Saturday 25 November 2017

Red-light district goes dark to mourn Thai king

A woman carries a portrait of late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok. REUTERS
A woman carries a portrait of late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok. REUTERS

Nicola Smith

Bangkok's red-light district was plunged into darkness at the weekend as the Thai capital, known for its raucous parties, turned down the music and banned dancing to mourn the passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Soi Cowboy, a notorious alleyway normally bright with gaudy neon lights, which has stayed open for business during a series of coups, was pitch black on Saturday night as go-go bars closed their shutters in a sign of respect.

Staff sat forlornly on empty bar chairs, some watching a football game. But the few straggling tourists were unperturbed by the closure.

"This is incredible. I've never seen this before. But we understand," said Fabrice, an air steward from Paris.

Thanapan Sriphan, the manager of the only open restaurant, Spritz, said business was down by two-thirds. "We're not upset about the business though, because it's about the king," she said.

In the tourist district on Khaosan Road, normally buzzing with partygoers dancing to loud music until the small hours, holidaymakers could still enjoy a quiet alcoholic drink in discreet paper cups, but only until midnight. Night clubs were closed and music was banned by police order.

Danny Cheaton (32), an electrician from Burnley, had just arrived for a week-long holiday and was sanguine about the toned-down atmosphere. "I've been here before and this street is usually chaotic," he said. "But things are better than I was expecting."

Entertainment in Thailand, which has 30 million visitors a year, accounting for about 10pc of government revenue, has been curtailed for 30 days of mourning. Professional entertainers, who earn daily or freelance wages, may face a struggle to pay their bills.

But there are few vocal complaints, in a country where harsh lese majeste laws can mean up to 15 years in prison for insulting the king or heir. Yesterday, police charged a woman after a mob demanded action over a Facebook post allegedly smearing Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

The thrice-divorced Crown Prince has never achieved the popularity of his father and has spent much of his time abroad.

The country will officially mourn its much-revered monarch for one year.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-Ngam told reporters that the king would not be cremated until this mourning period is over. The coronation of his son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn (64), is not expected until after the cremation. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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