If you’re going to Thailand anytime soon, expect to find a subdued nation deep in mourning over the loss of the country’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who ruled for seven decades. He died Oct. 13 at age 88.
Travelers should be sensitive to the 30 days of public mourning and 100 days of royal funeral observances, during which the king’s body will be on display at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The mourning period for government workers stretches to a full year.
“If you want to go partying in the red light district, don’t go now,” says Andrea Ross, founder and chief executive of Journeys Within Tour Co., which specializes in travel to Southeast Asia. But if you want to experience this moment in Thailand’s history, Ross says, “It’s an amazing time to go. It’s unprecedented.”
How should you act if you visit?
In guidelines posted online Tuesday, the Tourism Authority of Thailand asks travelers to refrain from “boisterous” partying and “inappropriate or disrespectful behavior.” It also warns travelers that parts of Bangkok may become clogged with traffic as mourners dressed in black and white pour into the city from the countryside to pay their respects.
Bangkok’s tourist attractions as well as shops, public transit and banks are open, except for Wat Phra Kaeo or Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Grand Palace, where the king’s remains will be on display starting 1 p.m. Oct. 28.
During the 30 days of mourning, full moon beach parties popular with tourists have been canceled, the Soi Cowboy red-light district has closed indefinitely, and alcohol is being sold only at select hours. Tourist activities such as snorkeling, scuba and kayaking at the country’s southern beaches continue.
Bangkok’s famed Loy Krathong Festival on Nov. 14 falls just after the 30 days of mourning. Festivalgoers will celebrate the tradition of lighting lanterns and floating them on rivers, but the accompanying fireworks and parade have been canceled, Ross says.
She advises travelers to wear dark colors and keep knees and shoulders covered when traveling in Bangkok and across the country. Trekkers should wear long pants instead of shorts out of respect for a grieving nation.
Also, Ross encourages visitors to engage with guides and locals to tell them you’re sorry for the loss of their king. “They feel like they’ve lost a family member,” she says.
Be careful about personal safety too because Buddhist temples — particularly the more popular ones such as Wat Arun and Wat Pho in Bangkok — may draw huge crowds.
Ross recommends going early in the morning or in the evening when things may be calmer and quieter. And make sure to rely on your guide for information and follow whatever rules may be in place.
The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok and the U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai are observing regular opening hours.