Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej

The party’s over: Bangkok’s wild nightlife falls silent out of respect for late king

Foreign governments have urged their citizens to behave respectfully, while Thai tourist authorities have asked travellers to dress in sombre clothing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 October, 2016, 8:53pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 October, 2016, 11:11pm

Thailand’s party heart – Bangkok – has stopped beating but international tourists still flocking to the city synonymous with fun are falling into line out of respect for the country’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The passing of the world’s longest-reigning monarch on Thursday aged 88 triggered an outpouring of grief nationwide and prompted the government to announce an unprecedented year-long period of mourning. Its most immediate effect has been to curtail much of the capital’s renowned over-the-top entertainment.

Bars, nightclubs and restaurants have fallen quiet after visits from police and army officers with orders to tone down the revelry – even if most of their patrons are tourists from overseas.

On Saturday in Khaosan Road, Bangkok’s infamous backpacker hot spot, bar managers and tourists insisted they had never seen such a complete shutdown.

We have been open more than 20 years and we have never seen anything quite like this
Sambat Chen, Lucky Beer bar

“We have been open more than 20 years and we have never seen anything quite like this,” said Sambat Chen, a manger at the Lucky Beer bar. “Before the king died we were busy, busy just like normal. But after he passed away we were visited by the police and so now we only sell alcohol in the morning and afternoon.

“There are no beers and no alcohol on sale after 8pm and any loud music and live entertainment has been stopped. We understand and most of the young foreign tourists do too.”

Swedish siblings Sara and Johan Dagervik, aged 30 and 22 respectively, only heard about the king’s death as they boarded a flight for Bangkok from London on Thursday. They said they respected the situation and were happy to be in the capital at such a historic moment.

Sara, a London-based business manager, said: “This is our first time in Thailand so we have nothing to compare with what it is like now. Last night was our first and we came out looking for a place to have a few drinks and we couldn’t find anywhere. We ended up just going back to our hotel for the night.”

The passing of the 88-year-old king has thrust the Buddhist nation into a period of profound mourning, with masses of tearful Thais filling the streets to pay respect to a king worshipped as an exemplar of moral virtue.

Like nearly all of their compatriots, Thai bar girls swapped their normally racy attire for more modest black dresses and shoes when they showed up to work on Friday night.

In Bangkok’s Soi Cowboy – a famed alleyway of luridly lit go-go bars and a barometer of the city’s adherence to temperance during coups, street protests and religious days – patrons who trickled through were soon disappointed.

At about 10pm soldiers pulled the plug on the neon lights, enforcing an early closing time in compliance with government orders to “tone down” celebrations as the nation grieves.

“Suddenly the army came. It was a group of five guys,” said Geroem Bonami, a 31-year-old tourist from Belgium. “We were asked to pay and they started to tidy up everything and the girls disappeared.”

Minutes after the ailing monarch’s passing was announced on Thursday, Thailand’s junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha took to national television to declare a one-year official mourning period.

He also asked the public to refrain from celebrations for at least 30 days, and dozens of events – from concerts to fun runs, wedding parties and religious festivals – have been cancelled since. Television networks are also under orders not to broadcast any overly joyous images – such as dancing – and one major channel said it would suspend its wildly popular soap opera.

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

While the military regime has not issued an all-out ban on alcohol, which is common on Buddhist holidays, many shops have opted to stop selling drinks and bars around the capital are taking special steps to show no one is having too much fun.

Foreign governments have urged their citizens to behave respectfully as the kingdom mourns, while Thai tourist authorities have asked travellers to dress in sombre and appropriate clothing.

Analysts, though, have warned that any protracted clampdown on the party scene could drive visitors away and hurt the tourism sector – a crucial pillar of the kingdom’s economy.