Be­tween Mourn­ing And Cel­e­BrA­tion

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

ALL CITIES change. But few change as quickly as Bangkok does. When I first started com­ing here reg­u­larly in the 1990s, I stayed at the mag­nif­i­cent Siam In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal, then Bangkok’s top ho­tel with acres and acres of gar­dens (and a tiny zoo with ex­otic birds and an­i­mals) in the cen­tre of town.

Now the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal is gone and forgotten; its place taken by a huge shop­ping mall (Siam Paragon), an apart­ment block and an­other large ho­tel (The Siam Kempin­ski). The Dusit Thani, where I stayed this time, is of roughly the same vin­tage as the Siam In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal and though it still flour­ishes, its neigh­bour­hood (Silom) is vir­tu­ally un­recog­nis­able with gleam­ing sky­scrapers tak­ing the place of the shop houses of old.

But as much as Bangkok changes, there used to be one fac­tor

Thailand mourns its King but Bangkok booms and flour­ishes

tions of Thais he was the one sta­ble uni­fy­ing fac­tor through times of change. His reign saw 30 prime min­is­ters and in­nu­mer­able regimes. But whether it was a mil­i­tary coup (of which there were many) or a tur­bu­lent demo­cratic move­ment (a sig­nif­i­cant fea­ture of the last decade), the King’s solid and re­as­sur­ing pres­ence pre­served a sense of con­ti­nu­ity.

King Bhu­mi­bol died on Oc­to­ber 13, this year. Though his death was not en­tirely un­ex­pected – he was 88 and had been ail­ing for some years – it had the ef­fect of plung­ing the whole of Thailand into un­prece­dented mourn­ing. When I checked into the Dusit, there was a note from the gen­eral man­ager, ex­plain­ing that “our staff will be honouring the memory of his Majesty by wear­ing black and white at­tire, but we would like to as­sure you that we will re­main fully op­er­a­tional….”

And in­deed Bangkok was fully op­er­a­tional. I ar­rived just as the new King (the for­mer Crown Prince) ac­cepted the crown (though the for­mal corona­tion will take place later) and the coun­try was poised half­way be­tween mourn­ing and cel­e­bra­tion.

But, no mat­ter what the pub­lic mood is, it hardly makes a dif­fer­ence to the mil­lions of for­eign tourists who flock to Thailand ev­ery year. Bangkok air­port was more crowded than I have ever known it to be and my Thai Air­ways flight from Delhi was jam-packed. Ho­tels in the city were full even though it was the long week­end and there were no busi­ness trav­ellers.

I have writ­ten about Bangkok’s in­vin­ci­ble sta­tus as a des­ti­na­tion be­fore. Noth­ing ever seems to af­fect the flow of tourist ar­rivals, not floods, not civil un­rest and not even mil­i­tary coups. Part of the rea­son, I imag­ine, is that the Thais are the most hos­pitable peo­ple in the world, gra­cious to a fault, al­ways smil­ing and nat­u­rally service-ori­ented.

But there are other fac­tors. Bangkok has great shop­ping. Each year the malls get big­ger and bet­ter, while prices re­main the cheap­est in Asia. Newer, fancier ho­tels open ev­ery month and are al­ways com­pet­i­tively priced. Not only are they far, far cheaper than their coun­ter­parts in Hong Kong or Sin­ga­pore but they are also much cheaper than In­dian ho­tels. (And that’s de-

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