Essay on Songkran Festival in Bangkok, Thailand

A great variety of attractions is offered by Thailand. These are sandy beaches and diving opportunities, historical and archaeological sites, exceptional tropical flora and fauna, various religious and cultural sights (Brown, 1999, p. 676). A tourist can choose the one he or she is attracted to the most, but a state-wide festival is apparently the best option to take as much as possible from visiting the country because it allows to get into a close contact with local people, their traditions and customs, feel the spirit of time and enjoy local cuisine with a great number of other pleasant discoveries included (Alzua et al., 1998, p. 8).

One of the most well-known Thai festivals is the Thailand Water Festival, or Songkran Festival. The main events take place in Bangkok, which is situated in Central Thailand. In Thailand the time between March and May is the hottest and driest season, with average day temperatures 30 degrees below zero. Speaking about socio-cultural impacts of the Songkran Festival, it seems important to underline that the most vulnerable party is the host community. There may be direct contacts between the tourists and local people, or tourists may influence the latter indirectly. In this or that way, there is always a domino effect (Reeves et al., 1994, p. 167). When there is a continuous interaction, it is rather hard to escape certain changes in value systems, behavioural patterns, and social structures. Through this changes indigenous identity is threatened. “Furthermore, changes often occur in community structure, family relationships, collective traditional life styles, ceremonies and morality” Altman and Finlayson (1993, p. 39) add.

In the figure below various affects scrutinized by Aas (2005, p. 30), Brown (2003, p. 144) and McIntosh et al. (2002, p. 42) are summarized.

Positive effects

Negative effects

Shared experience

Culture clashes

Revitalisation of traditions

Difference in lifestyles

Community pride

Community irritation

Increased community participation


Introduction of new and challenging  ideas

Ignorance and carelessness of tourists

Expansion of cultural perspectives

Job level friction

Feeling of belonging

Native community image damaged

Exposure to new ideas and experiences

Disruption to residents lifestyles

Encouragement of tolerance and diversity

Changes in social and leisure habits

Showcase effect

Disruption of everyday life

Stimulus for urban regeneration

Exploitation and manipulation of event themes for commercialisation

Civic boosterism promotion

Loss of community ownership and control

The Songkran Festival plays a great role in the Thai culture. Once this event was associated with temple visits and annual house cleaning (Ho and McKercher, 2004, p. 257). Now religious sense of festival is less than secular sense, and this happens much due to the tourists anticipations. The community is adapting to the new demands. There was a tradition of pouring fragrant water into the palms of the elderly people on the first day of the festival, which is known as the National Elderly Day (Hottola, 2004, p. 450). Today pouring water has become an entertainment and not even all the tourists know the initial meaning of this custom (See and Lam, 2012). The water is symbolizing the purification of the body and soul from sins and everything needless. However, traditional visits of sacred temples are a part of tourist’s program too.

All in all, the Songkran Festival in Bangkok, Thailand has a controversial socio-cultural impact on the host community. On the one hand, large groups of tourists change the sense and meaning of many traditional activities and make most of them commercialized. The traditionalists widely criticize these changes and feel local identities are negatively affected in this way. On the other hand, however, the tourists from different corners of the world get acquainted with the beauty and richness of Thai customs and contribute to the support of local heritage.

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