Mourning period for King Bhumibol is not expected to affect tourism
oncerts and colossal beach parties in Thailand have been cancelled. An annual festival meant to placate the country’s goddess of water with lanterns that float into the sky will not take place.
And closed for the first time in years: redlight districts in the heart of the Thai capital filled with seedy go-go bars so irrepressible they managed to stay open even through past military coups.
The death on Thursday of Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej has plunged the Southeast Asian nation into an unprecedented period of mourning like nothing it has ever seen, and it’s likely to stay that way for some time.
But calm – not chaos – prevails, and the closures and cancellations are unlikely to last more than a month or have any serious long-term impact on tourism.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has declared a one-year mourning period and urged people to refrain from organising entertainment events for 30 days. But he has also made clear that life must go on, and urged businesses to remain open to ensure the nation does not “lose its credibility”.
More than 30 million tourists visit Thailand every year, accounting for about 10 per cent of government revenue. The industry is one of the few bright spots in an economy that has slumped since the army ousted a democratically elected government in 2014.
In a statement, the Tourism Authority of Thailand confirmed that tourist attractions will remain open with the exception of Bangkok’s gold-gilded Grand Palace, because it “will be the venue of the royal funeral rites”.
Bhumibol’s body was transported by royal procession to the palace’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew, on Friday as thousands of people lined the roads. Widely seen here as a unifying figure and the father of the nation, Bhumibol served as monarch for 70 years. The subdued atmosphere that has engulfed the country since his death is unmistakable, visible in the black or white dress worn by millions of Thais in a massive show of mourning that has been displayed even on mannequins in luxury shopping malls. In Bangkok, the neon-lit dinner cruise ships that ply the majestic Chao Phraya River every night have turned off their booming music. Even some of the capital’s most prominent red-light districts have shut down. Nana Plaza, a three-story complex of go-go bars announced it was closing temporarily to “pay respect and mourn the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great”.
“It doesn’t bother me,” said Australian tourist Darren Turner. “This is a man who stood on the throne unopposed for 70 years. He did a lot for his country and his people, and it’s good to show a mark of respect for his passing.”
The neon lights of another red-light district nearby, Soi Cowboy, abruptly switched off after police and soldiers paid a visit and asked bar managers to close to show respect for the king.
Hours after Bhumibol’s death on Thursday, Richard Barrow, a Bangkok-based travel blogger, tweeted that many tourists were “asking if they should cancel their holiday”. His is advice: you should not.
No foreign government has suggested its nationals to cancel trip plans, but several have issued advisories.
Britain urged its nationals to “wear sombre and respectful clothing when in public”, and the US called on Americans to maintain “decorum during this extended period of profound mourning”.
While Thailand’s stunning beaches and resorts remain open, some tourists’ plans to see particular events may already be ruined.
In Chiang Mai, the city government announced the annual Yi Peng Festival set for mid-November – in which tens of thousands of lanterns float into the sky – has been cancelled.
On the island of Koh Phangan, organisers of the renowned “Full Moon” party, which had been set to begin on October 17, called the event off.
Khaosod English, a local media outlet which reported numerous cancellations in the capital, offered prudent advice to its readers for upcoming events: “Call ahead first.”
SOMBRE: A buddhist monk stands next to a line of mourners at the Grand Palace; (top right), mourners pay their respect to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and, (bottom right) the Nana Plaza red light district after it closed temporarily