Sandra is a senior crimes and justice reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times.

New Year celebration renews ties to homeland (+ video)

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Hundreds of people gathered in Tauranga to celebrate the Thai New Year.

The 13th annual Songkran Water Festival, held at Queen Elizabeth Youth Centre yesterday, featured the best of local Thai talent and foods with the centre awash with colour and music as traditional dancers and singers took to the stage.

Some served traditional Thai food and a display table laden with an array of intricately carved fruits and vegetables was auctioned off at the end of the festival.

Another highlight was the annual beauty pageant which saw eight gorgeous young women, some adorned in traditional Thai dress, vying for the title of Miss Songkran Water Festival 2016.

The overall winner was Mookthida Latsamy from Hamilton.

Each year the Bay of Plenty branch of The Buddhist Society of Wat Pak Nam New Zealand puts on the water festival to mark the start of the Thai new year.

Performers and members from Tauranga, Mount Maunganui, Te Puke, Whakatane, Taupo, Hamilton, Matamata, and Tokoroa participated in this year's festival.

Bay of Plenty Buddhist Society president Pat Walker said the new year in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia was celebrated from April 13 to 15, which was the hottest time of the year - hence the water festival.

"This is the biggest and most important event on our yearly calender. It's very important because it helps to keep our culture and customs alive, and gives us the opportunity to share our culture and traditions with the rest of the community.

"Some of our young people were either born in New Zealand or came here when they were very young, so it also gives them the chance to learn more about their cultural roots and traditions."

Mrs Walker said the Buddhist Society began the Tauranga festival to bring the Thai community closer together and allow children to celebrate in traditional style.

She estimated about 400 to 500 people came through the doors during the day.

"We were very happy with the turnout and from the feedback everyone enjoyed themselves."

The event was also held as fundraiser for the Wat Pak Nam Monastery in Welcome Bay, which is hosting two visiting monks from Thailand.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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