Traditional Songkran celebrations in Isan - North East Thailand
Bangkok workers return to their home villages in Isan, North East Thailand, to celebrate the Songkran water festival with their families. Road traffic deaths, fuelled by alcohol, during the holiday approach 300.
Tourists visiting Thailand view the Songkran festival as a debauchary of water fights, alcohol consumption and dancing on the streets of Bangkok or Phuket. Songkran is an ancient and Buddhist water festival that marks the new year in Thailand. It is probably the most important holiday of the year when many city workers return to their rural family villages in Isan for a week or so to celebrate and participate in the traditional ceremony.
On each of the main days of the holiday, villagers pray and sprinkle the Buddha at the local temple with scented and powdered water. Children and young people crouch beneath the Buddha to collect the "lucky water" that drips over the icons and then annoint their family and friends with the collected fluid.
Women parade through the streets at the start of the festival carrying bushes of money - papa - which they have collected from their families or from their work places. Papa is presented to the monks at the local temple to assist with maintenance and repair of this important focal point for the community.
On the final day of the celebration the villagers participate in the flower and scented water parade, led by local monks from the temple. Yellow flowers and scented water are carried through the streets, monks are showered with water, faces are powdered white and the Buddha is honoured with the flowers and water at the finale of the celebration. Again, children struggle to sit under the Buddha, attempting to capture the lucky water which seeps through.
Drinking and feasting with family and friends is obviously an important feature of the Songkran holiday. Alcohol most certainly fuels the depressing traffic accident death toll over the holiday period. In 2011 the Thai government department responsible for monitoring road accidents said that nearly 300 people were killed in these incidents during the Songkran week, with almost 3500 injured.