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Thailand 20 Years On: A Country in Mourning

Bangkok to Chiang Rai, Thailand: WEEKS 14 - 17 December/ January, hot in the shade around 35 degrees

sunny 35 °C
View Thomas's Great Adventure on edandsuet's travel map.

Upon arriving in Thailand, it is a country in deep mourning. Bangkok is awash with black, streets decorated in white and black fabric, huge portrait photos of the King at every major junction, in every bank, shopping centre and public building. It is teeming with well groomed mourners in modest black dresses, beautifully coiffed chignoned hair and starched black shirts for the men. The pavements are choked with a tidal wave of grief, there are volunteers handing out free water and food to the thousands that descend on the Grand Palace every day to pay their respects in the sweltering heat, queuing for 12 hours at a time.

A Country in Mourning, Bangkok

A Country in Mourning, Bangkok

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on Thursday 13th October at the age of 88, was the world's longest-reigning monarch, following 70 years on the throne. The country then entered a year of mourning. For most Thais, they’ve never known another king and it is the same as a personal loss, think of the reverence you would show if you went to somebody’s home who was mourning the loss of a family member.

A few of the Thais we spoke to would be overcome with emotion, the tears welling in their eyes. For them, the King was selfless and tireless, a fantastic advocate for Thailand and wanting to make every single person's life better. He spoke of moderation, of Thailand becoming self sufficient for food rather than relying on any imports, he championed Thai people from every walk of the life and he was frugal in the way he lived.

Portrait of the belated King

Portrait of the belated King

I have visited Bangkok three times over the last 22 years and it has undergone a great change. The only things that seem the same are the No 15 and 45 local buses, which still have the same features but are 20 years older (rather like myself): rickety, wooden floored, noisy and stick your head out of the window for DIY air-con and the Khao San Road backpacker enclave. It's still loud, brash, seedy, everything available for the right price, Chang beer on tap, and filled with savvy backpackers but they are all glued to smart phones and buy expensive all in one tickets to the beach destinations or Chiang Mai/Pai from the travel agencies or take the hellish VIP buses overland to Vietnam or Cambodia (there isn't really anything VIP about the experience).

There is certainly a middle class in Thailand now - the roads are filled with gleaming SUVs and shiny flat bed trucks, the MBK Center is no longer the haphazard, brash, crowded bazaar but a bright shopping mall with multi screen cinema and the Siam Paragon centre is the "place to be seen", whether sipping an expensive latte, popping into Prada or Hermes or indulging in an ice-cream sundae that costs more a night's accommodation. The Thais are upwardly mobile but they are still smiling, still welcoming and know that tourism is their number 1 industry.

So we are going to buck the trend and do the travelling for ourselves - our next adventure is Ayutthaya via the third class train.

Posted by edandsuet 23:43 Archived in Thailand Tagged the bangkok king for mourning Comments (0)

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