King of Thailand’s Funeral Ceremony: Advice for Tourists Oct 2017

Thailand is building up to what will be a historic period with final preparations under way for the funeral of the late King. The Royal Cremation Ceremony will be held in Bangkok from October 25-29. It will be a sad time for Thai people, but the country will remain as welcoming as ever for tourists and you will still be able to enjoy your trip. Although there is no need to change travel plans, please be respectful and if you are visiting Bangkok or other areas of Thailand in October, there are some important points to be aware of.

Key dates for October 2017
October 5: Awk Phansa Buddhist holiday. Public holiday nationwide.
October 13: First anniversary of King Bhumibol’s death. Public holiday nationwide.
October 25: Funeral ceremonies for the King commence in Bangkok.
October 26: Cremation ceremony for the King. Public holiday nationwide.
October 27-29: Religious ceremonies continue in Bangkok.

Royal Cremation Ceremony

The funeral ceremonies for HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej will take place in Bangkok from October 25-29. The actual cremation ceremony will be on October 26 at Sanam Luang, the ceremonial ground in front of the Grand Palace. This has traditionally been the venue for royal cremations and is where the intricate funeral pyre has been constructed by specialist workers and skilled artisans. Replicas of the Royal Crematorium will also be on display in every province in Thailand and candlelit services will be held in every town and city around the country during the funeral period.

Antique gilded chariots will be used in the royal processions that carry the funeral urn to Sanam Luang. The largest chariot used in the procession is so big and heavy it will require more than 200 men to pull it.

*Timeline for the cremation ceremonies:
October 25
A royal merit-making ceremony will be held at Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall inside the Grand Palace complex at 5.30pm. This is to prepare for the moving of the royal urn the following morning.

October 26
At 7am the royal urn containing the King’s body will make the short journey from Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall to the Royal Crematorium on Sanam Luang. The Royal Cremation Ceremonyis scheduled to commence at 5.30pm. The actual cremation is scheduled for 10pm. In final tribute, there will be performances of traditional khon masked dramas and orchestral performances from 6pm on October 26 until 6am the following day.

October 27
The collection of royal relics will take place at the Royal Crematorium on Sanam Luang at 8am.

October 28
At 5.30pm, a merit-making ceremony will be held for the royal relics at Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall inside the Grand Palace complex.

October 29
The royal relics will be moved at 10.30am from the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall and will be enshrined in the Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall. Later in the day at 5.30pm the royal ashes will be enshrined at two temples in Bangkok; Wat Ratchabophit and Wat Bovoranives.

Other dates
Rehearsals for the royal procession are scheduled to be held at Sanam Luang in Bangkok on October 7 and 15.

*Source of information: http://www.kingrama9.net/

Merit-making ceremonies
At most funerals in Thailand the deceased is cremated approximately three days after dying. However, for somebody of high status it is not unusual for there to be a prolonged period between death and cremation and this is actually a show of love and respect for the deceased. Thai Buddhists believe that all of the religious rites and merit-making ceremonies carried out between death and cremation ease the path for the deceased and enables the departed to benefit in the next life. According to Thai Buddhist belief, whilst the body is still present the spirit can benefit by the gifts offered, the sermons preached and the religious chants uttered in its presence. The cremation ceremony marks the final departure of the spirit from the mortal world.

paying respects to the Thai King

Paying respects to the late King of Thailand at Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai

Etiquette

If you’ve visited Thailand before you will already know the immense amount of love and respect there is for King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The late King was regarded as the ‘Father of the Nation’ and for many Thais his death was like losing a member of the family. Please do not underestimate how much the King meant to Thai people and do show consideration during this time. Some Thai people have been wearing black since the King died. Others did so for a month during the official mourning period last year. With October 13 marking the anniversary of the King’s death, the majority of Thai people will again be wearing black from this date until the cremation ceremony is complete. Visitors won’t be expected to do the same, but out of respect for the Thai people and the late King, please do try to wear a black top or a white top with a black ribbon on October 13 and October 26. But if you can wear a black ribbon throughout the period from October 13-27 that would be a lovely gesture and one that will be appreciated by the Thai people you meet. After the King died last year, black ribbons were handed out for free to tourists at airports, hotels and shops and it is likely that this will happen again ahead of the funeral.

Thai people thank visitors for showing respect for the King

A Thai youngster outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok holds a sign thanking overseas visitors during the initial mourning period for King Bhumibol Adulyadej (photo taken in November 2016)

Out of respect for the Thai people and the late King, please do try to wear a black top or a white top with a black ribbon on October 13 and October 26. But if you can wear a black ribbon throughout the period from October 13-27 that would be a lovely gesture and one that will be appreciated by the Thai people you meet.

On the beach, the simple advice is to wear what you normally would. Don’t sunbathe nude (which has never been polite in Thailand) and use some common sense when you are away from the beach. Many Thai islands and beach resorts are heavily reliant on tourism so there is likely to be more leeway compared to if you are in a city like Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Despite that, visitors should still be sensitive to the fact that many restaurant owners, hotel staff and store owners will be thinking about the late King. When you go out in the evening wearing a black ribbon or muted colours will be appreciated, but not demanded. To a certain extent, follow the lead of the Thai people around you and assess the mood. It may vary from location to location so use your own judgment. If you are travelling with children the most important thing for them is to be comfortable in the heat. There is no need to make any changes to what you are planning to pack for younger children. For older children and teenagers, try to explain why Thai people are wearing black tops or black ribbons. If your children want to wear black ribbons too, it will reflect positively on you as a parent and won’t go unnoticed by appreciative locals.

Tourist attractions

Most tourists attractions will be open as usual in Thailand throughout October. The notable exception is the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha which will be closed to tourists from October 1-29. On October 26 some other venues in Bangkok and around Thailand may close for the day or close early to allow workers to watch the funeral on television. On all other dates, tourist attractions around the country should be open as usual.

Note: some attractions in Bangkok such as the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and Vimanmek Teak Mansion will be closed for restoration work

Transport

If you are travelling around Thailand you can expect flights, trains and buses to run as scheduled. However, there will be extra demand on all transport services into Bangkok ahead of the funeral and out again after the funeral and you should take this into account when planning travel. Vast crowds are expected in the vicinity of the Grand Palace for the funeral with people travelling from across Thailand to pay their last respects.

Flights
International and internal flights will operate normally. There will be extra domestic flights with carriers including Thai Airways and Thai Smile announcing additional services to and from Bangkok to facilitate mourners. With temporary road closures and the potential for extra traffic congestion between October 25-29, do allow extra time to get to and from both of Bangkok’s airports.

Roads in Bangkok
There will be temporary road closures and extra security in place around the Grand Palace and Sanam Luang area which could have a knock-on effect for traffic in other areas of Bangkok. Allow plenty of extra time for journeys between October 25-29.

Trains and buses
Train and bus services on many routes into Bangkok are expected to be busier than usual ahead of the funeral. Book seats in advance if possible. In Bangkok, some of the local bus services that serve Sanam Luang and the Grand Palace area will be free of charge. Bangkok transport authorities will also provide shuttle buses on a number of routes into Sanam Luang.

The airport rail link that serves Bangkok Suvarnabhumi will be free for passengers on October 25 and 26.

Bangkok Skytrain (BTS), Metro (MRT) and Trams (BRT)
There will be free services on all routes on October 26. Some routes will also run free services on October 25. There is likely to be congestion at interchange stations and at other major stations including Saphan Taksin where people connect to boat services to Sanam Luang.

Boat services
There will be additional boat services along the Chao Phraya River for the funeral period. Extra staff will be on duty to maintain passenger safety and access to some piers may be temporarily restricted to ease the flow of people.
Chao Phraya River boat routes »

Taxis and tuk-tuks
Taxis and tuk-tuks will still be available in Bangkok, but road closures will be in effect around the Grand Palace and Sanam Luang which may result in traffic congestion in nearby areas. Allow plenty of extra time if you are travelling to or from the airport during the funeral period. With October 26 being a public holiday there is a chance that traffic in Bangkok could be lighter than usual, but don’t bank on it.

mourners outside the Grand Place in Bangkok in November 2016

Mourners outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok hold portraits of the late King (photo taken in November 2016)

Hotels

There will also be increased demand for accommodation around Bangkok from October 25-29. Many hotels and guest houses in the vicinity of Sanam Luang and the Grand Palace are already booked out. Although there shouldn’t be a problem finding a room in other areas of Bangkok, it’s advisable to book accommodation in advance. It will be an emotional time for Thai people and that includes the workers at your hotel or guest house. If they can’t be at the funeral in person the next best thing will be watching the coverage on television or their smartphone so don’t take it personally if staff appear distracted.

Shops and restaurants

Shopping malls, stores and restaurants will all be open. Some independent stores or family-owned restaurants may close earlier than usual on October 26 to allow staff to watch coverage of the funeral ceremony on television.

Entertainment and alcohol sales

At the time of writing, there has been no announcement of any formal bans on entertainment or alcohol, but the military government have announced guidelines asking entertainment venues to show discretion and respect, especially on October 26. It’s probable that many bars and clubs around Thailand will decide to close on October 26. For other days during the funeral period (October 25-29) it’s possible that music may be toned down and lights dimmed. With the funeral taking place in Bangkok, it will be in the Thai capital where authorities will be particularly keen to see restraint from bars, clubs and entertainment venues. The situation is likely to vary depending where you are in Thailand and may not be decided until nearer the time. Pubs and bars in a city like Chiang Mai will probably be closed on October 26, but small beachside bars on a tourist island like Ko Phi Phi may still be open. Different business owners and police chiefs will interpret guidelines differently, but be prepared for some temporary restrictions on entertainment during the funeral period, especially on October 26.

The above is also true for October 13 which marks the anniversary of the King’s death. Restrictions on entertainment and alcohol sales may also be in place in some locations on October 5, but that is for the Buddhist holiday of Awk Phansa and is not related to the funeral arrangements for the late King.

Hotels will have more leeway for serving alcohol on all of these dates, but again it will depend on the hotel management and agreements in place with the local police.

Days when alcohol sales are restricted in Thailand »

Media

There will be changes to Thai television schedules ahead of the royal funeral. Light entertainment programmes will be suspended and some broadcasts will switch from colour to black and white. From October 21 to 24, special programmes will be shown to honour His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. There will be live coverage of all the cremation ceremonies from October 25-29.

During October, many Thai websites will also switch their default settings to black and white. This will also extend to social media with Thai companies and private individuals changing their profile photos to show respect for the King.

Visitors to Thailand are politely reminded that the monarchy is a revered institution in Thailand and there are strict laws in place which also extend to visitors.

mourners at Grand Palace, Bangkok

Mourners outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok queue up to pay their respects to HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej (photo taken in November 2016)

mourning the Thai king at the Grand Palace, Bangkok

Attending the funeral

Sanam Luang will attract massive crowds for the Royal Cremation Ceremonies. There is nothing to say tourists can’t attend, but if you do want to go there are lots of rules of etiquette involved. You will need to wear black and be aware that there are restrictions about who and what you can and can’t photograph without causing offence. It will also be a day that will severely test your stamina. The Sanam Luang area will be hot, potentially rainy and extremely crowded. Thai mourners will arrive early and wait patiently for many hours to try and secure their spot. If you are still intent on going it would be helpful if you attended with a Thai person or somebody who can speak Thai and has a good knowledge of Thai culture.

This is also an event that will be attended by heads of state from around the world and security will be heightened. You will probably be asked to show your passport before gaining access to Sanam Luang. Thai people are required to carry ID cards.

As an alternative to attending the actual cremation ceremony, you could attend the full dress rehearsals for the royal procession. These are scheduled to be held at Sanam Luang in Bangkok on October 7 and 15.

After the funeral

An exhibition will be held at Sanam Luang from November 1 to 30 allowing visitors the chance to learn more about the funeral ceremonies and traditions involved. The Grand Palace is scheduled to reopen to tourists on October 30.

An announcement is expected in the weeks after the funeral to confirm the date for the formal coronation of the new monarch, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.

Life goes on

There is no need to change travel plans, but please be culturally sensitive. This doesn’t mean that you can’t laugh and enjoy yourself during your visit to Thailand in October. Life goes on and Thai people will want you to enjoy your trip. Just use discretion and common sense. This is a historic occasion and it will be a privilege to be in Thailand and experience this once in a lifetime event as Thais bid a final farewell to the man they call the Royal Father.

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This article has been provided by Tiger Trail, known for alternative & adventure tours in Laos with a focus on sustainable tourism, offering a personalized travel experience in Laos!

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