The current circumstances in Thailand are unprecedented. First and foremost, please respect that Thai people are grieving for their King. Many Thais loved him as dearly as they would love a father or grand-father. That applies too to the people in authority at local and national level in Thailand. It also applies to Thai staff at the Tourism Authority of Thailand offices around the world. These are exceptionally difficult times for them too. Behind what can sometimes appear to be faceless organisations are Thai people with feelings and this is an emotional time for them. It’s true that they are paid to do a job and keeping tourists informed is part of that job, but they are hurting right now. None of us should forget that.
The official mourning period for the King is a year. But this doesn’t mean that all events and festivals are cancelled for a year. The initial announcement from the military government asked the public to be particularly respectful about festivities in the 30-day period that follows the King’s death. That would take us up until November 13 and 14. It is this month-long period where events and festivals are most likely to be subject to change. Most events and festivals in Thailand in 2017 should all go ahead as usual although many may also incorporate additional elements to show respect to the King.
Have there been any official announcements?
A number of announcements have been made in recent days about some events and festivals in Thailand being cancelled during October and November. You may already have seen an official list of cancellations from the Thai authorities that has been published on social media and various websites. I’m not going to link to that list. Not yet. And this is why. Emotions are raw at the moment and lots of announcements have been made in good faith and with the right intentions, but they are still subject to change and not set in stone. I personally think there will be more updates over the next two weeks once those in authority have been given some time to come to terms with their loss, reflect and produce a more co-ordinated response. In Thai culture there is sometimes a desire to give any answer to be seen to be helpful. Beyond the understandable shock and grief there are all sorts of subtle cultural reasons involved when making decisions in Thailand. These include the desire not to lose face and the kreng jai attitude.
In my opinion, it’s best to adopt a wait and see attitude. Within the next few weeks we should all have some more definite answers and I’ll add details here as and when they emerge.
When the Supreme Patriarch died in 2013 there were various announcements that the Loy Krathong and the Yi Peng Festival would be cancelled. Those statements were later amended and events went ahead. I’m not saying that will be the case here too, but it does demonstrate a point. The passing of the King is on another level. This is an unprecedented time in Thai history. If events or festivals do end up being cancelled, then so be it.
Loy Krathong and Yi Peng Lantern Festival, 2016
If you want to know what is happening with Loy Krathong or the Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, please wait until at least the end of this week. Despite some official media announcements I’ve heard, my personal view (and I may be completely wrong) is that Loy Krathong will be allowed to continue in a more muted, traditional manner to pay respect to the King. This could mean parades, music concerts, pageants and fireworks may end up being cancelled. The final decision may be left to individual local authorities so there could be a situation where, for example, Loy Krathong events planned for Sukhothai go ahead and those in Pattaya are cancelled. At the moment there are a lot of mixed messages. In Chiang Mai over the past weekend there were announcements that the Night Bazaar and Sunday Walking Street Market would be closed. I checked in person and they were both open.
Even if Thai authorities say Loy Krathong is cancelled, it’s difficult to see how anybody can prevent Thai families from around the country floating home-made krathongs on rivers and waterways. Part of the old tradition is to float away troubles and sadness and I believe Thais around the country will still want to do this in honour of their King on November 14 regardless of what is announced by authorities. It could prove to be an uplifting and emotional scene on the night of the full moon a month after the death of the King.
Parades and fireworks that usually form part of the official Yi Peng Lantern Festival could be cancelled. But trying to prevent the release of sky lanterns is going to be a tricky one for the Chiang Mai authorities. Sky lanterns in Chiang Mai and the north of Thailand are part of the Yi Peng tradition to honour Buddha and it’s a tradition that was established long before there were tourists coming to Thailand. Although authorities could put a ban in place on the release of sky lanterns, trying to enforce it could be problematic. Banning sky lanterns in the centre of the city of Chiang Mai is one thing, but it’s difficult to see how they can apply that to the surrounding areas and villages in the countryside where local people will still want to respect Buddha as well as their King.
It will also be interesting to see how Chiang Mai authorities handle the privately organised tourist event at Mae Jo which is hosted by a Buddhist sect. If you have bought a ticket for the Mae Jo event, contact the organisers or the people you bought the ticket from.
Should I change my travel plans?
In my opinion, no. These are sad times in Thailand, but the grief has been remarkably dignified. Thai people are still carrying on with their daily routines. Things haven’t come to a standstill and you don’t need to be dressed top-to-toe in black. That famous Thai hospitality and warm welcome is still here. Tourist attractions remain open (with a few notable exceptions in Bangkok) and transport is running normally. Shops and banks are open and street vendors continue to ply their trade to make a living.
The Thai smiles are still here too. Sometimes through reddened eyes, but still here. There have been tears. Lots of tears. But most of the emotion has been saved for private moments at home where family have been able to support each other. These are difficult days for ordinary Thai people. It’s entirely up to you what you do, but cancelling or amending your travel plans isn’t going to make things any easier for them. Come to Thailand, be respectful and enjoy the country.
A press conference was held today in Chiang Mai in which relevant authorities tried to clear the confusion that has been created. The situation wasn’t helped over the weekend by the way some Chiang Mai news outlets handled the story on social media. I’m scheduled to meet with Thai contacts in Chiang Mai on Wednesday and hope to have minutes from the meeting. I’ve been provisionally advised the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng Lantern Festival will go ahead in Chiang Mai, but with a more traditional atmosphere as previously mentioned in this article. Full details about the revised schedule have not yet been finalised and it’s possible they might not be published until the end of October. I’m also advised that no final decision has been made about the privately arranged lantern release at Mae Jo. Advice on that one is to contact the organisers.
Following a specially convened meeting last Friday, Thai officials have drawn up some guidelines to allow various events and festivals to continue, but still show appropriate respect to the late King. It’s been confirmed that all Loy Krathong events can go ahead, but with some amendments. Loy Krathong guidelines:
- fireworks are allowed (still seems to be some contradiction on this. It looks like official, organised firework displays may be cancelled, but private individuals may still light fireworks. Will have to wait and see)
- organisers of Loy Krathong events are requested not to hold beauty contests or music concerts
- people attending Loy Krathong events are asked to dress respectfully; tourists should try to wear a black ribbon if possible.
There appears to be a lot of discretion for local organisers so it’s still difficult to predict what will or won’t happen in any given location. Scheduled events may still be subject to change. The official Tourism Authority of Thailand news website has issued and revised statements a number of times in recent days*. My advice would be to go ahead with whatever plans you have for Loy Krathong. Organised events may be amended slightly, but you’ll still be able to float krathongs and celebrate in the traditional way.
*Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, confirmed that Loy Krathong will go ahead in Thailand this year. In separate meetings with media and international officials on October 27 and 28, Minister Kobkarn outlined what will be happening in major tourist spots for Loy Krathong which falls this year on November 14. There will be some adaptations with organisers asked not to use fireworks or hold beauty contests during Loy Krathong. Some events will be privately arranged and some will be hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
The main Loy Krathong event in Bangkok will be organised by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and held at Santichaiprakarn Park overlooking the Chao Phraya River from 5pm to 10pm on November 14. The event will focus on the history of Loy Krathong. Visitors can make krathongs try local food and enjoy traditional cultural performances. Separate Loy Krathong events will also be held at a number of venues in Bangkok including Asiatique.
The Loy Krathong and Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai will go ahead. In line with the guidelines issued, there are unlikely to be any beauty pageants or music concerts, but a street parade is still scheduled. Sky lanterns can be launched, but authorities want them to be white or grey in colour. In previous years, vendors have sold pink lanterns and some depicting cartoon characters in addition to the traditional white lanterns. The privately organised sky lantern release at Mae Jo has also been given the go ahead.
Update: October 29
As mentioned in previous updates, the Chiang Mai Loy Krathong and Yi Peng Festival goes ahead with an amended format from November 12-15. Visitors are invited to join with locals to float krathongs on the Ping River and launch sky lanterns on November 14 and 15. There will only be one street parade this year which will be held on the evening of November 15. The procession is scheduled to start at Thapae Gate at 7pm and will travel slowly along Thapae Road towards the Ping River and the Chiang Mai Municipality Office. There will be no official firework display this year.
Organisers of the Loy Krathong Festival at Sukhothai have previously announced there would be no light and sound show this year. However, that could possibly change again depending on discussions at local level in the next few weeks. In the meantime, it has been confirmed that visitors can still float krathongs with free entrance to the Sukhothai Historical Park.
Update: October 29
The Loy Krathong event in Sukhothai will go ahead from November 10-14, but with a revised format to honour the passing of the King. The ruins of Old Sukhothai will be illuminated each evening and visitors are invited to float their krathongs in the spiritual home of Loy Krathong. At 6pm each evening, 9,999 candles will be lit in honour of the King. The number 9 is auspicious in Thai culture and His Majesty was the ninth King of the Chakri Dynasty. Entrance to Sukhothai Historical Park will be free for all visitors.
In Tak, it’s a Loy Krathong tradition to light candles and float them on coconut shells on the Ping River. This year on Loy Krathong night, 9,999 coconut shells will be floated in remembrance of the King.
Free admission to national museums and historical parks
Up until January 31, 2017, there will be free admission to national museums and historical parks throughout Thailand. This applies to everybody, Thais and non-Thais.