Pattaya’s government-sponsored Songkran celebrations have been canceled as a precaution against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but the week-long Thai New Year’s water party will be hard to stop.
Tabloids and online blogs splashed clickbait headlines across the internet March 5 shouting that “Songkran is Canceled!”, but come April 12 Pattaya could be just as wet as usual. Tourists wanting to come to splash and party probably won’t be deterred.
Songkran in Pattaya this year might look similar to what it did in April 2017 when Pattaya did not cancel the April 18 and 19 “wan lai” water-throwing parties in Naklua and Pattaya, but did do all it could to tone down the event – to little success.
Starting in February 2017, officials campaigned to preserve the traditions and cultural heritage of Songkran by encouraging tourists to wear Thai floral clothing, fully cover up, and play gently with water with no powder.
Two blocks north and south on sois 6 and 7-8, no one seemed to get the message, as both Thais and foreigners pounded each other with ice water and high-pressure water guns as they do every year.
Pattaya Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome said city hall is encouraging hotels and shopping malls to cancel their planned concerts and events and urging the public not to splash water, but in the same breath admitted that a blanket ban would be “unenforceable”.
However, this year’s limitations on Songkran will be even more severe due to the coronavirus scare. The April 19 “wan lai” on Beach Road has flourished in recent years due to city hall support for the water war. Police closed Beach Road and city hall staged a cultural parade early in the morning.
That won’t happen this year, but that doesn’t mean Beach Road won’t be as gridlocked with revelers as before. Official road closures are a relatively recent development. Less than 10 years ago, pickup trucks with Songkran celebrants armed with buckets of water crawled through the throngs of revelers with no one getting run over.
Police in recent years have cracked down hard on water trucks and have vowed to outright ban them this year, but driving still is not recommended in Pattaya on April 19.
On April 18 in Naklua, the city’s official Songkran celebration had been staged at Lan Po Public Park. That, too, will be canceled this year, but North and Naklua Roads likely will be jam-packed with water warriors that day.
Similar government-organized events have been canceled in Bang Saen, where the sand pagoda contest will not take place, and elsewhere in the country, except – so far – in Bangkok on Silom Road. Business leaders in backpacker district Khao San Road are meeting to discuss whether to allow a water party, which they canceled in April 2017.
Those coming to Pattaya for the Songkran religious events – and most foreign tourists don’t – still will have events to attend at temples. But anyone looking for foam parties and concerts at big shopping malls or nearby hotels will be out of luck.
Likewise, police may turn a keener eye to street vendors hawking water guns, but some department stores are still well-stocked.
Clearly, exaggerated headlines about Songkran being canceled in Pattaya are the last thing hoteliers and hospitality businesses want to see. But anyone who has lived in or visited Pattaya for years will know that the Songkran water party is impossible to stop.