomato festivals, but Phuket is the full patch. At this time of the year, nobody minds if Cinderella’s coach turns into a pumpkin, as long as its well-cooked.