Songkran moving out of Hong Kong’s ‘Little Thailand’
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Songkran moving out of Hong Kong’s ‘Little Thailand’

Water-splashing shifts to basketball court in hope of preventing repeat of last year's bad behaviour

A youngster makes a splash in Lai Chi Kok, Hong Kong. (Photo: South China Morning Post)
A youngster makes a splash in Lai Chi Kok, Hong Kong. (Photo: South China Morning Post)

HONG KONG: The water-splashing portion of Thailand's Songkran festival in Hong Kong's Kowloon City will be moved from its traditional site to a basketball court next week for the first time, following the arrest last year of three men for soaking police officers and reporters at the event.

Those who wanted to take part next Saturday and Sunday would also have to sign up beforehand and there would be limits on the number of participants, Kowloon City district officer Alice Choi Man-kwan said.

The water-splashing for Songkran, the Thai new year, would be held at Carpenter Road Park basketball courts instead of South Wall Road, Choi said on Saturday, in a move that upset some restaurant owners at the old venue.

Thailand's top envoy in the city, Chaturont Chaiyakam, said some people had wanted to celebrate the festival in the old way but he appealed for understanding over the "cultural difference".

Last year, three men were charged with assault after they allegedly soaked officers and reporters with water guns during the event.

Choi said authorities felt "relatively concerned" at the situation last year and that it was "not ideal".

"Based on these concerns, we decided, after considering everything, to move the event to the basketball court this year if we want everyone to enjoy the affair in a carefree manner," she said after a launch event for the Kowloon City Songkran festival.

Choi said the new venue would provide a larger space and make it safer for residents to enjoy splashing water.

Water is splashed at new year to wash away sins and bad luck. In Thailand, the practice has evolved into mass water fights that leave participants drenched.

The Songkran festival has been a mainstay for the city's Thai community in Kowloon City, also known as "Little Thailand", with the highlight being a water fight along a stretch of South Wall Road.

Choi said eight water-splashing sessions would be open to the public on April 13 and 14, with a DJ also performing.

The original South Wall Road location will be used for a pop-up market, with Choi urging residents not to splash each other at the site.

"There will be quite a large number of people gathering at South Wall Road, where there will be a market," she said.

"If you were walking on the street there, would every person hope to suddenly be splashed with water without their knowledge?"

She said officials would review the arrangement after this year's event and make improvements as needed.

Thai consul general Chaturont, who also attended the launch event, appealed for understanding from his compatriots over the changes, noting that he has heard "some people" state they wanted to celebrate the festival in the old method.

"I think Thai people, we have to be mindful of the cultural difference. In Thailand, sometimes, people also are not happy when they are splashed," he said.

"I think we fully understand. I have tried to explain to the people that this is Hong Kong and we have to respect other people also."

Some restaurant operators on South Wall Road said they were upset by the move, which would hit their business hard.

Ms Wong, owner of Thai Fat Restaurant, said the authorities did not consider the adverse effects of the switch.

"It's a great pity that people can't celebrate Thai new year on our street. I don't understand why there is such a move this year," she said.

"We need the celebration of the Songkran festival to boost our business. Have the authorities thought about our interests?"

She said her restaurant had a full house for the whole day last year, but this time there was likely to be a drastic drop in business.

"In the past, people flocked to this street to celebrate the festival. This year, I am afraid we will have poor business," she said.

Jem, owner of Phoowong Thai Food restaurant, also expressed concern.

"Last year, the street was full of hustle and bustle and I did very good business. But this year? Things are beyond my control," she said.

The three men arrested at last year's event have pleaded not guilty to shooting water guns at police officers and reporters. A pre-trial hearing will be held on April 18.

The D2 Place shopping centre in Lai Chi Kok is also eyeing business opportunities surrounding the festival by holding water fights to attract customers in the run-up to Songkran, which falls on April 13 every year.

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