Songkran: The great splash
BANGKOK 5 April 2012: If we didn’t know that Songkran was a major money-spinner then we can thank the Kasikorn Bank research squad for pointing it out.
The bank’s latest forecast indicates Bangkok residents alone will spend Bt28,500 million during the short four-day holiday, 13 to 16 April.
Add nation-wide celebrations and the estimated spend could treble, a clear indication that this national festival is mega for both Thais and foreign travellers visiting the kingdom this month.
Bangkok residents lead the exodus from urban communities to rural Thailand’s popular destinations, many of them in the North and Northeast of the country. The bank’s research centre has come up with some interesting data after interviewing 616 typical Bangkok residents about their Songkran perceptions and plans.
For starters, it confirms the widely held belief that this festival is about visiting your roots, getting back to your hometowns for a few important days with the family.
Of all the survey respondents, 54.9% confirmed they were travelling up-country for the festival rather than staying in the capital and 33.8% of them said they were heading to their hometowns to spend time with family. Just 15.9% said they were travelling to other provincials and a mere 5.2% confirmed they were travelling overseas for a well-earned break.
Bangkok will be busy as ever. Research showed 45.1% of those interviewed said they would celebrate the big splash in the capital.
About 80% of all festival spending will circulate in the provinces and of that total, the big slice will go on partying followed by travel and accommodation, shopping and making merit.
Interestingly, making merit figures high on the agenda of activities with respondents identifying partying and making merit as the two top holiday pursuits.
Again it indicates that despite having fun and heaving buckets of cold water at everything that moves there is an equally strong commitment to traditional values such as visiting elders at home or making merit in temples.
The spend trend underscores that festivals on the scale of Songkran share vital characteristics. They help circulate cash across the country and they encourage visitors to go beyond the traditional tourist venues to explore emerging destinations. Songkran plays out nation-wide so you can celebrate the festival anywhere without losing the festival’s intrinsic charm.
While Bangkok and Chiang Mai are the most famous locales to celebrate it is good to know you can travel to a remote village in the far north where Songkran activities will match even those of the capital for jest and joy.
Villages in rural areas usually celebrate in a more traditional manner than what unfolds in popular tourist destinations. It is less of a bun fight and this allows the traditional elements to filter through for visitors to enjoy.
The places are less crowded. Hotels offer cheaper rates and usually there is no need to book in advance. Financially, touring further afield brings with it the rewards of lower costs in accommodation and dining.
You can weave the festival around a visit to a part of Thailand less explored, or tag it on to a sporting or lifestyle activity. Songkran certainly adds value with a spectacular splash at the start of your holiday, but being in a fresh destination that can open new horizons will add to the wealth of the travel memories when the holiday has long past.
Perhaps that is why the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s themed website on Songkran highlights the venues by region showing the festival highlights in destinations in the South, North, Northeast, central and eastern regions. Visit http://songkran.tourismthailand.org/
Obviously, the website is making a pitch to Thailand’s vast pool of repeat visitors, offering nation-wide opportunities to enjoy the year’s top festival and explore new destinations.
There are subtle differences in how each region celebrates Songkran depending on the region’s historical roots and variations in culture. One clear difference is that tourist destinations on the eastern seaboard celebrate Songkran a week later than the rest of the country with Bang Saen opening the festival week on the day Bangkok’s residents drop their plastic water pistols in the waste bin to resume their busy urban lifestyles.
Pattaya, the top tourist destination on the eastern seaboard, celebrates 16 to 21 April. Over the years, the splash side of the festival escalated. We now see Pattaya revellers recruiting the local fire brigade to add to their arsenal of weapons .
Powder, hydro pistols with quite a kick in them and ice-cold water by the bucket are the weapons of choice. Similar antics play out at all the resorts where tourists gather, whether in the capital, or at beach resorts.
Young travellers pack into Chiang Mai, many of them commuting north on trains and buses for the single purpose of letting their hair down for the four-day break. This is a festival timed perfectly to cool us off during the hottest month of the year when there is very little respite from the scorching summer heat other than to throw buckets of cold water over each other.
Celebrating Songkran in Bangkok is straightforward. You will hardly be able to step out of a hotel without a drenching. Usually the water splashing starts in the afternoon and continues to sunset when time-out is declared. In recent years, revellers at the city’s tourist districts, (Silom, Sukhumvit and Khao San Road) continue celebrate after dark.
If your mission is to stay dry then rise early and get on with your business before the youngsters wake up. As the morning progresses the kids will be replaced by older revellers roaming the streets on pick-up trucks loaded with old oil drums brimming over with water.
Khao San Road and Sanam Luang are the two locations in the older part of Bangkok that are popular with both Thai and foreign revellers. However, there are quiet havens that offer a respite close to Sanam Luang.
Wat Po is one such oasis of calm. Here, the traditional elements of Songkran Festival play out with simple and respectful ceremonies to sprinkle blessed water on the heads of elders, clean the temple cloisters and wash the Buddha images to mark the traditional Thai New Year.
In temple cloisters and homes throughout the provinces, Songkran’s meaning is illustrated by a respectful drop of water sprinkled on elders and the audacious fun of splashing everyone in the neighbourhood. No wonder, this festival captures our imagination. I am taking my own advice seriously. I bought a train ticket to Northeast Thailand, packed my water pistol and I am ready to duck and dodge the splash as soon as the train pulls into the station on the dawn of Songkran.