On Thursday 13th October 2016, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand died at the age of 88. After an outpouring of grief across the nation, the entire country has since entered a period of intense mourning. Out of respect to the country and its citizens, tourists of Thailand should make themselves aware of what is expected of them at this time and show respect and sensitivity whilst travelling the country.
Thousands of mourners lined the streets of Bangkok on Thursday hoping to see the body of the king as it travelled from the hospital to a temple in the Grand Palace. The government has called for a year long mourning period for the world’s longest reigning monarch; citizens are wearing black and avoiding ‘joyful’ events at this time. Cinema screenings, concerts and sports matches have either been cancelled or postponed. For tourists these implements are going to have at least some effect on their travelling experience in this popular holiday destination and there are a few expectations in place for how tourists should behave and conduct themselves during this time.
It is more important than ever to have some cultural sensitivity when visiting Thailand during the next year. Tourists have been asked to abide by local rules and behave respectfully when travelling. If possible, it would be appropriate to wear sombre or dark clothing, and always check the advice provided for specific local areas. This is particularly important when visiting places such as temples or royal palaces, where you should definitely abide by the clothing expectations. In some areas, such as beaches, there have been reports that there are no problems with wearing swim suits, but when in main public places, it is best to respect the dark clothing guide. In the immediate aftermath, the best clothes to wear should be dark and covering both the shoulders and the knees.
In the past, the death of a senior member of the royal family has meant that bars and entertainment venues were closed and stores were restricted from selling alcohol for a period of time. For tourists, this means that access to entertainment areas may currently be restricted, including shopping centres and restaurants. Bangkok’s notorious red light district began closing down by Thursday evening, upon hearing the news.
The lese majestie laws in Thailand are strictly enforced, and any apparent insults or jokes about the monarchy could land you in serious trouble. These laws are among the strictest in the world, and they mean that anyone who ‘defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent’ could potentially be punished with up to 15 years of imprisonment. Complaints can be filed by anyone, including foreigners, and the police have to formally investigate any claims. It is best to either avoid discussing it in public, or if you do want to talk about it then ask simple and respectful questions about the king. Tourists are also advised to be extra vigilant about carrying their identity papers with them.
Tourists will still be able to enjoy exploring the country and travelling through the main tourists spots, but there is a necessity to be respectful of the country’s mourning. King Bhumibol was beloved by the country, and tourists are expected to acknowledge that.