DESPITE punishing summer heat and a severe drought, the famous Songkran Festival still works its magic to lure throngs of visitors.
Tourist Police have estimated that more than 200,000 Chinese will be in Thailand over a seven-day period, while the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT)’s Chiang Mai Office forecast that 50,000 Chinese visitors would stay in the province. Chinese and other foreign visitors are expected to spend at least Bt1 billion during Songkran.
Pol Maj-General Surachet Hakphan, the Tourist Police chief, said yesterday more than 30,000 Chinese tourists would travel here every day from April 11-17. He has ordered tourist police at all major destinations across the country to closely monitor popular venues.
Major provinces and cities receiving extra attention are Chiang Mai, Phuket, Hat Yai, Udon Thani, Koh Samui and Pattaya. But he said there had not been any reports of foreign-born criminal plots threatening Thailand during the holiday.
TAT Chiang Mai office director Wisut Buachum said the northern province received 9 million visitors last year, 30 per cent of whom were foreigners, generating income of Bt80 billion. This year the figure is expected to rise by 10 per cent as Chiang Mai’s 720-year anniversary celebrations commence.
Wisut said April 13-15 would see at least 180,000 visitors in Chiang Mai, generating some Bt1 billion in income, including 50,000 Chinese who can visit Chiang Mai more easily via flights and cross-border road travel than European tourists.
Among attractions popular with Chinese tourists are Wat Doi Suthep and other old temples, elephant camps, Inthanon National Park, handicraft centres such as Bo Sang and Ban Thawai, and Chiang Mai Walking Street.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday led Cabinet ministers and officials at Government House to offer alms to 59 monks on the holiday occasion. He also allowed senior officials and members of the media to perform a water ritual – a younger person pouring water onto an older person’s hands – to seek a Songkran blessing.
Prayut also offered Bt10,000 of his own money as a prize for the person best dressed in Thai traditional clothing, with Bt5,000 and Bt3,000 for second and third prizes, eliciting cheers from the attending crowd. After giving money to the winners, he then gave Bt2,000 to all other people in the contest.
Culture Minister Weera Rojpojanarat said a ministry survey of 4,044 respondents nationwide found that the top five activities during Songkran were: offering alms (66 per cent); performing water rituals with older members of the family (65 per cent); performing water rituals with Buddha images (63 per cent); playing water splashing (60 per cent); and attending parties with families and friends (53.5 per cent).
Respondents also urged people to respect Songkran traditions by refraining from violently splashing water, wearing revealing clothing, or consuming alcohol at temples and other public places, Weera said.
He added that respondents wanted the Culture Ministry to organise traditional shows (48 per cent); designate temples as centres of Songkran activities (45 per cent); provide accurate information about water rituals (45 per cent); host events featuring traditional clothing contests (38 per cent); arrange Songkran exhibitions (38 per cent); and host Asean Songkran events (34 per cent).