Thailand: Year of Mourning

“What’s going on in Thailand right now?”

Nearly every guest who’s walked through our doors has asked us this. For anyone who’s not Thai, October has been a confusing month. The Full Moon Party was cancelled. Clubs are playing quieter music. Many locals are dressed in all black, and some are even publicly mourning. To an outsider, Thailand’s seemingly sudden departure from being the “Land of Smiles” is shocking. However, there’s a solid explanation behind the seriousness of this month.

And while hostels—especially those known for outrageous parties—tend not to discuss heavier topics, we thought it was important to share that explanation with you. Visiting this country guarantees you’ll leave with a hangover, great Instagram pictures, and timeless memories. It can’t hurt to add cultural awareness to that list.

So let’s dive right in. Read on to find out the answers to the questions we hear the most, from how King Bhumibol’s death affected Thai people to how the royal cremation will affect your travels.

Why did the Thai People Love King Bhumibol Adulyadej?

As Farangs, or foreigners, it can be hard for us to understand the level of love Thai people have for their late King. While we may respect our leaders, it is rare for us to feel that level of emotion towards them. Understanding Thai history can put that love in perspective.

In the past eighty-five years, Thailand has been home to nineteen coups. Twelve of these were successful, including the most recent military coup in 2014. Aside from political turmoil, Thailand has experienced significant natural disasters. In 2004, a massive Tsunami resulted in thousands of deaths and significant damage to the country.

But regardless of what was occurring, King Bhumibol was prepared to step in and unify Thailand. At all times, he was a voice of calm and reason. When it seemed as if they world had turned upside town, Thais could look to their King and find hope for the country they called home.

Because King Bhumibol lacked a formal political role, he was able to pursue projects that he truly believed would benefit Thai people. He focussed on helping poor and rural communities gain access to resources. Organizations from around the world, including the United Nations, applauded his efforts.

Not being forced to play politics—yet always being a figure in Thai culture—allowed King Bhumibol to become the hero Thailand needed to look up to. This, coupled with being the longest reigning monarch in world history, resulted in the country’s deep love and admiration for him. You can find his portrait in nearly every house, school, and business. Not because Thai people are required to display it, but because they want to.

To further put the scale of King Bhumibol’s death into perspective, roughly 12 million people have travelled to Bangkok to pay their respects in the last year. The mourners consist predominantly of Thai natives, but include dignitaries from roughly thirty countries.

What is the Thailand Year of Mourning?

Considering the deep love Thai people had for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, it’s not surprising that his death would take a major toll on the country. Since he passed away in Bangkok last October, Thailand has entered an extremely structured and formal mourning process. The resulting “Year of Mourning” began on the day of the King’s death.

Immediately after his body was transported from the hospital, the King’s body was given a ritual bathing rite at the Grand Palace. The general public was then given the opportunity to participate in a symbolic bathing directly in front of the King’s portrait.

Per Buddhist tradition, the King’s body was not immediately cremated. Every day, for 100 days, ceremonial rites were performed to honor the late King. The newly crowned King Vajiralongkorn performed these rights on the 7th, 15th, 50th, and 100th day anniversaries of the late King’s death.

For the first month following the King’s death, citizens of Thailand were asked to avoid “joyful events” and entertainment. As a result, the Thai League football season was cancelled and many entertainment venues closed. For two weeks, all television programming was cancelled and replaced with specials on the late King Bhumibol.

After a month had passed, Thailand seemingly went back to normal. There were no longer regulations limiting television programs, entertainment, and the like. Eventually, people needed to go back to their everyday lives. However, the attitude remained extremely somber. Bars and nightclubs continued to close their doors earlier than usual, and many locals continued to wear dark, subdued colors as a sign of mourning.

How Will This Affect Traveling Thailand in October? The Misconceptions:

King Bhumibol’s cremation is scheduled for October 26th, 2017. As a result, Thailand has re-entered a period of intense mourning, similar to the one that occurred throughout the month following the King’s death. There are many misconceptions surrounding how this will affect travel in Thailand. We would like to clear up any confusion:

All Parties Are Cancelled

While the Full Moon Party was cancelled this month out of respect for the King’s cremation, the Thai tourist industry is still very much alive. Bars, nightclubs, and restaurants are still open (although often closing earlier than they have in previous months). Nearly everything is going on as planned, with slight adjustments to show respect. For instance, we continue to host our pub crawl but solely go out wearing white or black pub crawl shirts. While you may not get an experience straight out of The Hangover, Thailand is still an amazing place to be.

All Visitors Must Wear Black

It’s true that many Thai people are choosing to dress in black, however you’re not required to. Thais understand that you may not know much about their late King, and simply ask for your respect. While in public this month, simply follow the dress code for temples. Don’t expose your shoulders or knees, and avoid flashy clothing. Even wearing a small black ribbon on your shirt can show a great amount of respect. Otherwise, things are business as usual.

Temples, Attractions, and Tours are Closed

This couldn’t be further from the truth! Bangkok’s Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha are closed during the week of the cremation, but are otherwise open. Throughout the rest of Thailand, nearly all temples and attractions are open during their usual hours. And tours are unlikely to stop at any point during the month, except for the day of the cremation.

Thailand Has Banned All Alcohol

This one is a bit tricky. Some small shops are choosing not to sell alcohol his month out of respect, but there is no law banning the sale of alcohol. As a rule, most bars, clubs, and restaurants will be serving alcohol all month. However, two days will be an exception to this rule. October 13th is the anniversary of the late King’s death and October 26th is the day of his cremation. These are the two days during which you’re least likely to see alcohol served.

You Should Avoid Thailand this Month

There is never a wrong time to visit Thailand. As long as you approach this month with respect, you’ll find everything you’re looking for. First and foremost, you’ll witness a culture in the middle of a massive social change. In fact, you’ll be present for one of southeast Asia’s biggest historical events of the century. And if you’re looking for nightlife, you’ll still find it. At the very worst, you’ll just have less competition on the dance floor!

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