When it comes to redeeming points and miles for a dream vacation, Thailand is often at the top of the list. Low prices for hotels, tours, and dining combined with lots of flights with relatively decent award space into Bangkok create the perfect, friendly storm for an amazing trip.
But, travelers should be aware that the country is in a period of mourning following the death of the country’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was also one of the world’s longest reigning monarchs and a highly favored diplomat abroad.
The country’s citizens are greatly saddened by his death despite his deteriorating health over the past few years. Many have likened his passing to President John F. Kennedy’s death in the United States.
When the Thai monarch died on Oct. 13, people openly cried in the streets, and businesses suspended many activities and events to allow people to mourn. Billboards were switched off, flags were lowered to half-mast, and people respectfully switched to wearing black clothing.
Even television shows and sporting events are toning down the festivities in respect. Major newspapers like the Bangkok Post have switched to producing black and white content online and developed major pictorial tributes.
What does this mean for the visitor to Thailand?
Keep in mind that for a one month period until November 13 there are many changes to regular events. Hotels and restaurants will not offer live music, and many celebrations and festivals have been canceled or postponed.
The first month of the year-long mourning period is especially sensitive. Thais are wearing dark colors and black ribbons as a sign of respect, and tourists are encouraged to do the same. While dark attire is not required (or even recommended given the intense sunlight that is easily reflected in dark hues making you feel warmer), wearing a black ribbon pin is encouraged and appreciated.
In fact, many clothing stores across the country have sold out of black attire sending prices skyrocketing. Civil servants are required to wear black for the entire year while ordinary citizens will most likely only do so during the first month.
It is best to be subdued and respectful when visiting one of the many memorials set up in hotel lobbies, tourist sites, and even in the streets. Avoid wearing especially “loud” colors and provocative clothing, but swimsuits are perfectly acceptable on beaches or at swimming pools. Music should be kept at a low volume.
Keep in mind that it is illegal to speak negatively about the monarchy either in person or online. Now, it is even more especially sensitive. A better rule of thumb is to be inquisitive and ask, but refrain from making judgments.
The country is still open for business
Tourists sites, shopping malls, public transportation, and performances designed to entertain visitors are still taking place. The infamous nightlife in Bangkok will ratchet itself down a bit, but will continue on, which is good news for revelers. Movie theaters are operating, but have removed many comedy films from the lineup.
Thai Airways flights will feature an honorary statement in memoriam to the king, but will otherwise operate as usual. This means that those lucky enough to redeem miles for Thai’s brilliant first class product will not forego any of their favorite perks like caviar or Dom Perignon champagne.
In Bangkok, the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha are closed to tourists until further notice. Since these are reserved for the royal family during this time of mourning, they are understandably kept off limits. Reports that they will reopen in mid-November have still not been confirmed by the government.
Despite this period of mourning, visitors to the country are able to witness more than just its cultural sites and delicious cuisine. They are getting a first-hand look at a culture undergoing a transformative event.