Songkran Editorial Gets It Mostly Wrong

Another Songkran editorial, not as strange as the Songkran commentary in the Bangkok Post, but still gets it mostly wrong.

Songkran: the good, the bad and the ugly discusses the problems with Songkran, but offers crappy solutions.

Songkran Good, Bad, and Ugly

Songkran Good, Bad, and Ugly

There is no listed author for the Songkran editorial, showing The Nation has no balls.

Can Thais learn to respect the spirit and meaning of the festival, or is it too late to save it from drunkenness, lewd behaviour, violence and road carnage?

Since the Thai Government is mainly responsible for promoting Songkran as it is today, thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the simple answer is NO.

The five-day Songkran festival begins today, with the public holiday extended into Monday and Tuesday as approved by the Cabinet. This is the time of year when people leave Bangkok and other big cities in droves for the provinces, to spend the holiday with their families or simply to go on vacation.

Extending Songkran makes it worse, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand has extended it even further, and it is all about the almighty baht.

Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year, and is normally celebrated from April 13 to 15. April 13 is National Elderly Day and April 14 is Family Day. Thus the festival is intended as a time of celebration for family and friends. But for many people, Songkran is just “the water festival” – a chance to throw water at anyone in sight, including complete strangers, and have fun drinking and revelling all day and night.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Songkran is the World’s Largest Outdoor Water Fight with the biggest area promoted – Khaosan Road.

It is also a time of year when the number of road accidents increases dramatically, with casualties throughout the country. In addition to the unacceptably high number of deaths and injuries on the roads, there are numerous cases of violence and lewd acts committed in public (mostly by male revellers) that are fuelled by alcohol. It’s a sad fact that, when in holiday mood, many people turn to alcoholic drinks and, as a result, make trouble or cause problems.

Since, this too, is promoted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand monthly with the Full Moon Parties, why should drunken debauchery be any different during Songkran?

The authorities have fought a losing battle over the years, attempting to reduce the number of road casualties during the Songkran period, as well as during the international New Year holiday – another time of year when there is an exodus from the big cities.

It is because the Thai Government Authorities remain clueless on how to prevent the accidents.  First step would be to get rid of the corrupt Thai Police.  But, having corrupt police is better than none, I guess.

In recent years state agencies like the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation and the National Institute for Emergency Medicine have collected data during the “seven dangerous days” of the Songkran holiday.

And, the Songkran and New Year Seven Dangerous Days data is completely bogus.

Between April 11 and 17 last year, 3,129 road accidents were recorded across the country, with 320 people killed and 3,320 injured, according to the Disaster Prevention Department. In the same period a year earlier, 3,215 road accidents were reported during the “seven dangerous days”, with 271 people killed and 3,476 injured.

Not recorded – reported by the Thai Government.  Numbers that are about 50% lower than that of an “average” day in Thailand.  Road deaths should be over 100 daily if reported properly.

The top three causes of road accidents – contributing to more than 60 per cent of the casualties reported – were drunk driving, speeding and abrupt lane changes, according to data collected in the last two years by the Interior Ministry’s Road Safety Directing Centre.

Since the Thai Police do not impound a drunk driver’s vehicle, instead giving out a small fine, it is understandable.  All the Thai Government would have to do to reduce accidents is to ban motorcycles during the Seven Dangerous Days of Songkran and provide free transportation for drunks.

Motorcycles and pickup trucks have been involved in about 90 per cent of the road accidents during the Songkran festival over the past two years, according to the agency. Motorbikes made up more than 78 per cent of the vehicles involved in road accidents last year, and more than 77 per cent in 2011, compared to about 11 per cent for pickup trucks last year and 13 per cent a year earlier.

Easy to understand.  Qualifying to ride a motorcycle is a simple test in a parking lot given to 15-year-olds.  They have no skills, disregard the rules of the road, don’t wear helmets, speed, drive drunk, drive on the wrong side of the road, and even ride on sidewalks.  Hell, even the Thai Police ride their motorcycles on the sidewalk in Bangkok.

Thai Police Sukhumvit Road Sidewalk

Thai Police Sukhumvit Road Sidewalk

If the Thai Police set a bad example, the local Thais will follow.  Get rid of the corrupt Thai Police.

In order to reduce the number of road accidents and casualties, those major causes should be taken into consideration when measures are initiated, such as a ban on the sale of alcoholic drinks at petrol stations. In addition to strict law enforcement on the part of police and officials, drivers should take precautions to prevent accidents, and should refrain from drinking alcohol.

Banning the sale of alcohol at petrol stations will do absolutely nothing to reduce the Songkran road carnage.  Strict law enforcement is a good idea, but who will do it?  Designated drivers would be a good idea, but I have never heard the term used in Thailand.

I was in the military many years and local clubs on and off base would offer free soft drinks (non-alcoholic) to the Designated Driver (DD) and usually they gave him or her some kind of ID bracelet or pin to wear.  I have been to places where you could call a local taxi during the holiday season and they would get you home for free. Plus, being a soldier, we take care of our own and Senior NCOs and Officers were always on call to get a soldier safely home from a bar.

The authorities involved should also focus on the types of vehicle mostly involved in road accidents – motorcycles and pickup trucks. This calls for mandatory wearing of crash helmets in the case of motorcyclists and pillion riders, and safety belts in the case of pickup drivers and their passengers. These laws exist, but are seldom enforced.

Motorcycles are the bulk of the violators – mostly male, of working age, drunk, speeding, and with no helmet.  The pick-up trucks are an easy fix.  Don’t allow anyone to ride in the back.

Songkran helps keep Thailand on the world’s tourism map. Many foreign visitors come to the Kingdom during this hottest month of year for the annual “water war” – when they have the chance to battle other people with water guns and get soaked in what should be a fun-filled festival. It’s a facet of Thai culture that many tourists enjoy.

Many expats leave the country or lock their doors to avoid the insanity of Songkran.  And, Songkran is not Thai and has nothing to do with culture.

But there are both beautiful and ugly sides to Songkran. While efforts to correct the ugly side have proved futile, we as citizens of this country should focus more on promoting the beautiful side – by preserving and respecting the good traditions of the Thai New Year. Only in that way can we experience the real meaning and true spirit of Songkran.

The beautiful part of Songkran is getting together with family, honoring the elders, and going to the temple to pay respect to the departed.

The problem is that the Tourism Authority of Thailand doesn’t promote that Songkran.

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Categories:   Khon Kaen Retirement, TAT, Thailand