Police continue to push public safety measures but traffic still poses challenge.
As holidaymakers and locals heading home started to reach their destinations nationwide yesterday for the traditional Thai New Year celebrations this weekend, various sites confirmed their readiness to host impressive events and also implement public safety measures.
At Bangkok’s Khao San Road Thai actors Chatchawal Phetchwisit, Wichan Meesom and Kosawis Piyasakulkaew and singer Treechada “Ice R-siam” Kimtin to promote safe Songkran celebrations. They urged people to refrain from wearing too-revealing clothes (or risk a 5,000 baht fine), sexual harassment/molestation (up to 10 years in jail and up to 200,000 baht fine), or using high-pressure water guns (sellers face up to six months in jail and up to 50,000 baht fine).
Khao San Road, which is famous for water wars every year, is expected to draw 30,000 visitors a day from today until Sunday. Some 960 police would guard the road and nearby areas during this period.
The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) kicked off the Songkran Festival with a beautiful procession carrying the famous Phra Buddha Sihing image from the National Museum to a temporary shrine in Lumpini Park where it will remain until Sunday. The procession through the streets of old Bangkok was flagged off by BMA Governor Pol General Aswin Kwanmuang.
The BMA will also host an alms-offering rite at 7am today for 166 Buddhist monks before hosting Songkran-related activities at the park, including a Songkran beauty queen contest.
Down South, Thais and Malaysian and Singaporean visitors started Songkran water wars at the site for “Hatyai Midnight Songkran” on Sanehanusorn Road in Songkhla, many hours ahead of the event launch, while security officers were there to guard revellers.
Revellers got an early start in Bangla Road, Phuket yesterday afternoon as the water guns were out early with people firing off the first salvos. Foam started pouring from the roofs of some of the popular clubs as the night descended into a wet, slippery mess – all good fun.
Chiang Mai Governor Pawin Chamniprasert led officials and public members in a morning alms-offering rite for 60 Buddhist monks at the Three Kings Monument Plaza in Muang district. It marked the 722nd anniversary of the establishment of Nophaburi Sri Nakhon Ping Chiang Mai as the capital city of the Lanna Kingdom. The rite also launched Songkran celebrations.
Various sites were ready for the celebrations, including the Tha Pae Gate plaza, the Wat Lok Molee for Lanna-style merit-making activities and the “Khu Muang” old city moat famous for its water wars. The latter site also saw eight emergency tents set up and a ban on the sale of alcohol.
Meanwhile, travellers from Bangkok heading upcountry for the five-day Songkran holidays were warned to prepare for severe traffic jams on highways later last night. Earlier in the day yesterday, heavy traffic congestion were already reported at various parts of the Northeast-bound Mitraparp Highway and the North-bound Asia Highway. By yesterday afternoon, Highway No 304 witnessed a 40km-long traffic jam between Nakhon Ratchasima’s Wang Nam Khieow district and Prachin Buri’s Na Dee district. Cars and vehicles were stuck bumper to bumper and could only move at a crawl pace.
Besides the vehicles of holidaymakers, other factors contributing to the traffic jams were some trucks plying and violating the ban on them running from April 11-17 as well as some ongoing road construction, a police source said.
On the North-bound road, vehicles caused some congestion on Highway No 11 (Phitsanulok-Uttaradit) while the Indochin intersection in Phitsanulok, which had some ongoing construction, allowed more motorists to still drive using alternative routes to avoid jams.
Chiang Mai’s current poor air quality and smoke haze is raising concerns on the potential impact on tourism as Thailand’s Songkran water festival approaches.
Smog has been a yearly occurrence in Northern Thailand, but this year the situation appears to be the worst with Chiang Mai topping the air pollution ranking and the media tracking daily results.
But La-iad Bungsrithong, president of the Thai Hotels Association (Northern Chapter), says there appears to be a short-term decline in the market.
However, she attributes the current performance to March being part of the traditional low season rather than the pollution, adding that there has been no booking cancellation from leisure or MICE guests.
The Songkran festival typically sees leisure demand for Chiang Mai from South-east Asia, Europe, China and Thailand. According to La-iad, room occupancy in April last year was 65 per cent, reaching 85 per cent during the Songkran period (April 12-14).
She expects similar figures for Songkran this year but also greater competition arising from new hotels around Chiang Mai and Airbnb.
Similarly, a spokesperson of Standard tour, Somchai Sandnee, said the company’s business has not been affected by the air pollution. Chinese tourists are less perturbed by smog issues than political turmoil and recent events such as the boat accident in Phuket last year, Somchai pointed out.
Chotechuang Soorangura, associate managing director of NS Travel & Tours, also says he doesn’t see the smog having an impact on sales.
“The smog is considered an annual situation and our company always (issues) an advice to customers. In the case where customers really want to visit Chiang Mai, we will suggest they limit their stays in the city in favour of other provinces instead such as Sukhothai,” Chotechuang explained.
People living in the north of Thailand are being warned to brace themselves for some summer thunderstorms until Wednesday. The Meteorological Department issued an alert today saying the storms will be caused by a high-pressure system from China that will interact with the hot weather over upper Thailand.
Outbreaks of summer thunderstorms will be likely from today to March 27. Thundershowers, gusty winds and hail are possible first in the Northeast and the East then the Central, and the North region.
Are you affected?
North: Kamphaengphet, Phitsanulok, Phichit and Phetchabun.
Northeast: Nong Bua Lamphu, Sakon Nakhon, Nakhon Phanom, Udon Thani, Buri Ram, Surin, Si Sa Ket and Ubon Ratchathani.
Central: Nakhon Sawan, Chai Nat, Lop Buri and Saraburi.East: Nakhon Nayok, Prachin Buri, Sa Kaeo and Chachoengsao.
North: Kamphaengphet, Phitsanulok, Phichit and Phetchabun.
Northeast: Nong Bua Lamphu, Udon Thani, Khon Kaen, Loei, Chaiyaphum, Nakhon Ratchasima, Buri Ram, Surin, Si Sa Ket and Ubon Ratchathani.
Central: Uthai Thani, Nakhon Sawan, Chai Nat, Lop Buri, Saraburi and Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya including Bangkok and its vicinity.
East: Nakhon Nayok, Prachin Buri, Sa Kaeo and Chachoengsoa.
Chiang Mai is back on top of the world’s list of most air-polluted cities, according to the AirVisual.com website.
AirVisual reports at 1.45pm that the air quality index (AQI) of Chiang Mai on Saturday stands at 471 (##!!??!!) , much higher than the 100 AQI safety standard (the WHO lists the safety limit as 50 on the AQI scale). It’s been about 350 all day today.
In its six scale listings Chiang Mai is now listed at the bottom as ‘Hazardous’, the scale doesn’t go any lower.
The northern capital has been covered with white, mostly bushfire smoke and smog, for almost two weeks prompting Chiang Mai residents to wear N95 air-filter marks outdoors. Or stay indoors.
The Chiang Mai University, the Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna and Chiang Mai provincial administration confirmed that the air quality in the city remained critical.