Bangkok revels in first post-pandemic Songkran festival

City governor Chadchart Sittipunt urged citizens to wear colourful shirts and respect traditional Songkran activities
Last Updated 14 April 2023, 05:27 IST

Water pistols, hose pipes and smiles were in abundance on the streets of Bangkok Thursday, as the city celebrated the Thai new year festival Songkran after a three-year pandemic-related hiatus.

While the three-day celebrations include paying respect to elders and sprinkling water over Buddha statues, the festival is also a chance for younger Thais and foreigners to indulge in a little booze-fuelled revelry.

The ever-chaotic megalopolis saw a huge water fight take place at close to 200 official sites, with smaller bouts of liquid-based clashes breaking out in neighbourhoods across the city, as residents welcomed a return to normality after years of tough Covid measures.

Thai reveller Phoranee Sukjee, 29, said she was hopeful the revival of the festival would boost the country's economy, which was battered by the pandemic.

"Though some places in Bangkok are still quiet, things would definitely get better," she said.

City governor Chadchart Sittipunt urged citizens to wear colourful shirts and respect traditional Songkran activities in an alcohol-free family-friendly environment.

By midday, however, the floral shirts on backpacker hotspot Khao San Road were already drenched, the beers cracked, and the music blasting as Thais and foreigners soaked each other with brightly coloured water guns.

"It's already blown out our expectations, it's so much fun," said drenched Californian Parker Core, 24, who booked a last-minute trip from Malaysia.

"We have nothing like it in America," he said.

Further along the road -- lined with tubs offering refills -- Julia Grinina laughed as her nine and eight-year-old children tore through the crowds, each armed with water guns.

"We came here to get sprayed, we knew what we were coming for," said the 34-year-old from Kazakhstan, who now lives in Pattaya.

At either end of the street stalls selling water pistols, protective plastic phone covers, and 20-baht (60 US cents) water refills were doing a brisk trade, with the vendors and their children soaking merry customers.

"I'm glad because the authorities have allowed us to splash water like we used to," said orange vendor Wattana Kunpang.

"They allowed us to splash water, drink, eat, and they also relaxed the regulations so I think foreign tourists would enjoy this," the 46-year-old added.

Many Thais use the long holiday weekend to travel home to see friends and family, with road accidents peaking during the period.

At least 63 people were killed and hundreds injured in crashes on Wednesday, local media reported, with authorities urging people to drive safely during the holiday and promising to levy harsh penalties on those driving while intoxicated.

Across the border in neighbouring Myanmar -- where the Buddhist festival is known as Thingyan -- the formerly boisterous celebrations were muted, with a few hundred celebrating in parks in the commercial capital Yangon.

Since the 2021 coup, many have chosen not to celebrate the festival, with last year's Thingyan marked by a heavy security presence on the streets.

This year's festival was also overshadowed by a junta air strike on a village in Myanmar's central Sagaing region earlier in the week, which reportedly killed more than 100 people, including young children.

(Published 13 April 2023, 14:10 IST)

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