I’m sitting down to start this blog on the afternoon of Saturday, 18th April, and all being well I’ll be wrapping it up tomorrow – Sunday, April 19th.
We are finally seeing the back of the Songkran Festival which officially commenced on 13th April and officially runs for two additional days.
So things should have returned to normal last Thursday, but this is Thailand, and things don’t always go as you might reasonably expect.
For many Thais, Songkran is the biggest holiday of the year and thousands upon thousands flock back to their village homes from all corners of the country to celebrate with their families. The mass departure commenced on Thursday, 10th April and many people will not return to their places of work / living until this current weekend.
By far and away the largest exodus is from Bangkok where hundreds of extra buses are laid on to ensure all travellers are able to reach their homes on time.
Songkran is a time for throwing water, a time for drinking and a time for dying. I would guess that more alcohol is consumed in what these days has become a weeklong festival, than at any other time of year, and as a result of this, an unacceptable number will not live to see out the end of Thai New Year, BE 2558.
At the time of writing, during the six-day period, (from April 9th – 14th) there have been 2,915 road accidents, in which 3,070 people were injured and 306 people tragically lost their lives.
Every year, the death toll increases, and last year the comparable figures were 2754 accidents, 2926 injuries and 282 deaths.
As I have said, by far and away the highest contributory factor to these deaths is alcohol, and a vast majority (maybe 80%) of the accidents involve people on motorcycles.
Suring the Songkran festival and also during other major public holidays – particularly the ‘western’ New Year, Thai police set up road blocks all over Thailand in order to catch the drunks. However isolated your home, it is unlikely you will be able to drive more than a few kilometres without being caught up in a police roadblock.
Here in Pattaya, and the surrounding areas, there must be dozens of them.
You might think that with all these cops out to catch drunk drivers that most people would think twice before driving when over the limit.
Not a bit of it.
Well, let me give you a hint as to the answer by relating a little news story in the local paper that I read this morning.
The police and authorities in Naklua – a suburb to the north of Pattaya – told the local retailers along a stretch of the main Naklua Road to clear sidewalks and parking spaces outside their shops after complaints of encroachment on public property.
Some vendors had expanded their signage and had put tables containing their products out on the sidewalk, making it impossible for pedestrians to walk. They have even claimed the roadside curbs, by blocking them off with chairs and crates and keeping them free for paying customers to park there.
The business owners were told their actions were not only selfish, but illegal, and asked for cooperation in returning the streets and sidewalks to the public.
However, the retailers fought back and refused to cooperate, no doubt relying on the protection money they paid to the police to stop this interference to their businesses.
Now the military have stepped in and the soldiers have warned told them to obey the law and clear the public property before April 20.
I suspect that even if the military succeed in clearing the sidewalks, it will be only a matter of days before everything is back to normal as the beloved ‘boys in brown’ need their money-fixes in order to ‘protect and serve’.
As with so many things in Thailand, nothing will change until the police are free of corruption, get tough and enforce the law of the land.
The main purpose of the roadblocks at Songkran is simply an annual moneymaking drive to fill the empty police coffers so that they can meet their personal financial commitments.
The worst that will happen to you at one of these roadblocks is that you may have to spend the night in jail and pay a fine – which goes to the cops.
Until the cops put drunk drivers in jail for weeks, or even months, ban them for driving and put away anyone involved in fatal accidents for many years, nothing will ever change and the carnage will continue.
Also, as I have written on many occasions, the government and media only tend to focus on the road accident statistics during Songkran. This is misleading, as the toll on Thailand’s roads in any ‘normal’ week is not that much different. It is reckoned that Thailand averages up to 26,000 fatalities per year, of which 70-80% are motorcycle drivers or their passengers.
Meanwhile, back in Pattaya, Songkran goes on forever. Today, Saturday is the turn of Naklua to celebrate, and tomorrow, Sunday 19th – a full 6 days past the end of the official celebration date – Pattaya City will shut down for a massive drunken, water-throwing party. This is not to say that the tourists and locals haven’t already been manically throwing water at each other ever since last Thursday, 9th April. (See pics below).
The reason for extending this festival on the eastern seaboard is ostensibly to provide much-needed revenue for local retailers, but with gridlocked roads and even the banning of alcohol sales on Beach Road, it is difficult to see who actually benefits.
Maybe the guesthouses and hotels benefit from increased bookings, but from what I have seen, most of the extra numbers come from Thais, who come into town for the day, and they don’t spend much.
But what do I know?
The tropical storms that we were experiencing at the start of last week seem to have gone away and it’s getting hotter and hotter. Temperatures in Bangkok are forecast to be above 40 degrees over the weekend and here in Pattaya they will be in the mid 30’s, with high humidity – so not very pleasant and not great weather for writing.
My eldest daughter departed on schedule last Sunday evening, and Lek’s son, Neung is still staying with his aunt at Samut Songkhram. We don’t expect him to come back home until early next month.
Lek’s daughter, Song, is still with us, as you can see from the above photos, and we can’t keep her out of the pool. When she came here to live here a few weeks ago she couldn’t swim a stroke and now she can swim and dive like a fish, both under and on top of the water. Remarkable in such a short space of time – and nobody has been teaching her.
If you think that school summer holidays in the west go on forever, you should try the Thai school holiday system. The summer break is well over two months, and does go on forever.
What makes it even worse is that no one ever seems to know exactly when the schools will break up, or when they will re-open again, until a couple of days or so before it happens.
“When do Neung and Song go back to school?” I keep asking my wife.
“Don’t know yet.” She replies with a look that implies: “What a stupid question!”
Crazy, ain’t it?
Here’s few Songkran pics taken on beach Road on 18th April.