Exterior of The Grand Palace complex, Bangkok

Visiting Bangkok in October During the Funeral of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Visiting Bangkok in October during the funeral of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej? Then you may wish to consider adjusting your travel plans to take in lesser-visited sights, stay in more off the beaten track neighbourhoods, or explore other parts of Thailand.

Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away on 13 October 2016 at the age of 88 after more than seven decades on the throne. The country has been in mourning ever since.

This month will see Thailand‘s capital Bangkok getting busy with preparations for royal processions, elaborate funerary rites and the cremation for the late monarch being held later in October. Thais will be travelling to Bangkok from around the country to witness the ceremonies.

If you are planning on visiting Bangkok in October during the funeral of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, then you need to be aware of events taking place across the Thai capital during the month and may wish to think about changing your itinerary.

Travellers’ plans may be affected by crowds on public transport, in the streets and in public spaces; traffic congestion and gridlock; possible prohibition of alcohol during the funeral ceremony and possible closure of bars, live music venues and some restaurants anything from 3-15 days before the funeral; and closure of some shopping malls, supermarkets and small businesses on the day of the funeral.

Visiting Bangkok in October During the Funeral of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej

A quarter of a million Thais are expected to travel to Bangkok, joining the millions of locals living there for the ceremonies. The number of mourners could quite possibly bring Bangkok to a standstill at times.

Earlier this year it was reported that Thailand’s Minister for Tourism Kobkarn Wattanavrangul issued an official travel advisory for 25-29 October 2017, the period during which the state funeral of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, could bring the Thai capital to a standstill. The Minister suggested that foreign travellers head to the beach or other destinations in Thailand to avoid traffic congestion.

More recently, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) announced that it was business as usual in the capital this month and that it wouldn’t be necessary to adjust your travel plans. Although the day of the funeral has been declared a national holiday to enable Thais to pay tribute to the late king, TAT has advised that “transport, banks, shopping areas, hospitals, and other public services will be operating as usual”.

It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that Bangkok’s traffic can be horrendous and gridlock is the norm in peak travel periods. During these times, trains on the underground metro and overhead Skytrain are uncomfortably crowded. Imagine how much worse it will be with millions of people on the move to witness the late King’s funeral and participate in ceremonies.

What to Expect if Visiting Bangkok in October During the Funeral of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej

The October closure of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok’s most visited sights, along with restricted access is the surrounding area, is what will most affect travellers to Bangkok.

The Grand Palace, Temple of the Emerald Buddha and nearby Sanam Luang are the locations of preparations for the funeral, sumptuous processions and the royal cremation ceremony for the late king. It will be a grand event.

A special urn has been made for the monarch’s ashes, antique royal funeral chariots are being restored, and a gilded crematorium built on Sanam Luang, where the funeral rites and cremation of the late king will take place from Monday 23-29 October. There will be six royal processions during these days.

Sanam Luang is where millions of Thais will gather for the late King’s cremation. If you’ve been to Bangkok, Sanam Luang is the sprawling lawn in front of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. While to visitors it might look like a sporting field or fairgrounds, it has been the official royal cremation grounds since the reign of King Rama I.

During the ceremony, a royal chariot pulled by hundreds of men will carry the late king’s coffin to Sanam Luang where it’s expected 250,000 people will attend the memorial service, including cultural performances, such as khon, to send the king’s spirit to the afterlife.

The funeral pyre will be lit after sunset and the next morning will be taken by urn to the Grand Palace and Chakri Mahaprasat Hall. Officials said last week that replicas of the pyre will also be set up around the city to try to absorb the crowds, while some 70,000 security will be deployed to keep the peace.

In addition to road closures and traffic disruption, you can expect that some small businesses will closed, as many people will want to attend the funeral ceremonies.

According to travel industry publications and sites, travel companies that include the Old City sights on their tours will also have to change their itineraries, so check in if you have tours booked.

In addition, many entertainment activities will either be banned or are required to tone down out of respect. Gambling permits have been revoked during the period, which means a ban on Muay Thai matches. Rumours in the liquor industry suggest that there could be an announcement any day now that the sale of alcohol will be prohibited during the funeral ceremony and possibly 3-15 days before the funeral, which could result in a closure of bars, live music venues and some restaurants.

Some shopping malls and department stores such as Isetan, Robinson and Central Pattana Group (Central Plaza, Central Festival etc), supermarkets such as Tesco Lotus, cinemas, and small businesses have announced closure on the day of or the afternoon of the funeral.

Above all, don’t forget that the people of Thailand are in mourning and will experience deep grief on the day of the ceremony. The Tourism Authority of Thailand recently advised travellers to be sensitive to the fact that the period will be “a time of great sadness for the whole nation”. King Bhumibol was Thailand’s longest reigning king and the only king that most Thais have ever known.

Some 12.5 million people in total have paid their respects to the late king, according to the Palace, with tens of thousands of people queuing every day since the King’s death to see his body lying in state in the throne hall. Some 90,300 mourners visited on October 1 alone!

The country’s mood will be sombre throughout the month, so don’t expect to arrive in the ‘land of smiles’ in October. Terence and I were in Phnom Penh when Cambodian King Father Norodom Sihanouk died in October 2012. There was an enormous outpouring of emotions. I am sure it will be the same in Thailand.

You can expect to see a nation in black, and to a lesser extent, white. Most Thais have been wearing black mourning dress for the last twelve months and will continue to do so. Thai television channels, websites and social media are required to shift to black and white or grey tones, or at the very least, place a black ribbon in the corner of the frame or on a tab from 13-29 October. No advertising or promotions are permitted on the 13th and from the 21-29 October and must be paused on all platforms unless they relate to the late King’s funeral ceremony.

While the Tourism Authority of Thailand said that foreigners aren’t required to wear black, they asked that visitors dress in a “respectful manner” while in Thailand. That means save your swimwear, shorts and shoestring straps for the beach and wear sleeved shirts and long trousers or skirts.

Our Tips for Visiting Bangkok in October During the Funeral of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej

  • If you’re still keen to visit Bangkok, book a hotel on Sukhumvit Road or in an area such as Thong Lor to avoid the crowds and traffic congestion in the Old City. See our Thong Lor neighbourhood guide for tips as to what to do.
  • Bangkok first-time visitors still eager to see the Old City sights should focus on lesser-visited temples as Bangkok’s most popular attractions, the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha, will be closed this month.
  • Avoid the area around Sanam Luang, the location of the royal cremation pyre, where millions of mourners are expected to gather on key dates, below.
  • Instead, watch the rehearsals for the royal cremation processions (see dates below) and witness offerings being made at one of the many replicas of the royal crematorium constructed around the country. Details here.
  • Be respectful at all times and note that criticism of Thailand’s monarchy is outlawed and can result in prison sentences.
  • Dress conservatively. While official advice has so far been that tourists aren’t expected to dress in black mourning clothes, it’s a sign of respect that will be appreciated if you do. At the very least, wear a black ribbon if offered one.
  • Consider postponing your Bangkok stay until November and head south to Phuket or Hua Hin, north to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, or take a road trip through the northeastern Isaan region in October instead.
  • If you wish to attend the funeral events, see this post for a lot more detail on protocol, etiquette, dress code, transport and more.
  • If you’re a blogger who is visiting Bangkok in October during the funeral of Thai King or you simply like to share your holiday on social media, ensure your content is respectful and subdued.

Key Dates to Be Aware of If Visiting Bangkok in October During the Funeral of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej

  • 1-29 October – The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha will be closed.
  • 5 October – Wan Ok Phansa Buddhist holiday marking end of Buddhist Lent and end of the monsoon season. Last day to pay respects to the late king at Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall, where he has been laying in state. (It’s been reported that 40,000 people queued yesterday.)
  • 7, 15 & 21 October – Rehearsals for the Royal Cremation procession at Sanam Luang.
  • 13 October – National holiday to commemorate the first anniversary of King Bhumibol’s death.
  • 25-29 October – State funeral of the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej including royal processions and related ceremonies.
  • 26 October – Royal cremation ceremony for the late Thai King, which has been declared a national holiday.
  • 30 October – The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha will reopen.

Will you be visiting Bangkok in October during the funeral of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej? If you do, we’d love to hear about your experience.

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There are 5 comments

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  1. Paul Spinks

    Hi, Lara:

    Thanks for your comprehensive piece and for taking the time to compose it. I’ve just arrived in southern Thailand and am contemplating venturing to Bangkok during that week – you’ve helped clarify expectations and provided useful info.

    Events surrounding the King have often coincided with my visits to Bangkok. Last year, less fortuitously, I arrived the day he passed away and wrote an account here.
    http//spinksytravelworld.com/the-day-ad/

    I stayed in the old city and generally it wasn’t that difficult getting around. In fact, Khao San Rd etc minus the duelling decibels was quite pleasant.

    Regards

    Paul

  2. Lara Dunston

    Hi Paul, thanks for the kind words. The difference between your trip last year and this trip is that millions of Thais have been planning to attend the funeral ceremony for months, so the city is expected to be much more congested. I’ve heard that nearly all accommodation in the old city is booked out, so Khao San Road might be a bit more crowded this time. We’ll have to see. Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Lara Dunston

    I think a lot of Thais and expats left Bangkok during October – most of our friends did, anyway. Curious why the atmosphere was strange? Because the mood was so sombre and Bangkok is normally such a vibrant city, perhaps? Thanks for visiting us to share your experience.


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