Songkran is the traditional Thai New Years holiday that is celebrated each year from April 13-15. These days, it’s known mostly as a water-throwing festival, where for 3 days (or longer in some parts of the country) anybody out in public during daylight hours is open target for squirt guns and buckets of water.
“Songkran” comes from the Sanskrit word saṃkrānti, meaning “astrological passage”. It has an Indian origin, but is celebrated as a regional holiday in Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and part of Southern China. The water-splashing has it’s roots in pouring water over the hands of elders as a sign of respect. But the middle of April is the hottest time of the year in Southeast Asia, so it’s no wonder someone along the line decided splashing water on each other would be a good way to celebrate the holiday.
Along with the water, there’s the baby powder that some like to rub all over others. Then there’s those who think throwing ice-cold water is hilariously funny. The big thing to do is fill up the back of your pickup truck with a half dozen friends and a tub of water and wage battle with other trucks and those throwing water from the roadside…
…until this year. The Thai Government announced 11 new rules for Songkran 2013. The rules are mostly intended to improve safety over the holiday, which is yearly one of the most intense periods for road fatalities and drunk-driving accidents. Some of the rules are just common sense and already laws enforceable year-round. Other rules are more debatable, with many Thai people criticizing the government for trying to take away all their fun. In any case, the 11 rules for Songkran 2013 (and their penalties):
1. Don’t buy or sell anything on the sidewalk. (penalty if broken: jail & fine)
2. Don’t play a stereo. (penalty if broken: jail & fine)
3. Don’t carry a tank of water in a pick-up and splash water out onto the street. (those guilty will be responsible for any accidents)
4. Don’t sit or stand in the back of a pick-up to play water. (no penalty mentioned???)
5. No high-pressure water guns. (maximum 2 years in jail, 4000 baht fine, or both)
6. Don’t throw ice. (or you’ll get arrested)
7. Don’t grope women. (You’ll get arrested and face a penalty without regard to the victims status as a minor or adult)
8. Don’t sell alcohol in public areas for playing water. (If you sell to people who a drunk or under the age of 20 the penalty is maximum 1 year in jail or 20,000 baht.)
9. Drivers and passengers alike can not drink alcohol in a motor vehicle. (Maximum penalty of 6 months in jail, 10,000 baht fine, or both.)
10. Don’t play with baby powder. (If caught you only get a warning. But those selling baby powder can be fined 2000 baht. Hmm…how is 7-Eleven going to pay all the fines.)
11. Don’t drive drunk. (If caught, the maximum penalty is 1 year in jail, between 5000-20,000 baht fine, or both. Plus your driver’s license will be either suspended for a minimum of 6 months or revoked.)
Driving drunk and molesting women should already be against the law. So those rules seem redundant. While the rule about not allowing any people riding in the back of pick-ups to splash water seems to be so unpopular as to be impossible to enforce. Will Songkran 2013 be much less fun than in years past? Will there be a reduction in road accidents? Will any of these 11 rules get enforced properly? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Update: Songkran 2013 was almost exactly the same as in years past. There were still lots of people riding around in the back of pickup trucks throwing water at each other. Some people were playing with talcum powder as before. Sidewalk vendors took up almost every inch of available pavement around Chiang Mai city moat. I’m not sure why they even bothered to produce this list of rules in the first place.