Thailand on Thursday officially began celebrating Songkran, or Thai New Year, with locals and foreigners alike flocking to major sites and splashing water on each other nationwide after a three-year suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) projects that up to 18.53 billion baht — from Thai and foreign tourists — will be circulated during the three-day festival, while the Kasikorn Research Centre estimates that Thai tourists alone could spend up to 23 billion baht.
In Chiang Mai, one of the country's top destinations for Songkran celebration, key sites such as Khu Muang and Tha Phae Gate were seen filled with tourists despite the searing heat and haze.
The celebration in this northern province began at 2pm with a traditional Songkran procession.
For a group of about 1,000 Chinese tourists who arrived in Chiang Mai and attended a formal reception organised on Wednesday night by the provincial TAT office, the festival began upon their arrival.
The tourists travelled by car and entered Thailand through Chiang Rai, Loei, Nong Khai and Nan, and at least 120,000 more are expected to follow throughout the Songkran holiday and help generate more than 1.1 billion baht in tourism-related income, Chiang Mai’s TAT office said.
In Bangkok, about 50,000 tourists turned up on Khao San Road, a Songkran celebration site in the capital that's closed to traffic, according to Sanga Ruengwattanakul, president of the Khao San Road Businesses Association.
Hundreds of municipal officials and police officers were deployed to the area to ensure security, according to the Chana Songkhram police station.
Being scantly-dressed, powder-smearing and having high-pressure water guns, weapons and alcoholic beverages are prohibited at this celebration spot, just like in any other, according to an informed source.
Silom Road wasn't designed as a Songkran celebration site in Bangkok, but since water play is not prohibited on the road, it was seen packed with Thais and foreigners flocking to celebrate the water festival on Thursday.
In Phuket, the unofficial celebration of Songkran started on Wednesday night on Soi Bang La in Patong area of Kathu district, one of the province’s best known tourist districts.
Tourists, mostly westerners, were seen enjoying a night out, spraying water at one another with water guns.
The Ratsada and Ao Chalong piers, Phuket’s two main piers, were on Thursday crowded with Thai and foreign tourists from the early morning.
Most of these tourists were there for a speedboat service to travel on to several popular islands in the province and the neighbouring provinces such as Phi Phi island in Krabi, said Thiwat Sidokbuap, a deputy mayor of Phuket’s municipality.
From 5am on Thursday, two main ferry piers in Surat Thani were already crowded with tourists waiting to board a ferry mostly to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, the southern province’s best known islands.
Most of the cars seen at these piers carried a licence plate registered in Bangkok.
All flights and trains from Bangkok to Surat Thani are fully booked during the Songkran period, while hotels and resorts on the provinces’ three main islands were about 80% full on average, said Wichawut Jinto, provincial governor, adding that more than 1.2 billion baht in tourism-related income is expected in the province during this festival.
Songkran celebrations in Hat Yai district of Songkhla, which is an important business centre in the lower south, run day and night, particularly on Rat Uthit and Sai Sanehanuson Roads. Many shops were on Thursday seen crowded also with shoppers from Malaysia and Singapore.
In Betong border district of Yala, Thai, Malaysian and Singaporean tourists turned up around the district’s iconic clock tower for not only water play but also traditional Songkran activities.
In the northeastern province of Khon Kaen, tourists filled a road called Khao Nieo (sticky rice) celebrating the water-splashing festival despite the searing heat.
Thirasak Thikhayupha, mayor of Khon Kaen municipality, said people there were eager to celebrate the festival after the water play was prohibited from the celebration in the past three years.
According to a survey conducted by Kasikorn Research Centre, most (88.9%) of Bangkok residents who already made their decisions to travel to other provinces during the festival, said they would opt for coastal destinations in such as Pattaya City in Chon Buri, Hua Hin in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Koh Chang island in Trat, Rayong, Phuket and Surat Thani. Each of these Thai travellers is expected to spend about 5,250 baht per trip.
Huge crowds celebrate Songkran on Khao Nieo Road in Khon Kaen province on Thursday evening. (Photo: Chakrapan Natanri)