Govt pulls through with Songkran fest
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Govt pulls through with Songkran fest

Peak celebrations for the Songkran holiday this year may have passed, but there are already a few refreshing signs lingering in the aftermath of the festivities.

The country's famous water-splashing festival -- arguably a highlight for visitors from around the world -- might not have had the most spectacular start.

The sight of tourists in early April, fully decked out with water guns and goggles, all thanks to the government's promise that Songkran festivities would span the entire month to enhance its uniqueness and appeal to revellers, was welcome.

However to their dismay, they found no activities were underway.

In response, the Tourism and Sports Ministry had no choice but to announce that while grandiose "Maha Songkran World Water Festival" activities were indeed planned for the entire month, official water-splashing festivities would only last from April 11–15, as usual.

The early confusion did not dampen the Songkran spirit once the festival took off, fortunately. Grand celebrations and activities, both traditional and contemporary, appealed to people of all ages in temples, shopping malls and tourist attractions in Bangkok and other major cities in the country.

Although more travellers relied on public transport during this year's extended holiday -- about 5.6 million of them, an increase of 1% from last year -- the system appears to have admirably withstood the surge. Few, if any, complaints have been reported about stranded passengers, substandard vehicles or misbehaviour by drivers.

During the so-called Seven Dangerous Days, between April 11 and 17, there were 2,044 traffic accidents, with 2,060 people injured -- a drop from last year. Yet fatalities from road accidents rose slightly.

The festivities themselves left behind a few uplifting impressions. This is especially true for those held in Bangkok's landmark areas. The water-splashing parties, whether at Silom, CentralWorld or Khao San Road, provided joyous respite from the extreme summer heat, while the authorities maintained a safe and orderly atmosphere.

The great Songkran experience could not have happened without thoughtful preparation and meticulous attention to detail. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) deserves credit for its hard work.

To ensure the safety of tourists, City Hall's district office sent at least 1,600 officials and volunteers, including firefighters and nurses, to popular Songkran venues. Additionally, CCTV cameras and emergency booths were also installed along Khao San Road before the festival kicked off.

The amount of foresight and planning is evident in the case of Silom Road. A prime Songkran location, the strip at the city centre draws hundreds of thousands of revellers each year to enjoy water-fight parties outdoors.

This year, many people wondered why a whole lane was left vacant, barricaded from revellers instead of being used to accommodate more partygoers.

The answer from Bang Rak district made a lot of sense. Indeed, it is the kind of preparation that should be implemented for future events where large crowds are expected. According to the district, the empty lane was meant as an emergency route, complemented by other clearly marked exits in several spots along Silom Road.

Similarly, revellers who preferred the popular tourist spot in the Old Town's Khao San Road at first complained about being forced to enter the strip only through the Wat Chana Songkram side.

But as it turned out, the one-way layout served the practical purpose of managing the heavy pedestrian traffic as more than 90,000 people crowded the short strip each day. Just like at the Silom site where safety precautions were made, six emergency exits were provided and clearly advertised beforehand for revellers at Khao San.

If there is anything negative about the otherwise riveting Songkran fest, it is the staggering amount of rubbish left behind by partygoers. Over the seven-day event, from April 10 to 17, more than 50,000 tonnes of waste were dropped -- an increase of almost 700 tonnes when compared to last year.

The streets were littered with water guns, powder buckets and plastic bottles, painting a dreary picture at the end of the festival.

With Songkran being recognised as a cultural heritage item by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and its popularity attested by its recent success, the festival is a valuable asset with the potential to grab the world's attention and connect it to Thailand's other social and economic values.

That is why it is necessary for the fun-filled festivities to be organised not only in compliance with international safety and decency standards but also with the goals of sustainability and conservation in mind.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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