Songkran festival to be low-key due to mourning period

Thailand’s Songkran festival usually features wild watergun fights, scantily clad tourists and powder-pasted faces. But this year, orders have gone out that there should be none of these.
Thailand’s Songkran festival usually features wild watergun fights, scantily clad tourists and powder-pasted faces. But this year, orders have gone out that there should be none of these. PHOTO: THE NATION/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Bangkok will see a less rowdy Songkran festival this year in deference to the year-long mourning period for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) has issued major don'ts for the Thai New Year celebrations next week: no powder, no water guns, no sexy dress and no alcohol.

This means the celebrations in the backpacker district of Khao San Road this year will not feature the usual wild watergun fights, scantily clad tourists and powder-pasted faces.

"This year's Songkran will be on the conservative side, in line with the original tradition. We will not allow dancing, loud music playing or stage performances of any kind in public places," said Mr Supakrit Boonkhan, district chief for Phra Nakorn, which has jurisdiction over Khao San.

Business operators are instead advised to celebrate the three-day festival from April 13 to 15 in the traditional way, by making offerings at temples, pouring water on Buddha images and splashing water, a ritual believed to wash away bad luck.

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Colourful shirts traditionally worn during the season are already being sold side by side with more sombre clothes that have been the preferred fashion since King Bhumibol's death in October last year.

"We are sad that our king died, but this is our culture," said Ms Aanicha Jirawangso, who manages the Pilot Purely Tour in Khao San. She is worried that BMA's policy will further slow down trade in the area.

"We have few tourists this year, maybe because people know about the king's death," she said. "Businesses need to make money. Songkran is peak season. If there're no tourists, there's no money."

Songkran attracts about half a million tourists a year and is Thailand's biggest festival.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2017, with the headline 'Songkran festival to be low-key due to mourning period'. Print Edition | Subscribe