Unity in Mourning

Pic @dalepeter

Originally published at AsianCorrespondent.com on 20th October 2016

IT’S BEEN one week since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and the kingdom of Thailand feels a very different place to what it was seven days ago.

Public areas are filled with people dressed in black or white, coloured images of King Bhumibol have been replaced with monochrome pictures, television channels are celebrating the king’s life and his commitment to sustainable development with footage of his travels across the country, and the country’s notorious nightlife has been toned down considerably.

With very few Thais able to remember life before King Bhumibol, this period of reflection provides an opportunity to come to terms with losing the only monarch most have known, and time to consider what lies ahead for Thailand in the future.

Although there is a somber atmosphere across the country, this national mourning period has brought a sense of unity to the kingdom.

In Bangkok, volunteers and university students have been providing support to the thousands of mourners who have flocked to the capital since Oct 13, the day the kingdom lost its revered ruler. At Sanam Luang, university students have been collecting litter, tidying up walkways and improving the environment around the Grand Palace. Another group has been handing out black t-shirts to the homeless who live around Sanam Luang so they can join the mourners in expressing their grief.

Meanwhile, small business owners have been distributing meals and drinks to mourners who queue for hours to pay their last respects to the king. The army has also set up mobile kitchens to feed the thousands of mourners arriving at Sanam Luang, many of whom have traveled overnight from Thailand’s North, and Northeast.

Medics and nurses volunteering in Bangkok have been on patrol providing relief to mourners who have endured hours waiting in Bangkok’s soaring heat. Doctors elsewhere have also been inspired to provide their services for free at this time of sorrow, as an act of respect to the memory of King Bhumibol. Doctors opening their clinics for free during this period include Dr Tin in Ranong, who will be doing so for the first 30 days of mourning, and Dr Jumpol, a doctor from Ban Naderm Hospital in Surat Thani who has begun giving free medical care to those in need of it, from his private clinic.

At one hospital in Khon Kaen, a group of foreigners, who appear to have been inspired by this sense of unity, have been spotted handing out black ribbons to nurses and patients visiting the medical center.

However, it was actually Bangkok’s motorcycle taxi drivers who were the first to offer these services. Early Friday, just a day after the king’s death, they began giving free rides to mourners wanting to travel to Siriraj Hospital and the Grand Palace.

Meanwhile, government authorities have started to provided free transportation for the public living up country who wish to travel to Bangkok to pay their respects, with free train services and free governments buses running daily.

On social media, a number of sites have released hundreds of rare and historic images of King Bhumibol, which mourners can download for free to remember the ruler and his work. Two sites with a particularly large range of pictures include the Rao Rak Phra Chao Yoo Hua website and oneFacebook account, which has over one thousand pictures available for download.

Perhaps surprisingly, a number of tattoo artists have begun offering their services for free during this mourning periods, for individuals wanting to commemorate the passing of King Bhumibol with a tattoo. Tattoo shops report that the most popular tattoos include the wording, ‘I was born in the reign of King Rama IX’, while images of the King Bhumibol and the King Rama IX emblem, have also been popular choices.

Students at Silpakorn University, Thailand’s leading fine arts institution, have also been applying their art skills to pay respect to King Bhumibol by creating an extended mural along the university’s outer walls.


Mourners visiting Sanam Luang and the Grand Place have been stopping by the university to admire the students’ depictions of the King and his achievements.

One of Bangkok’s most famous graffiti teams was also keen to show their respect and condolences to Thailand’s beloved monarch, and they did so by removing one of their most colourful city murals and replacing it with a black and white mural honouring King Rama IX.


Unfortunately though, despite a sense of solemn harmony across the nation, this first week of mourning has seen some isolated episodes of unpleasantness.

Overwhelming demand for black attire has resulted in some of the country’s leading fashion retailers temporarily running out of black clothing, with some merchants taking this opportunity to price-gouge.

Elsewhere, there have been a few incidents of mourners shaming those who were not dressed in black.

The Thai government, however, has spoken out against these actions, and other such behaviour which is not appropriate and does not honour the memory of Thailand’s beloved Monarch.

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