Taking the bang out of Bangkok

The happening night-life in Southeast Asia’s tourism hub Thailand is expected to go sober this week  as the country prepares to give its late King Bhumibol Adulyadej a lavish send-off in a spectacular five-day funeral. Steeped in centuries of royal tradition and overseen by strict palace protocols, the elaborate $90 million ceremony will draw an estimated quarter million Thais to bid farewell to the “father” of the nation, who died last year aged 88.

Heard of ‘living life king-size’? Wait till you hear more about this one. Reports are that the whole ceremony is centered around a cremation at a gilded pyre in Bangkok’s historic heart on Thursday. The cremation complex is a 50-metre high funeral pyre symbolising Mount Meru, the allegorical centre of the universe in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain cosmology. The gold-painted structure is adorned with sculptures of deities and mythical creatures from Buddhist and Hindu lore as well as the king’s favourite dogs. Royals and dignitaries from over 40 countries will attend the cremation, including Britain’s Prince Andrew, Japan’s Prince Akishino and Princess Akishino, Queen Maxima from the Netherlands, the King and Queen of Bhutan and US Secretary of Defence James Mattis.  Officials estimate that some 250,000 Thais will crush into the surrounding roads, while television sets will relay blanket coverage of the event.

Clearly this is not the best time to go looking for fun in Bangkok because the funeral comes with a long list of guidelines for visitors to the country where all things royal are tightly controlled. Tourists are not expected to wear black like most Thais have done since the king’s death in October 2016, but visitors have been asked to dress and behave “respectfully”. Though alcohol consumption and other fun things have not been banned outright, but nightlife will be toned down throughout the funeral period. Also in an unprecedented mark of respect, many banks and businesses — including the ubiquitous 7/11 stores — will close for much of Thursday, which itself is likely to bring splurging in the sin city to stuttering halt. While we wonder what the average Thais think of the elaborate mourning, we can’t help but accept that’s what is “ending life king-size”.