Lifestyle & Belief

Thailand: a new year, another week of jubilation and death


Splashing water during Songkran, a water festival marking the country's new year in Thailand's southern province of Narathiwat on April 13, 2012.



As I've written before (In Defense of Thailand's Most Unruly Holiday), I'm a huge fan of Songkran, a splendidly weird annual Thai festival that involves a lot of chucking water in strangers' faces.

But the holiday, which just ended in Thailand, also involves a lot of serious boozing and traffic fatalities.

Figures compiled last year for my piece on the Songkran death-by-drunk driving phenomenon (Thailand's Week of Joy and Death) indicate that from 2000 to 2010, about 5,050 people died and 187,300 were injured during the holiday. It's a staggering figure.

So it's with sadness, but neither shock nor surprise, that the Thai media recounts this year's death toll so far: 253 people killed in road accidents the last five days, according to the Bangkok Post. According to the newspaper, the holiday saw an increase in booze-related accidents of more than 17 percent compared to last year.

The Thai government in recent years has greeted Songkran with a blitz of anti-drunk driving public-service announcements. Last week, you couldn't turn on the radio in Thailand without hearing the phrase "Mao Mai Kap" (loose translation "Drunk? Don't Drive"). TV spots depict drunk drivers as sodden buffoons and warn of heavy penalties.

This year, the government even promised cash prizes and awards to provinces that could pull off a zero-fatality Songkran.

But there seems to be no end in sight to the drunk driving deaths that tinge an otherwise lovable holiday with sadness.