With Thailand now in the middle of an official mourning period following the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej last month, tourist arrivals who haven’t been paying attention to world news may be quite surprised at what they see. Everywhere you go, people are dressed in black and white.
I can’t speak for Bangkok, but here in the northern city of Chiang Mai I’d estimate that well over 90% of the people you see around town are outwardly observing the mourning period to some degree. Many people are dressed completely in black. The majority are wearing some combination of black & white clothing, with shades of gray included. And those in uniform, such as students and 7-Eleven employees, are displaying small black ribbons pinned to their chest or sleeve.
Surprisingly, even many tourists have followed suit. The Tourism Authority of Thailand released a set of recommendations for tourists during the mourning period (which will officially last for an entire year). I wasn’t sure how many would actually pay attention, but apparently many have. Even the Chinese tourists who often miss the memos about driving on the left side of the road or behaving at all-you-can-eat buffets seem to have gotten the memo this time. Flowing brightly colored pink, yellow, and green sun dresses have been replaced by flowing black and white ones.
In the shopping malls, all storefront mannequins are dressed in black and white. During the first couple days after His Majesty passed away, there was a rush to buy black clothing, resulting in shortages and reports of profiteering by some greedy merchants looking to take advantage of the situation.
It has yet to be seen how long the general public will keep up the trend for dressing in mourning attire. Government employees, including public school teachers and postal workers, are required to dress in black for an entire year. However, there is also an initial 30 day period during which most forms of entertainment—such as concerts and TV dramas—has been cancelled. There are only 10 more days left for this period, but judging by the amount of black clothing that has been sold I’m under the impression that many regular Thai citizens intend to wear black and white for the long haul.
It is not just clothing that has gone black and white. Many Thailand based websites have applied a monochrome filter for the time being.
Thailand doesn’t want to lose out on tourist income during the mourning period, but my honest advice for tourists is that you might want to reconsider your travel plans or at least change your expectations.
Certainly if you’re a young backpacker looking to party your way through Southeast Asia, you may be disappointed. Koh Phangan’s notorious Full Moon Party was cancelled for October and may not be its rowdy self in the upcoming months. You might enjoy yourself more by dedicating a greater portion of your Southeast Asian adventure to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
New Years Eve celebrations will also almost certainly be very toned down. Bangkok is not going to be the place to ring in 2017 if you’re looking to party your ass off.
Otherwise, if you’re just coming to Thailand to relax, hit the beach, eat some great Thai food, and do a little shopping—then there’s no need to fret. You can still enjoy your holiday, and honestly, don’t worry about the clothing thing too much. You’re not the one in mourning, so there’s no reason for you to dress in black. But if you want to appear respectful and not stick out like a sore thumb, then it’s best to avoid brightly colored clothing—so the lime green mankini for Songkran festival would obviously be a big no-no this year.