We were buying durian candies and curry packets at the airport lounge when we heard the official news about the passing of King Bhumibol. We left Thailand an hour later but knew that the country was on the brink of a long period of mourning and change. I couldn’t help thinking of all the foreigners that travel to Thailand and don’t respect the culture and the customs. Most of the time they are shrugged off as “dumb tourists” but now it is a more serious matter.
The Thai people are very emotional right now; the death of the King is a very sad event for the entire country. King Bhumibol reigned the country for 70 years; meaning that most of the population in Thailand has lived their entire life with the King’s presence. The image of the King is in all the money notes and every house and business establishment has at least one photograph or painting of the King.
Being Respectful of the Thai People
The King and the Royal Family of Thailand are highly revered and there is a strict Lese Majeste, meaning that no slander or criticism agains the King and his family will be tolerated from locals nor foreigners. It is the civil duty of the expats and visitors in Thailand to be courteous and respectful of the customs and the laws.
Long time expats joined the locals last Friday on the sidewalks that lined the route of the funeral procession from the hospital to the Royal Palace. Millions of people dressed in Black mourned the death of their beloved King as he was taken home. On the night of his death, thousands of people were outside the hospital praying and keeping vigil for his health, when his passing was officially announced the blessings turned to sobs and broken hearted wails.
It is easy to see how important the King is to the Thai people. The government has declared a one year mourning period and one month of no celebrations or entertainment. Most stores will stop selling alcohol as well. The government has also asked the population to wear black clothing and for expats and tourists to do the same.
It is also easy to see how some tourists that only travel to Thailand for parties, girls and booze will be ticked off. We hope they will see how important it is to not lash out at the lack of alcohol and entertainment, and if they really feel that their holiday will be destroyed, then they should not go to Thailand at all until the mourning period is over.
Thailand is a wonderful country, mostly because the King did a wonderful job during his reign. For all of us who love Thailand, it is our duty to be respectful of the Thai people.
Through the eyes of an Expat living in Thailand
- I still have many expat friends in Thailand and I sent one of them a couple of questions to better grasp the atmosphere of what is happening over there.
1. As an expat in Thailand, how close do you feel to the grief of the thai people?
I feel very close to the grief of the Thai people, but I what I feel could never compare to what they are feeling. So many of them will tell you that they have lost their father, and I respect that, and I respect their mourning and I will support their grieving process.
I literally felt like my hand was glued to my phone on Wed & Thurs and was checking Twitter non-stop as so many rumours were flying around re: the King and his health. When I finally did hear the Royal Household Announcement, I broke down into tears. I had a professional occasion to attend, so did my best to keep a good face but once I was home, I literally wept. I loved the King, too. One of my favourite things when I first moved to Thailand was learning about the King and all of the wonderful things he did in his life. I attended one of his birthday celebrations in Bangkok some years back, and it was an amazing, wonderful energy to be lined in the streets dressed in yellow and chanting “We love the King”.
I am happy that I got to experience Thailand under the reign on King Bhumibol.
2. I know you are a long time expat so have lots of thai friends and that your experience is different to new expats, have you been with any newer expats after the king passed? How did you see them react?
I tend to not hang out with new expats, but I have heard some really ignorant travellers saying many negative things because there was an alcohol ban at the weekend and many events have been cancelled (ex: Full Moon Party). I wish that they would show a little compassion and take their backpacks and go elsewhere.
3. What’s the ambience like in Phuket and the country right now?
Since last Thursday through today (Monday), things have been very somber. Last Friday was declared a national day of mourning, and over the weekend many small businesses were closed. There is sadness everywhere, and I don’t expect that to lift anytime soon. 70 years is an extremely long reign, and for many people, a Thailand under King Bhumibol is all that they have ever known.
4. Do you have friends who plan to travel to Bangkok for the ceremonies?
Most of my Bangkok-based friends, both Thai and expats, attended the viewing of the Royal Motorcade last Friday and have been praying outside of the Grand Palace.
There is a prayer ceremony happening in Saphan Hin nightly – people are lighting candles and placing them in the sand to form the number 9 in Thai, as King Bhumibol was RAMA IX.
This is an original article for Expat Post by Orana Velarde from Crazy Little Family Adventure