Travel Tips - Cambodia - Thailand - BEWARE OF SONGKRAN
During Songkran people roam the streets with containers of water or water guns and powder, or post themselves at the side of roads with a garden hose and drench each other and passersby. Water from the canals is often used. The canals are Bangkok's sewers. The powder thrown combined with the water creates a chalk like film that can cause damage to your belongings. - CAMBODIA'S KHMER NEW YEAR
Sunday, April 06, 2014
BEWARE OF THAILAND'S SONGKRAN HOLIDAY
One person's fun can lead to another person's pain or even death. Disrespectful behavior towards tourists during Thailand's Songkran holiday is rampant. Basically its TOURIST BEWARE particularly this year with the anti government conflict and a threat of civil war.
It's that time of the year again when the Songkran holiday is celebrated. It's the Thai's New Year celebration, Rodnam Damhua, a traditional way to celebrate with elders. Most Thai people go back to their hometowns to meet their elders. This year the celebrations will take place from April 13 through 17 but many celebrate it much longer.
The Khmer New Year is also observed during this time. Though it is a three day holiday many of the Thai and Khmer populace take a week off to celebrate. Some business owner's claim that this is the only time of the year that they close their business therefore they take the extra time to visit their families and enjoy some rest and relaxation.
Drunk driving is a problem causing many accidents and deaths during this period. The three day holiday is celebrated by many for as much as a week to 10 days depending on the individual's independence. One salaried employee started his holiday on a Monday and will return the following week.
Some enthusiastic celebrants including adolescent minded foreigners begin their throwing water and shooting high powered water guns prior to and after the designated dates of the festivity. April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 100°F or 40°C on some days).
People celebrating Songkran may also go to a Wat (Buddhist monastery) to pray and give food to monks. They may also cleanse Buddha images from household shrines as well as Buddha images at monasteries by gently pouring water mixed with a Thai fragrance over them. It is believed that doing this will bring good luck and prosperity for the New Year.
In many cities, such as Chiang Mai, the Buddha images from all of the city's important monasteries are paraded through the streets so that people can toss water at them, ritually 'bathing' the images, as they pass by on ornately decorated floats. In northern Thailand, people may carry handfuls of sand to their neighborhood monastery in order to recompense the dirt that they have carried away on their feet during the rest of the year. The sand is then sculpted into stupa-shaped piles and decorated with colorful flags.
Some people make New Year resolutions - to refrain from bad behavior, or to do good things. Songkran is a time for cleaning and renewal. Besides washing household Buddha images, many Thais also take this opportunity to give their home a thorough cleaning. The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by gently pouring a small amount of lustral water on other people’s hands or over a shoulder as a sign of respect.
But there's more to the celebrations that occurs which can lead to trouble, danger, illness or could cost you your life.
During Songkran people roam the streets with containers of water or water guns and powder, or post themselves at the side of roads with a garden hose and drench each other and passersby. In recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival to lessen the many alcohol-related road accidents as well as injuries attributed to extreme behavior such as water being thrown in the faces of traveling motorcyclists.
Water from the canals is often used. The canals are Bangkok's sewers. Excrement from the homes, hotels and businesses in the area flow into the canals which in turn can be thrown or squirted at you. Boats use the canals adding gas and oil to the mix. Your option to avoid having your clothes ruined and being showered with filthy water is to avoid Thailand during this time or confine yourself to your hotel.
During Songkran excessive drinking takes place in celebrating the holiday that results in many drunk-driving accidents on the road. The powder thrown combined with the water creates a chalk like film that can cause damage to your clothes. If you choose to venture out of your hotel during Songkran it is advisable not to wear any jewelry and particularly a watch. It is also wise NOT GO outside with a digital or video camera. Tourists and shopping areas near canals include, Siam Square and the World Trade Center.
Health awareness regarding the dangers of being exposed to filthy water doesn't seem to be recognized in Thailand. If you travel on the canal boats you will often see children swimming in the canal.
The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by gently pouring a small amount of water on other people's hands or over a shoulder as a sign of respect. The water originally was meant as a symbol of washing all of the bad away and was sometimes filled with fragrant herbs. The powder represented the use of plaster which is very common having originated in the plaster used by monks to mark blessings.
Among young people and immature foreign tourists the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 100°F or 40°C on some days). This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in motor vehicles.
Currently, the emphasis is on fun and water-throwing rather than on the festival's spiritual and religious aspects, which sometimes prompts complaints from traditionalists. In recent years there have been calls to moderate the festival to lessen the many alcohol-related road accidents as well as injuries attributed to extreme behavior such as water being thrown in the faces of traveling motorcyclists.
We had a dangerous experience in Phuket several years ago. While driving a rented motorbike down a steep hill around a curve a crowd of youths threw buckets of water on us. We hit a water slick and skidded off the road over an embankment. Our legs and arms were skinned up and a trip to the hospital was required. Surprisingly the hospital treated us for free.
Our clothes were destroyed from excessive rips and tears. Clothing worn after the injuries could not touch the abrasions in order for them to heal properly. Taking a shower or bath was an exercise in discipline to keep the water off of the wounds
The healing process took over a month. The holiday was ruined. We took our wounds back to our country. When we related the story to Thai's they found the incident humorous. Go figure......
The abusive use of water and powder was not always the main activity of this festival. Some people make New Year resolutions - to refrain from bad behavior, or to do good things. Songkran is a time for cleaning and renewal. Besides washing household Buddha images, many Thais also take this opportunity to give their home a thorough cleaning. What the holiday represented then does not reflect what largely happens now.
To avoid this abusive behavior we recommend for those concerned to avoid Thailand. In many instances due to a considerable amount of Thais traveling to their provinces they return to work beyond the time frame set for the holiday. We experienced this with computer repair employees taking an extra two days to return to work. Road and rail transport is full and that factors into some of the delays. If you plan to travel during this time reserve your bookings early.
Songkran is also celebrated in Laos (called pi mai lao), Cambodia (called Chaul Chnam Thmey, Cambodian New Year), Myanmar (called Thingyan), and by the Dai people in Yunnan, China. The same day is celebrated in South Asian calendars as well: the Assamese (called Rongali Bihu), Bengali (called Pohela Boishakh), Oriya (called Maha Visuba Sangkranti), Malayali, Punjabi, Sinhalese, and Tamil New Years fall on the same dates, based on the astrological event of the sun beginning its northward journey. It occurs at the same time as that given by Bede for festivals of Eostre—and Easter weekend occasionally coincides with Songkran (most recently 1979, 1990, and 2001, but not again until 2085).
CAMBODIAN (KHMER) NEW YEAR
Cambodia's Khmer New Year is also celebrated during this period. During this time banks are closed as well as many restaurants, business and supermarkets. It is wise to stock up on your needs prior to the holiday for when it begins Phnom Penh resembles a ghost town like city.
Unlike Thailand there is no abuse of throwing water and powder at foreigners although it is practiced in the provinces and villages. When visiting Phnom Penh a good experience is visiting the Royal Palace. In Siem Reap Angkor Wat remains the jewel in Cambodia's tourist crown.
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