Thailand recently lost its monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej. While for many this may seem like the passing of an elderly statesman and important figurehead, it means a whole lot more to the nation.
Over his 70-year reign, he had played the peacemaker in times of civil unrest, he had been a champion of the poor, and he had been a father figure to generations. But there was much more to the adulation he attracted than just these things.
When I was in Thailand about 2 years ago, I was amazed at how much genuine affection the people of Thailand had for their king. Every home or business had a picture of him hanging on their walls. And not just pictures in royal attire. I’m talking of pictures of him in casual clothes reading a newspaper or fishing. He was like every household’s lovable grandfather, and was revered as such. I remember one of our Thai tour guides, whenever he spoke of the king would say “My King is …”. He is someone the people of Thailand knew, deeply and personally. He belonged to every Thai.
Thailand has declared a year of mourning to honor his death. So what does this mean for tourists who are looking to visit the country?
It’s important to know that …
- While most tourist attractions will be open as usual, currently Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace are off limits, as they will be locations for funeral rites and religious observances.
- The government has urged bars and nightclubs to revise their operating hours as a mark of respect for a one-month period, with the final decision resting in the hands of their respective owners. Be flexible and comply with these restrictions.
- Most of the traditional and cultural events will be taking place as usual, although they may be altered as a mark of respect or the events may be dedicated to the memory of the king.
- However, you won’t have to worry about emergencies: All transport, banks, hospitals and other public services will operate as usual.
This is also a very emotional time for the Thai people, and therefore you need to keep that in mind when in the country. So how should you act?
Remember that …
- Travelers should wear sombre and respectful clothing when in public – it would be an empathetic gesture that will be appreciated (many Thai people will be wearing black or white as a sign of mourning).
- Behave yourself when in public spaces – refrain from raucous revelry in open spaces.
- While questions and comments regarding the Royal Family are okay, they must be respectful. It’s important to know that Thailand has very strict lèse majesté laws.
In Thailand this means anyone who “defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent” can be punished with up to 15 years in prison
For more news and updates, you can always check out the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s website.
While Thailand welcomes visitors as always, just keep these points in mind if you’re visiting the country in the near future.