Thai New Year: Songkran

Thai New Year: Songkran

Be prepared to get wet this week as the Songkran celebrations of Thai New Year get underway.

For Thais Songkran is an important time of year, when people make New Year resolutions or go to a wat (Buddhist monastery) to pray and give food to monks. Buddha images from household shrines as well as Buddha images at monasteries are cleansed by gently pouring water over them – it is believed that doing this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year.

In the northern city of Chiang Mai the Buddha images from all of the city’s important monasteries are paraded through the streets so that people can toss water on them, ritually ‘bathing’ the images, as they pass by on ornately decorated floats. While in other areas of Thailand, people may carry handfuls of sand to their neighborhood monastery in order to recompense the dirt that they have carried away on their feet during the rest of the year. The sand is then sculpted into stupa-shaped piles and decorated with colorful flags. All over Thailand Songkran is a time for cleaning and renewal and this is mostly celebrated by the throwing of water – which originated as a way to pay respect to people. This was done by using water that had been poured over a Buddha image, and this “blessed” water was believed to give good fortune as it was gently poured over to elders and family members.

 

Nowadays though, the emphasis is on fun and water-throwing rather than on the festival’s spiritual and religious aspects, making it virtually impossible to venture out of your house or hotel during this time without getting soaked to the skin. No one is immune. Think that just because you are on their way to the airport loaded up with luggage that you won’t get soaked? Think again.

Given the opportunity, everyone is fair game. That means even if you’re in a tuktuk, or on a motorkbike… no amount of pleading or asking for leniency will help. The only real ‘safe’ time to venture out, if you want to avoid getting totally wet is after dark.

Depending on where you are, Songkran celebrations can go on for up to 5 days, during which time Thais and foreign tourists are all out on the streets with containers of water, water guns or hose pipes to drench each other and any passersby with mentholated talc, iced water, and even dirty stagnant water if nothing else is at hand… Thailand’s biggest national holiday has become something of a water fighting free for all.

Seven Days Of Danger In Thailand

On average, at least 36 people die on Thailand’s roads every 24 hours. This equates to 1.5 deaths per hour, totaling a staggering 13,000 fatalities per year. Over 70 percent of the deaths are alcohol and speed related, and these figures jump up during the Songkran festival. Songkran, is in fact, the deadliest driving season of the year.

In recent years, the government has stepped up campaigns urging people not to drink and drive and in recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival, to lessen the many alcohol-related road accidents as well as injuries attributed to extreme behavior such as water being thrown in the faces of traveling motorcyclists.

In 2010, there were 3,516 road accidents during the ‘seven dangerous days’ of the Songkran holiday, resulting in 361 deaths and 3,802 injured, according to the Natural Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department .

These road accident figures whilst still high, were in fact lower than the previous year when there were a staggering  3,997 road accidents, including 373 fatalities and 4,332 injured.

The southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat saw the most road accidents at 142 and had the highest number of injured people at 159. The northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima recorded the highest number of road fatalities at 18. 29.53 per cent of the accidents were caused by drunk driving, followed by speeding at 17.11 per cent.  Motorcycles were involved in 79.61 per cent of the accidents.

Songrkran

This year, sixty alcohol-free “safety areas” will be designated nationwide in an attempt to decrease violence and sexual assaults that result from drunken revelry. Inside these pedestrian-only zones, alcohol cannot be sold, carried or consumed.

“Songkran has become a dangerous festival,” said Visanu Srithawongse of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation. “Apart from causalities from road accidents, the revelers’ behaviour has become more aggressive. There has been sexual harassment and fighting, and alcohol is a major cause of these problems,” he said.

In northeastern Khon Kaen, girls and women lodged 200 reports of sexual attacks five years ago and only two last year in the city’s main celebration district.

The creation of Songkran safe zones first started in 2005 and has gradually expanded to more areas. In Chiang Mai, 2,000 youth volunteers will monitor the areas around the city’s main canal, where revelers congregate, with the help of a special Facebook page. Pictures of people selling or consuming alcohol will be posted on the page to tip off police.

In Thailand, selling alcohol without a license in a public place carries a six-month jail term and a fine of 10,000 baht ($330).

Whether or not any of these measures manage to lower the injury and fatalities remains to be seen.

Stay Safe & Have Fun

In order to stay safe and have fun this Songkran it’s important to be prepared.

Plan Ahead

 

Don’t try and travel anywhere during the Songkran period. Tickets on buses and trains are hard to come by and flights anywhere are usually expensive. Remember it’s Thailand’s biggest festival, so lots of people are on the move back to their home towns, visiting family or friends. Hotels are usually booked out in advance, so trying to travel can really be a nightmare.

Get Provisions

For many people one day of water fighting is fun, but after 3 days it gets a bit tedious to be continually soaked, especially when you are only nipping out to get yourself a beer or a bottle of water. So, it’s important to stock up on provisions if you don’t want to get drenched each time you have to leave your hotel to buy something. By water and get enough food or snacks in so that you don’t have to go out in the madness during daylight hours, if you don’t want to.

Protect Yourself

Leave all your valuables at home if you can. For those things that you do need to take out with you, pop them in a waterproof, plastic, zip-lock bag.

Try and stay off motorbikes during this time.  The fatalities are high during this period, and motorbike accidents are common. Unfortunately, there are problems with drink driving – so be very careful with motorcycle taxis and taxis.

If you really have to go out on a motorbike, wear a helmet.

If you have to get anywhere important during this time, consider renting a car… it’s the only way you can really guarantee that you will arrive at your destination dry, though be aware that driving may not be easy, and may take time as there will probably be chaos on the roads.

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On April 11, 2011, posted in: Thai Culture by
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