Royalty & Politics
Thailand takes their royalty very seriously, and any visitor who travels to the country should be aware of this, particularly before commenting on the royal family and loyalty within earshot of any local. Here’s the thing: speaking badly about the royal family is not just frowned upon, it’s punishable by law. The laws, known as “lese majeste” have been enforced, with historic examples of locals and visitors being sentenced to prison, deported, or fired.
Wherever you go, photos of the king and queen will follow you: massive portraits on major highways, in almost every restaurant, store, even gas station. At 8am and 6pm every day, the patriotic national anthem (also known as the Royal Anthem) blasts from speakers around the city, on television stations, and the same tune plays in movie theatres before the feature begins. During these 45 seconds, the world suspends and resumes within moments after. The sense of national pride and loyalty towards the royal family run deep.
As of 2014, Thailand’s current king is Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), who has served since 1946 and holds the title for the longest reign of any monarch. The Grand Palace is the official residence of the King, and is also one of the most visited sites in Bangkok.
The unusual contrast to this phenomenon in Thailand is that of the government, which is open to criticism as seen during the historic coups and protests in the city. The city has a history of political unrest, and in 2014 the anti-government protesters engaged the city in a major “shutdown”, an occupy movement that led to many of the city’s main streets to become tent cities that could feel like street fairs but also sparked violence.
Travelers are advised to check state department and government websites before trips, particularly because Thailand was under martial law at a point in 2014. While the current restrictions aren’t as limiting as the former curfew and alcohol bans, it is possible that the situation can disrupt travel. The US Department of State website lists updated information and travel safety updates. Travelers are also encouraged to register with their country’s embassy in order to have access to services if necessary.