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Thailand is in a state of national mourning following the death of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Oct. 13. At the time of his death, the King, who was deeply admired by the Thai people, was the longest-serving head of state and longest reigning Thai monarch, with a reign that spanned some seven decades.
The King’s death and declared mourning period may cause uncertainty for many travelers planning travel to Thailand during the next year. Because of the length of the King’s reign, the vast majority of Thailand’s citizens have never witnessed a royal succession.
In addition to the period of national mourning, the government has declared no celebrations or entertainment will take place for 30 days, until Nov. 13. The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) are closed due to their role in the royal funeral rites.
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The Tourism Authority of Thailand advises that most tourist facilities are operating normally, but wishes to inform visitors of several items of note during the next year:
* Most Thai people will be wearing white or black as a symbol of mourning. While this is not required for visitors, it is recommended to dress conservatively. Visitors may choose to wear black ribbons to show respect; these are typically available at airports and tourist facilities.
* Visitors are also encouraged to check local media for updates as many Thais from provinces outside Bangkok will journey to the city to pay their respects. Visitors may notice congestion during these times and local police will primarily focus on supporting these events.
* Most major holiday events will continue as planned, although their formats may be changed or subdued during the mourning period.
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It appears as though the visitor information is being updated weekly. In addition to the notices provided by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, I’ve included my own suggestions.
* I’ve reached out to several properties in Thailand directly; most responded quickly and referred inquiries to the official TAT statement. A spokesperson for Four Seasons indicated that the brand’s three resorts in Thailand are operating normally. Guests with existing travel plans should contact their hotels for the latest updates prior to travel.
* When contacting properties or guest services at Thai hotels during this period, it’s helpful to offer condolences to whomever you’re in contact with. Many Thais feel a deep personal connection to the monarch.
* Bear in mind that Thailand’s lese majeste laws remain in effect for past and present monarchs, with stiff penalties for comments or actions deemed critical of the monarch or the royal family. This includes social media posts made before, during, or after a visit to Thailand. While the uncertainty surrounding a visit to Thailand might cause frustration for travelers, it’s not advisable to vent those frustrations publicly, not only in accordance with Thai law, but also out of respect for Thailand’s reverence for their King
* Consider whether a Thailand in mourning fits your objectives for visiting. If you’re looking for a party, it’s the wrong time to go. Many nightclubs have voluntarily closed, and the raucous atmosphere some Bangkok districts are notorious for has ceased, as many areas are enforcing a ban on music heard in the streets.
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Thailand tourism has boomed in the past several years; in 2015 the country recorded nearly 30 million international visitors.
The Takeaway: Call ahead for updates, maintain decorum, and don’t expect a party. This is a historic period for Thailand that may fascinate some and disappoint others; careful consideration should accompany any decision to visit, but shouldn’t necessarily prevent one.