My first time in Thailand was March of 2017 in which time it was during the mourning period for the Thai people. In October 2016, the Thai monarch King Bhumibol died at 88 years old. The day of his death was a great day of sadness and loss amongst the Thai people for they had lost one of the greatest kings in their country’s history. He left behind a grieving yet great nation rich in culture, tradition, and natural resources in order to sustain itself. It is said that King Bhumibol served as the longest serving monarch in Thai history outdoing Britain’s Queen Elizabeth by seven years. He will be greatly missed by his people.
He was born in Cambridge, Massachussetts, educated in America and in Switzerland before he returned to Thailand to be a full time monarch. He was only 19 when he became king and yet he was not meant to be one. King Bhumibol ascended to the throne in 1946 soon after the death of his older brother, King Ananda who died of a gunshot. King Ananda was childless leaving the then Prince Bhumibol the heir to the throne.
During my visit in Thailand, I saw large photos, banners and other images of the late king displayed in public. Some were in large billboards that you will see while driving down the highway. Others were on street level displayed with colorful flowers like an altar. Some photos are of the king in his official royal regalia, others were of the king with a candid smile. One thing is for certain about this practice – the king was well-beloved by his people that they have to be honored and revered him in such a manner.
One of the reason why the people of Thailand loves him so much is because he initiated more than 100 projects during his reign that helped his people’s livelihood especially in the rural areas of Thailand. Most of his projects are in agriculture. While waiting at Bangkok airport for my return flight, I saw a video of all the projects the late king was involved in. He was very hands-on and often with a camera around his neck so he could chronicle the progress of the projects. He is also known as one of the richest monarchs in the world.
According to Buddhist tradition, the mourning period for the departed is one year. His remains are in wake at the grand palace which is why it was closed for visitors at the time of my visit in Thailand. Only mourners in black are allowed to enter the palace. Once mourning period is over, his remains will be cremated and his ashes will be interred at one of the palace’s Buddhist temples.
I found it interesting to observe such a very strong tradition practiced in Thailand. I’m not very familiar with Buddhist teachings however it was great to learn about them especially the practices upon the death of devotees. This is one of the reasons why people should travel – to discover and learn from different countries, and their culture.