As everybody here would know, and perhaps elsewhere in the world, His Majesty King Bhumibol died a couple of days ago after a long illness. Even though most people should have been expecting the worst to come eventually, when he did finally pass away Thais were grief stricken to a point that might seem inconceivable elsewhere in the world. After 70 years on the throne, longer than most people have been on this earth, Thais saw him not just as their king but also as their father, and the father of their nation. Indeed, his birthday is also celebrated as Father’s Day.
On one of my earliest visits here I learnt that we shared the same birthday and that like me he enjoyed photography so I took a bit of an interest in His Majesty’s achievements. Unlike me he was an accomplished musician too !
In his reign he travelled to all points of the Kingdom, forsaking the comforts of the palace to sit down in the dirt with the poorest of his subjects. By convincing the hill tribes to grow crops other than opium he helped to fight the drug trade, by showing farmers how to grow their crops without destroying the environment he introduced sustainable development before it became trendy.
A good person can make another person good; it means that goodness will elicit goodness in the society; other persons will also be good.
From a youth who never expected to become king, to somebody who an entire nation revered, his was a journey that will probably never be repeated. RIP.
Before his death, the worst case eventuality was never discussed in public and most expats would have feared that when it did happen the country would come to a complete stop. Although many, if not most, Thais have dressed in black and their grief has been palpable but the country is still running. There is a year long mourning period, and the public have been asked to refrain from festivities for 30 days so many events have been cancelled. Nightclubs are closed, including the more infamous ones of Nana and Soi Cowboy as well as normal discos, but most bars are still open but without any loud music. 7/11 is still selling alcohol although Tesco has stopped until further notice, normally an alcohol ban is the first thing announced. Any backpacker that came expecting to go to a Full Moon party is out of luck for the next month as they have been cancelled.
The Grand Palace is closed for about another week due to the funeral rites being held there, although the actual cremation will not be for some time, perhaps a year away. It will be a lavish and elaborate affair when it does eventually happen.
For anybody coming to Thailand in the next few weeks, you should still be able to enjoy yourself but just act respectfully, which is what many countries are saying in their travel advisories.