Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Wed April 01 2015

Thailand Readies for Songkran

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | April 01, 2015

Thailand Readies for Songkran

PHOTO: Traditional Songkran is filled with serene rites of purification symbolized by water pouring. (Courtesy of Chatrium Hotels)

Songkran, the Thai New Year, is getting ready to erupt across the kingdom this April 6 to 19, with the exact dates depending on the part of Thailand you happen to be in. Throughout Thailand and some other parts of Southeast Asia, the celebration is highlighted by water splashing, so hide your expensive cameras and other delicate possessions lest they get dowsed as well. The splashing is never done with any kind of rancor. The intensity of the dowsing ranges from courteous sprinkling to thorough drenching from buckets and Super Soakers. That it happens in the hottest time of the year in Southeast Asia helps.

The tradition is hundreds of years old, with rites and meanings that vary from province to province. For Thais it all begins with a temple visit in the morning where they bathe statues of the Buddha and others. The purification is carried out on elders over 60 with a pouring of water on their hands. This is called the Rod Nam Dum Hua ritual. While purists suggest water mixed with Thai fragrances and eschew aggressive water throwing, water guns, buckets or hoses, the young tend to be more riotous. And it’s Thailand, so nobody is too harsh in their judgments.

From April 12 to 15, the Phra Buddha Sihing image will be paraded around Bangkok. The procession is one of many civic and religious celebrations throughout the country. If you’re visiting Thailand during Songkran you should choose a locale that corresponds to what you hope to get from the holiday. For raucous water splashing, stay close to areas where young people congregate. Most parts of Thailand will have places and neighborhoods for that. If you'd like to experience traditional Songkran, head to the temples early.

Ayutthaya is so rich in Thai tradition that it would be an ideal place to celebrate Songkran. The ruins of the old city are preserved in the UNESCO-cited Ayutthaya Historical Park. Once the capital of Thailand, it was a regional power for 417 years. It’s located about 65 miles from Bangkok. It’s a great area to explore by bicycle and there are many bicycle rental shops there.

 “Though a distinctly Thai celebration, Songkran has become popular with people from around the world who love coming to Thailand for this sometimes boisterous, often moving festival,” said Thawatchai Arunyik, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). “This is a special occasion when families travel long distances to spend time together, perform traditional merit making ceremonies at the temples and reconnect with loved ones.”

One thing is certain, it’s an intense travel period, as both domestic Thai travelers are on the move and incoming tourists arrive in droves for the festival. In 2013, for example, some 2.7 million domestic and foreign visitors spent an estimated $38 million on Songkran travel, about three quarters of those travelers being Thai.

Out of respect for Thailand, travel agents should inform their clients of the original intentions of the holiday. They should be aware of the tradition and dress appropriately. This is not a wet T shirt contest. Obviously at the bar scene in places like Phuket or Pattaya, the more riotous partying with super soakers would be alright, but around temples or in traditional areas, they should think of the water throwing as more akin in spirit to Christian baptismal than to college pranking.

In both Bangkok and Yangon (In Myanmar it’s called Thingyan), Chatrium Hotels & Residences is running “splash and dash” packages at its properties. The Chatrium Hotel Riverside Bangkok package, for instance, is priced from THB 2,382 ($75) per night and includes a Songkran Survival Kit (two sets of water guns and water proof bag per room per stay) from April 12 to 16; a hand-held selfie stick with recommended attractions; free soft drinks (for kids) throughout the hotel and more.

Other Songkran packages are also available at the Emporium Suites by Chatrium in downtown Bangkok’s from THB 4,467 ($138) through May 10; the Chatrium Residence Sathon Bangkok from THB 2,280 ($71) through May 31; and at the Maitria Hotel Sukhumvit 18 – A Chatrium Collection from THB 1,992 ($62) through May 10. The Burmese package at the Chatrium Hotel Royal Lake Yangon starts at $150 through April 22.

On Phuket, Sri Panwa, an all-villa luxury estate, is offering a five-night Songkran Package with a spa treatment, a five-course dinner, daily breakfast and private transfers to the Phuket Town Ceremony. The package is available for stays between April 11 and 16, 2015 with starting rates at THB 188,000 ($5,810).

Songkran is an ideal example of what the TAT hopes to promote in its current global marketing campaign “2015 Discover Thainess.” Under the campaign, TAT is encouraging tourists to experience the distinct characteristics of the Thai people in seven aspects: Thai Food, Thai Arts, Thai Way of Life, Thai Wellness, Thai Festivity, Thai Wisdom and Thai Fun. The TAT is hoping to revive its long-haul Western markets this year. The Chinese market and the intra-ASEAN market helped them hold their overall arrival numbers despite the slumps from Western travelers still reacting to the political calamities of 2014.

In 2014, Thailand welcomed 24.77 million international visitors. Of this number, 6.6 million arrivals were from ASEAN or 26.72 percent of the total market share. Also, there was a significant upturn in the last quarter of 2014, including a 12.23 percent growth in December. In 2015, TAT has set a total international arrivals target of 28 million visitors generating an estimated $41 billion from international visitors. Of that, 7.4 million visitors with $6.2 billion in revenue are projected to be from the ASEAN countries.

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