Breaking news worldwide, it was revealed to all that the beloved King of Thailand, had passed at 88 years old. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or King Rama IV, was Thailand’s longest-serving monarch having his spot at the throne for 70 years. He was revered and loved by his subjects. Our Flightie Ricki Starzycka happened to be travelling in Thailand when the news broke. Here she shares her experience leaving behind an entire nation in mourning and what you need to know about the mourning period if you’ll be travelling through Thailand over the next year.
When news of the passing of Thailand’s beloved King was announced, there was an immediate change in the air. People were hearing the news for the first time, crying and comforting each other in the streets. Stores, restaurants, and tourist attractions closed down, in haste. That evening, and then every evening that followed, hundreds of people flocked to the temples, which were usually open and inviting spaces, now solely open for worship and prayer.
The public grounds outside the Grand Palace transformed from green and vast, to teeming with grieving people and newscasters. Busy night markets slowed down, alcohol was hard to come by, and regularly scheduled night events were cancelled. Shrines went up everywhere to commemorate the King and Queen, decorated carefully with sashes of white and black. Tourist attractions also shut down for a couple of days out of respect, and a solemnness could be felt amongst the hotel staff that evening.
The day the king passed I had flipped on the BBC to get caught up with the day’s events. Immediately, I thought about the new friends I made during this trip and wondered how they were coping with the news. The second thing I thought was… how will this impact the rest of my trip?
King Rama IV was the longest reigning monarch in today’s history; longer than Queen Elizabeth II by two years. His death symbolized the wake of old traditions and customs coming back to the modern world. What does the public do when a Thai King passes away? Will there be political unrest? Should I be worried? Should I cut this trip short and go home?!
If anything, King Rama’s death reminded me travel isn’t all about the traveller, but rather about experiencing the conducts of societies in other parts of the world. I spoke with my grieving guide to learn what it was exactly that we should expect.
Here’s what I learned.
Thailand will be in a period of mourning for one year. That means festivals like Full Moon Parties and Chiang Mai’s Lantern Festivals may not happen at all this year. If this is a must do for a traveller, it might be best to postpone your holiday for a year. One month after the death of the King, most restaurants and bars will return to normal. Night markets should also be in full swing come the end of the month, however city and government employees will be donning black attire for the next year. While travellers are not expected to wear black, staying away from bright colors is recommended, especially red – a symbol of celebration. It is also suggested to wear more conservative clothing and to understand that temples will be busier at this time as people mourn the loss of their cherished ruler. Thailand’s people displayed portraits of the late King and Queen everywhere; many of these displays have now been turned into shrines, others will have images of the late King covered in black. It is important to respect these shrines by leaving them alone and not turning them into tourist attractions.
Finally, in Thailand it is not only taboo to discuss royalty negatively, but also illegal. This means it would be incredibly inappropriate to ask questions about any scandals or misgivings surrounding the royal family. Any talk of the royal family should be kept to positive attributes, like advancements of the nation and the pride the royal family bestowed on the country.
In Thailand, the warm people, the stunning landscape, and the rich culture, proved this to be a life-enriching experience.
If my trip proved anything, it proved how important it is to be aware of your behaviour. Thailand culture seeps in to every aspect of Thai life, which is why, as visitors, it’s important to understand it and behave accordingly out of respect to the nation who lost their leader. When I booked a trip to Thailand, I was ready to dive in to a new adventure and learn everything about this beautiful country. Not only did I achieve that, but I left Thailand with so much more. I witnessed the people of Thailand experience a moment in time that will forever be remembered in the history books. And we mourned together.