In Thailand, the royal family is held in high esteem. Like in other parts of the world, if someone in the royal family dies, this affects the entire country. Whether you’re planning on attending a Thai funeral or you’re traveling to Thailand during a period of mourning, there are some important things you should know.
Recently, Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej died at age 88 in 2016. This resulted in an extended period of mourning for the entire country, and many travelers were caught off guard by the new expectations during this time. Different cultures express their mourning in different ways, and it’s important to always be respectful when traveling or interacting with others.
In this guide, we’ll share nine facts you should know about Thailand’s mourning period for royalty.
1. The Previous Monarch Reigned for 70 Years
While most people don’t know much about Thailand’s monarchy, it’s actually really impressive. The recently deceased King Bhumibol ruled Thailand for a legendary 70 years. That makes him the world’s longest-reigning monarch.
His legacy is celebrated throughout Thailand, and his people are very proud he ruled for so long. Remembering the king is still very much a part of Thai culture, even years after his death. A 70-year rule understandably lives on for a very long time.
2. The Mourning Period Lasts a Year
In Thailand, mourning is a sign of respect. It’s proper to mourn the loss of a loved one, and the same is true for royalty. The full mourning period for royalty lasts an entire year. While this sounds like a long time, most businesses and sights return to normal after just 30 days.
The first 30 days after the death of a member of the royal family are the most strict. This is when you can expect to experience the most disruption to your travel plans. Remember to be respectful during this time.
If you’re a guest in this country, you should follow local customs closely and be mindful of your actions. It’s always a good idea to remind yourself that you’re a representative of your home country and that this perception matters.
3. Certain Locations Are Busier Than Usual
If you plan a trip to Thailand, most likely you’re excited to visit some of the cultural and religious sights. These are well worth seeing, but beware they might be busier than usual if the country is in a period of mourning.
If you’re in Bangkok, the Grand Palace, in particular, will be exceptionally crowded. Some sections might not be open to the public, so always check online guides before planning your visit. The local website has the most updated information.
4. All Transportation and Accommodations Operate Normally
There is a common misconception that everything completely shuts down in Thailand during the period of mourning, especially during the first 30 days. While many large and local businesses do shut down out of respect, this is not true for everyone. You’ll find most things are open, especially in large cities.
All transportation and accommodation operate their business as usual. This means airports, hotels, and public transportation don’t experience any gaps in service.
Don’t worry about not having flights in and out of the country, or about not being able to find somewhere to stay. For a country that’s so popular with tourists, most things remain the same.
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5. There Are No Parties or Music
During the first 30 days of mourning, many visitors are surprised to discover there are no parties. In addition, bars are not allowed to play music. While alcohol sales are still allowed, these are only for quiet sitting.
The local authorities request anyone who’s enjoying a drink and the company of friends stays in their private homes or accommodations.
While you’ll still find bars and restaurants serving alcohol, don’t expect Thailand’s notorious party culture to exist during this period. This is seen as a sign of respect for the royal family by keeping things somber and not excessively lively.
6. Traffic Is Worse Than Usual
With Thai traffic already notoriously bad, it’s not a huge surprise that the death of royalty only makes things worse. Traffic around government areas and the Grand Palace is overwhelming during the period of mourning. While this lessens after the initial 30 days, it’s best to avoid driving if you can.
Prepare extra time for your connections and travel. If possible, steer clear of Bangkok or other big cities that are already known for their traffic. Patience really is a virtue!
7. Security Is Heightened
It also comes as no surprise that the Thai government takes security very seriously during this time. As more people travel to pay their respects to the royal family, crowds run larger than usual. While this is a great way to feel connected to the monarchy, it also poses unique risks.
If Thailand is on your travel bucket list, keep your wits about you. While most people are respectful and considerate, not everyone has the best intentions.
Stay aware of your surroundings, especially if you’re in a busy area or somewhere new. Be respectful of security personnel and police, and always follow instructions. It’s for your own safety.
8. Guests Should Dress Appropriately
During the mourning period, you should stay mindful of your clothing and dress code. While big cities in Thailand are very open and familiar with tourists, you should still be modest in how you dress.
While it’s just a myth that you can’t wear bright clothing during the mourning period (only government workers wear black), you don’t want to stand out in the wrong way.
If you’re planning on visiting a temple to experience the local religion or pay your respects to the royal family, make sure you wear proper temple dress code. For women, this usually means your shoulders and knees need covering.
If you don’t follow this dress code, you could be asked to leave. Temples are highly sacred in Thai culture, so be respectful of your dress and follow any additional guidelines.
9. Follow Lese Majeste Laws
In Thailand, it’s very important that you never speak poorly about the royal family. This law forbids any insults of the monarchy. This means you should never say anything negative about the royal family.
Lese Majeste might not be something we have in free-speech countries of the west, but it’s taken very seriously in Thailand. If you’re caught, you could face up to 15 years in prison.
Since you’re a guest in Thailand, it’s not respectful to comment on the royal family, especially after someone dies. Avoid talking about politics of any kind.
This is a sensitive topic for many people, and you don’t want to accidentally offend someone. There are a lot of other ways to learn about Thailand’s monarchy and culture.
Stay Respectful During Thai’s Mourning
Thailand is a warm, welcoming country. Thai people love tourists, and they’re excited to share their customs and practices in the world. After the death of someone in the royal family, there are several symbols of mourning to be found within the country. From the lack of music and parties to the respectful language, these are small ways that Thai people show their respect.
As long as you’re mindful of your presence and your actions, you shouldn’t run into any issues while traveling in Thailand during a royal mourning period. These facts above might sound intimidating to an outsider’s ears, but they’re just a way to honor the monarchy’s legacy.
This mourning period proves that our impact doesn’t end after death. Start end-of-life planning to take charge of your own future and end-of-life decisions.