April 14, 2023
BANGKOK – With the mercury hitting almost 40 deg C in Bangkok, the blasts of water hitting revellers crowded along the Siam walking area were a welcome respite on the hot Thursday afternoon.
Peals of laughter and music filled the air as thousands thronged the lanes, splashing water and firing water pistols at friends and strangers to celebrate the first day of the traditional Thai New Year holiday, also known as Songkran.
The festivities along Siam were part of nationwide celebrations that will last for five days in 2023, marking the return of mass water-splashing activities. These were relatively muted in the last few years due to Covid-19 restrictions that curbed large gatherings and tourism.
For locals such as Ms Chamrung, it was a relief to be able to celebrate the “usual way”, she said, as street water fights carried on just a few metres away. According to local belief, water symbolically washes away grievances from the previous year, so people can get ready for the next one.
“It’s such an important festival to celebrate for Thais, so it’s nice to come back together like this,” added the 58-year-old retiree, who took a short road trip to Bangkok with her husband from their home near Pattaya.
Over 100 venues have been allocated in Bangkok for the celebrations. Several large-scale parties and events will also take place in other provinces, such as Chiang Mai or Ayutthaya.
Spending during Thailand’s biggest holiday is expected to total about 125 billion baht (S$4.9 billion), largely from increased travel and business activity, which will be key in fuelling Thailand’s post-pandemic recovery.
This is an increase from the 107 billion baht spent in 2022, according to a survey by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
The Songkran period typically sees an exodus of crowds from the capital Bangkok to their home towns in other provinces, and is traditionally a time when Thais unite with family or travel domestically.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand said there are nearly four million domestic trips planned, and over 300,000 foreign tourists are expected to arrive in Thailand this week for what has been labelled the world’s biggest water fight.
It is Belgian tourist Michael Robnet’s first trip to Bangkok. Standing under the blazing sun near Siam Square, he was drenched but beaming.
“I feel like a child again. I’ve never experienced such an event before,” said the retired truck driver, 61.
His brother Didier Robnet, a 56-year-old bus driver who is a frequent traveller to Thailand, said: “I told him that he’s got to come for the celebrations. I’ve missed it so much over the last few years.”
Songkran-related activities also took place in other areas such as the Silom area, Khao San Road and near Bangkok’s City Hall. Besides water fights, events such as concerts, muay thai boxing competitions and cultural performances are also taking place across several venues.
Some devotees started Thursday early at around 7.30am with mellower activities at the Bangkok City Pillar Shrine, near the Grand Palace, where they took part in alms-giving and sought blessings by pouring scented water over Buddha statues to symbolise the washing away of misfortune accumulated over the previous year.