Thailand’s tourism likely to weather king’s mourning period


BANGKOK (AP) — Concerts and colossal beach parties in Thailand have been canceled. An annual festival meant to placate the country’s goddess of water with lanterns that float into the sky will not take place.

And closed for the first time in years: red-light districts in the heart of the Thai capital filled with seedy go-go bars so irrepressible they managed to stay open even through past military coups.

The death Thursday of Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej has plunged this Southeast Asian nation into an unprecedented period of mourning like nothing it has ever seen, and it’s likely to stay that way for some time.

But calm — not chaos — prevails, and the closures and cancellations are unlikely to last more than a month or have any serious long-term impact on tourism.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has declared a one-year mourning period and urged people to refrain from organizing entertainment events for 30 days. But he has also made clear that life must go on, and urged businesses to remain open to ensure the nation does not “lose its credibility.”

More than 30 million tourists visit Thailand every year, accounting for about 10 percent of government revenue. The industry is one of the few bright spots in an economy that has slumped since the army ousted a democratically elected government in 2014.

In a statement late Friday, the Tourism Authority of Thailand confirmed that tourist attractions will remain open with the exception of Bangkok’s gold-gilded Grand Palace, because it “will be the venue of the royal funeral rites.”

Bhumibol’s body was transported by royal procession to the palace’s Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew, on Friday as thousands of people lined the roads. Widely seen here as a unifying figure and the father of the nation, Bhumibol served as monarch for 70 years — so long that most Thais have known no other.

The subdued atmosphere that has engulfed the country since his death is unmistakable, visible in the black or white dress worn by millions of Thais in a massive show of mourning that has been displayed even on mannequins in luxury shopping malls.

In Bangkok, the neon-lit dinner cruise ships that ply the majestic Chao Phraya River every night have turned off their booming music.

Even some of the capital’s most prominent red-light districts have shut down. Nana Plaza, a three-story complex of go-go bars filled with scantily-clad women announced it was closing temporarily to “pay respect and mourn the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great.”

“It doesn’t bother me,” said Australian tourist Darren Turner, who was standing outside the all-dark plaza. “This is a man who stood on the throne unopposed for 70 years. He did a lot for his country and his people, and it’s good to show a mark of respect for his passing.”

The neon lights of another red-light district nearby, Soi Cowboy, abruptly switched off Friday night after police and soldiers paid a visit and asked bar managers to close to show respect of the king.

Hours after Bhumibol’s death on Thursday, Richard Barrow, a Bangkok-based travel blogger, tweeted that many tourists were “asking if they should cancel their holiday.” His is advice: you should not.

No foreign government has suggested its nationals to cancel trip plans, but several have issued advisories. Canada called on its citizens to “refrain from any behavior that may be interpreted as festive, disrespectful or disorderly,” Britain urged its nationals to “wear somber and respectful clothing when in public,” and the U.S. called on Americans to maintain “decorum during this extended period of profound mourning.”

While Thailand’s stunning beaches and resorts remain open, some tourists’ plans to see particular events may already be ruined.

In the northern city of Chiang Mai, the city government announced the annual Yi Peng Festival set for mid-November — in which tens of thousands of lanterns float into the sky — has been canceled.

On the island of Koh Phangan, organizers of the renowned “Full Moon” party, which had been set to begin Oct. 17, called the event off.

And in Bangkok, a sold-out concert featuring British singer Morrissey, the former frontman of The Smiths, was also canceled.

Khaosod English, a local media outlet which reported numerous cancellations in the capital, offered prudent advice to its readers for upcoming events: “Call ahead first.”

___

Associated Press journalist Dow Kaewjinda contributed to this report.


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