The 'water festival', called 'songkran', marks the Buddhist new year event and is celebrated since several centuries. It's held every year in April, traditionally according to a Buddhist lunar calendar. Nowadays it goes annually from April 13th to the 15th. Songkran is celebrated in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, partially also in Burma/Myanmar and south China. In it's old tradition there is a custom to sprinkle people's hands or shoulders with a small amount of water. That happened in a very gentle way, meant symbolically as a purification. Since April is the hottest month in Indochina it's also kind of a relief to be cooled down with a bit of water.
Traditionally, in the evening of the 12th of April, the houses are cleaned. On the next morning families go to the local temple and donate some food. In the afternoon, Buddha statues and the abbot are sprinkled with water. In some places Buddha statues are driven in special vehicles through the town or city, where other people sprinkle them with water. Songkran is the time of renewal and purification, of showing respect to authorities like elder people or monks.
Nowadays, where everything is running wild and crazy due to the shift of values and the availability of weired consumer goods, songkran is celebrated in an outstanding way. Everywhere at the roadsides stand groups of people and splash water over pedestrians, motorbikers and cars. Even big busses get their share. It's mostly done by children with water pistols and water guns, but also by adolescents with buckets of water or garden hoses. Many adults mix in. It's a huge pleasure for many.
In Thailand many families drive for hours with their pickups the mainroads up and down. On the cargo area are ice boxes full of water and ice, sometimes mixed up with colours or talc. The talc is also used to be smeared on the faces, mixed with menthol. They fight a heavy water battle with all the others. Everytime there is an encounter, it's accompanied with huge screamings and laughters.
It's coming together with two unavoidable things who appear at every occasion: a heavy booze and extreme noise pollution.
In the remote villages and areas the first thing locals do when they get electricity is buying a bulb for light, then a TV set and with it a big CD/DVD/karaoke set. It's for deafening the inner emptiness with it. Since most people never learned much, know little, are not interested in anything of substance, never read a book or at least one of the newspapers here, and don't follow organized jobs - so what to do in the long spare time? The booze and the din fill it out.
That's bad enough. But songkran is not only one day. Officially it lasts three days, and it's even declared as official holidays. And that's not the end. If you think it can't get worse, then it's screwed further up. More noisy, more crazy, more water, a considerable part of the local population is drunk then since days, a week, some drink for two weeks stopping only when they have urgently to sleep. When they wake up next morning before six, the first thing they do is switching the music-din on again.
Traffic becomes increasingly dangerous, particularly in night-time when most drivers are heavily drunk. It's spooky to see so many people being so heavily drunk and totally blunted by it. Don't think the women were any better. They better hide it, but not few of them drink as well as if they would aspire an entrance in the Guiness Book of Records.
So, when the 'official' songkran days are over, the party continues in many places. Some partiers don't do it below a week. Some stretch it up to two weeks. It's a hard time, where there is no quiet place anymore to find around - wherever one goes, everywhere is party, party, party.
In Thailand alone 321 people died at songkran 2013 due to party activities, and some 3,000 got injured. In 2014 the numbers were very similar. The 'National Council for Peace and Order' announced after songkran 2015 a death toll of 364 people and 3,559 injured; 111,000 people were arrested at road checkpoints all over the country. During the 'dangerous seven days' in 2016, that is the timespan from 11th to 17th of April, 442 people died and 3,656 were injured.
For 2017, the military junta set up a number of traffic regulations, such as the obligation to use seat-belts and the ban of people transported on truck beds. The Bangkok Post reported that 20,000 students were drafted for traffic controls at hundreds of checkpoints in whole Thailand. The death toll dropped back in this year to 335* .
Verymost of the deaths occur in traffic accidents, of who the wide majority is caused due to alcohol and speeding. About 80% of the victims are motorbikers.