The death of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej last week, following a 70 year reign, has shocked the entire country. While the King was unwell for many years, his passing stopped the nation and brought people together in grieving for a figure considered almost holy to Thais. Soon afterwards, a year-long period of mourning was announced.
The following days have seen media reports of popular attractions and entertainment venues closing or reducing their hours, stores banning sale of alcohol and tourists being asked to wear black. Visitors expressed their discontent on social media, complaining of “ruined holidays” and lack of things to do.
But what does this really mean for tourists coming to Thailand and should they think twice before visiting?
Well, first of all, Thailand is still very much open for business. Its tourism industry is too important for the country to effectively shut down. According to The World Travel and Tourism Council, visitors spend $72 billion a year in Thailand with the travel industry accounting for about 14% of total jobs.
Many of those tourists come to Thailand looking for sun, sea and sand – package holidaymakers and backpackers make up a huge chunk of visitors to the country. Naturally, lack of open bars and parties is likely to be of concern to a lot of people. While some events have been cancelled, visitors should not be put off.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand was quick to dispel rumours of a country that didn’t welcome tourists during the period of mourning. People are merely being asked to dress sensitively and to understand that the initial period of morning, lasting until 13th November, could mean toned down entertainment activity. Other than that, the vast majority of tourist attractions will remain open, public transport will run as usual and, by the time you read this, sales of alcohol in stores should be back to normal.
Tourists should act in a respectful manner
Visitors are also asked to behave respectfully, especially in public areas. While asking questions about the King is fine, it is a sensitive subject and it’s important not to insult or mock royalty. Doing so could lead to problems including jail sentences.
What happened in the immediate aftermath of the King’s death with bars and clubs closing or toning down music and alcohol consumption is to be expected considering how revered he was. Majority of Thais haven’t known another King in their lifetimes – he has been on the throne since 1946, after all – and this represents a major change in their lives.
Don’t let it put you off travelling to Thailand
Thailand is a fascinating country and it needs tourism now just as much as ever. While this is a difficult time for many Thais, travelling there now can provide a unique perspective on the people, their customs and beliefs. While it’s paramount to remain sensitive and respectful, you shouldn’t shelve your travel plans. While many will undoubtedly stay away, this is a great opportunity to discover an incredible country while supporting its people during a difficult time.
Thailand is a country of unmatched natural beauty, friendly people, long history and incredible food. Finding out what makes it so special is possible without full moon parties and cheap alcohol buckets.
What do you think? Has the King’s death affected your travel plans to Thailand? Are you more or less likely to visit during the mourning period?