I moved to the Kingdom of Thailand nearly twelve years ago. As an American, I was particularly enthralled with the constitutional monarchy that ruled Thailand and, most strikingly, the overwhelming love and adulation Thai people hold for their beloved and recently departed King Rama IX, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great whose full title in Thai was Phra Bat Somdet Phra Paraminthra Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej Mahitalathibet Ramathibodi Chakkrinaruebodin Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatthabophit (พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรมินทรมหาภูมิพลอดุลยเดช มหิตลาธิเบศรรามาธิบดี จักรีนฤบดินทร สยามินทราธิราช บรมนาถบพิตร).
I felt honored that my own birthday coincided with that of His Majesty who was born at Cambridge Hospital (now Mount Auburn Hospital), Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the United States, on 5 December 1927. In Thailand, the day is observed as the King’s Birthday (Wan Chaloem Phra Chonmaphansa Phra Bat Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua — วันเฉลิมพระชนมพรรษาพระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัว), the National Day as well as National Father’s Day (Wan Pho Heng Chat — วันพ่อแห่งชาติ) due to the fact that every Thai person considers him as their spiritual father. Despite his death on October 13, 2016 (and the continued one-year mourning period thereof), the holidays will remain in place in his honor.
It is difficult to explain how I, as a foreigner would had never lived in a country where every person held such high regard for that nation’s leader, came to feel much the same towards His Majesty as Thai people did. It wasn’t long after I’d arrived in Thailand that the Kingdom celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of His Majesty the King’s ascension to the throne. This event ignited my return to philately with the myriad of beautiful stamps issued in conjunction. I was able to travel to Bangkok on several occasions during that celebratory year of 2006, witnessing one of his final public speeches amidst a sea of yellow shirts (yellow being the color of Monday, the day on which the King was born) as well as watching the Procession of Royal Barges from a position directly across the Chao Praya River from the Royal Pavilion. Also that year, I was privileged to be the only foreigner in attendance at the grand opening of the Jungceylon Shopping Center wherein I was honored to receive a presentation gift from the popular Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (มหาจักรีสิรินธร) who happens to be an avid stamp collector and is the royal patron for a philatelic society of which I am a member.
Numerous other events throughout the ensuing decade have made me a staunch supporter of the Thai royal family and, as such, I was hit hard by the death of His Majesty. That Thursday night, I was teaching a class in Banking English to staff members of Krungsri Bank (Thailand’s fifth largest financial institution). My students received word of that he’d died while we were on a mid-lesson break. Such was the Thai stoic attitude, that I didn’t understand when one of my students told me of the passing. It wasn’t until I’d arrived home that I heard. My next lesson was Saturday morning to a different group of Krungsri Bank staff members. There wasn’t a dry eye in the classroom (teacher’s included) and it was difficult to get through. The students were not prepared for the teacher to completely understand the emotions they were experiencing. This event bonded me with the three bank classes for the remainder of the course (and beyond). They encouraged me to travel to Bangkok this weekend in order to pay my respects to His Majesty, something I ultimately was unable to do because of other commitments but plan to make the pilgrimage early in the New Year.
King Bhumibol was the ninth monarch of Thailand from the Chakri Dynasty, known outside Thailand as Rama IX. Having reigned since June 9, 1946, he was, at the time of his death, the world’s longest-serving head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, serving for 70 years, 126 days. During his reign, he was served by a total of 30 prime ministers beginning with Pridi Banomyong and ending with Prayut Chan-o-cha.
He was born at Cambridge Hospital (now Mount Auburn Hospital) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 5 December 1927. His U.S. birth certificate reads simply “Baby Songkla”, as the parents had to consult his uncle, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII), then head of the House of Chakri, for an auspicious name. The king chose Bhumibol Adulyadej, meaning “strength of the land, incomparable power” (from Sanskrit: भूमिबल अतुल्यतेज, Bhūmibala Atulyatēja). He was the youngest son of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, the Prince of Songkla, and his commoner wife Mom Sangwan (later Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother). His father was enrolled in the public health program at Harvard University, which is why Bhumibol was the only monarch to be born in the United States. Bhumibol had an older sister, Princess Galyani Vadhana, and an older brother, Prince Ananda Mahidol.
Bhumibol first came to Siam in 1928, after his father had obtained a certificate from Harvard. His father died of kidney failure in September 1929, when Bhumibol was less than two years old. He briefly attended Mater Dei school in Bangkok, but in 1933 his mother took her family to Switzerland, where he continued his education at the École nouvelle de la Suisse romande in Lausanne. In 1934, Bhumibol was given his first camera, which ignited his lifelong enthusiasm for photography.
When Bhumibol’s childless uncle Prajadhipok abdicated in 1935, his nine-year-old brother Ananda became the new King Rama VIII. However, the family remained in Switzerland and the affairs of the head of state were conducted by a regency council. They returned to Thailand for only two months in 1938. In 1942, Bhumibol became a jazz enthusiast, and started to play the saxophone, a passion that he kept throughout his life. He received the baccalauréat des lettres (high-school diploma with a major in French literature, Latin, and Greek) from the Gymnase Classique Cantonal of Lausanne, and by 1945 had begun studying sciences at the University of Lausanne. When World War II ended, the family was able to return to Thailand,
Bhumibol ascended the throne following the death by gunshot wound of his brother, King Ananda Mahidol, on June 9, 1946. Bhumibol succeeded his brother, but returned to Switzerland before the end of the 100-day mourning period. Despite his interest in science and technology, he changed his major and enrolled in law and political science to prepare for his duties as head of state. His uncle, Rangsit, Prince of Chainat, was appointed Prince Regent. In Bhumibol’s name, Prince Rangsit authorized a military coup that overthrew the government of Thamrongnawasawat in November 1947. The regent also signed the 1949 constitution, which returned to the monarchy many of the powers it had lost by the 1932 Revolution.
In December 1946, the Siamese government allocated several hundred thousand dollars for the ceremonial cremation of the remains of the late King Ananda, a necessary preliminary to the coronation of Bhumibol who was required by religious custom to light the funeral pyre. Unsettled conditions in 1947 following a coup d’état resulted in a postponement, and court astrologers determined that March 2, 1949 was the most auspicious date.
While finishing his degree in Switzerland, Bhumibol visited Paris frequently. It was in Paris that he first met Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara, daughter of the Thai ambassador to France (Nakkhatra Mangala) and a great-granddaughter of King Chulalongkorn and thus a cousin of Bhumibol. She was then 15 years old and training to be a concert pianist.
On October 4, 1948, while Bhumibol was driving a Fiat Topolino on the Geneva-Lausanne road, he collided with the rear of a braking truck 10 kilometers outside Lausanne. He injured his back, suffered paralysis in half of his face and incurred cuts on his face that cost him the sight of his right eye. Both the royal cremation and coronation had to be postponed once more. While he was hospitalized in Lausanne, Sirikit visited him frequently. She met his mother, who asked her to continue her studies nearby so that Bhumibol could get to know her better. Bhumibol selected for her a boarding school in Lausanne, Riante Rive. A quiet engagement in Lausanne followed on July 19, 1949, and they were married on April 28, 1950, just a week before his coronation. Their wedding was described by The New York Times as “the shortest, simplest royal wedding ever held in the land of gilded elephants and white umbrellas”. The ceremony was performed by Bhumibol’s ageing grandmother, Savang Vadhana.
Bhumibol and Sirikit have four children:
- (Formerly HRH) Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya (อุบลรัตนราชกัญญา), born April 5, 1951, in Lausanne, Switzerland; married Peter Ladd Jensen (now divorced), and has two daughters. Her son, Bhumi Jensen, was killed in the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.
- King Maha Vajiralongkorn (มหาวชิราลงกรณ), born July 28, 1952 in Bangkok; married Mom Luang Soamsawali Kitiyakara (later divorced and became HRH the Princess Niece); one daughter. Then married Yuvadhida Polpraserth (later divorced); four sons and a daughter. Third marriage was to Srirasmi Suwadee (now divorced); one son. He accepted the throne on the night of December 1, 2016, as King Rama X, but will not be crowned until the cremation of Bhumibol in late 2017.
- HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (มหาจักรีสิรินธร), born April 2, 1955 in Bangkok; never married and no children
- HRH Princess Chulabhorn Walailak (จุฬาภรณวลัยลักษณ์), born July 4, 1957 in Bangkok; married Virayudh Tishyasarin, (now divorced); two daughters
After presiding over the long-delayed, ceremonial cremation of his brother Ananda Mahidol, Bhumibol was crowned King of Thailand on May 5, 1950 in the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. It was the first coronation ceremony of a Thai sovereign to rule under the system of constitutional monarchy. During the ceremony, he pledged that he would “reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people” (“เราจะครองแผ่นดินโดยธรรม เพื่อประโยชน์สุขแห่งมหาชนชาวสยาม”). Notable elements associated with the coronation included the Bahadrabith Throne beneath the Great White Umbrella of State; and he was presented with the royal regalia and utensils.
In 1950 on Coronation Day, Bhumibol’s consort was made Queen (Somdej Phra Boromarajini). The royal couple spent their honeymoon at Hua Hin beach in southern Thailand before they returned to Switzerland, where the King completed his university studies. They returned to Thailand in 1951.
Following the death of his grandmother Queen Savang Vadhana, Bhumibol entered a 15-day monkhood (October 22 to November 5, 1956) at Wat Bowonniwet, as is customary for Buddhist males on the death of elder relatives. He was ordained by the Supreme Patriarch on October 22, 1956, at the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace. During this time, Sirikit was appointed his regent. She was later appointed Queen Regent (Somdej Phra Boromarajininat) in recognition of this.
Although Bhumibol was sometimes referred to as King Rama IX in English, Thais referred to him as Nai Luang or Phra Chao Yu Hua (ในหลวง or พระเจ้าอยู่หัว), which translated to “the King” and “Lord Upon our Heads”, respectively. He was also called Chao Chiwit (“Lord of Life”). Formally, he was referred to as Phrabat Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua (พระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัว) or, in legal documents, Phrabat Somdet Phra Paraminthara Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej (พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรมินทรมหาภูมิพลอดุลยเดช), and in English as His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He signed his name as ภูมิพลอดุลยเดช ป.ร. (Bhumibol Adulyadej Por Ror; this is the Thai equivalent of Bhumibol Adulyadej R[ex]).
In the early years of his reign, during the government of military dictator Plaek Phibunsongkhram, Bhumibol had no real political power and was little more than a ceremonial figure under the military-dominated government. In August 1957, six months after parliamentary elections, General Sarit Thanarat accused the government of Field Marshal Phibunsongkhram of lèse-majesté due to its conduct of the 2,500th anniversary celebration of Buddhism. On September 16, 1957, Phibunsongkhram went to Bhumibol to seek support for his government. Bhumibol advised the field marshal to resign to avoid a coup. Phibunsongkhram refused. That evening, Sarit Thanarat seized power. Two hours later Bhumibol imposed martial law throughout the kingdom. Bhumibol issued a proclamation appointing Sarit as “military defender of the capital” without anyone countersigning the proclamation.
During Sarit’s dictatorship, the monarchy was revitalized. Bhumibol attended public ceremonies, toured the provinces and patronized development projects. Under Sarit, the practice of crawling in front of royalty during audiences, banned by King Chulalongkorn, was revived in certain situations and the royal-sponsored Thammayut Nikaya order was revitalized. For the first time since the absolute monarchy was overthrown, a king was conveyed up the Chao Phraya River in a Royal Barge Procession to offer robes at temples.
Other disused ceremonies from the classical period of the Chakri Dynasty, such as the royally patronized ploughing ceremony (พิธีพืชมงคล), were also revived. Bhumibol’s birthday (December 5) was declared Thailand’s National Day, replacing the previous national day, the anniversary of the Siamese revolution of 1932 (June 24). Upon Sarit’s death on December 8, 1963, an unprecedented 21 days of mourning were declared in the palace. A royal five-tier umbrella shaded his body while it lay in state. Long-time royal adviser Phraya Srivisarn Vacha later noted that no Prime Minister ever had such an intimate relationship with Bhumibol as Sarit.
Following Sarit’s death General Thanom Kittikachorn rose to power to lead Thailand’s military dictatorship, ultimately challenged by the 1973 Thai popular uprising. Bhumibol initially asked student protestors to disband. When police attacked and killed dozens of students, sparking protest riots, Bhumibol announced General Thanom’s resignation and departure from Thailand.
Bhumibol distanced himself from the Thai military after Thanom’s fall. But political events in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, which brought powerful guerilla and communist movements into power or prominence, threatened the Thai monarchy and political establishment. Fearing unrest, Bhumibol began to court the military in 1975, visiting camps throughout the country, and publicly warning of internal and external threats. At this time, Bhumibol increasingly cultivated far-right militias and paramilitary forces, including the Red Gaurs and the Village Scouts, warning that students and political dissidents planned to bring communists to power in Thailand. Finally Bhumibol provoked outrage among students and legal groups by inviting General Thanom back into the country.
The ensuing chaos was used as a pretext for a military coup, which Bhumibol backed and described as a manifestation of the people’s will. The event that catalyzed the coup was the Thammasat University massacre, carried out in the name of defending Bhumibol’s throne. The victorious military junta submitted three names to the king as possible premiers: Deputy President of the king’s Privy Council Prakob Hutasingh, right-wing Bangkok Governor Thamnoon Thien-ngern, and staunchly anti-communist Supreme Court judge Thanin Kraivichien. Thanin was a member of the Nawaphon monarchist paramilitary group, which had the backing of the Central Intelligence Agency, and which Bhumibol was alleged to have sponsored. Bhumibol chose Thanin as the most suitable premier, leading student protesters to flee to join the communists in the jungle. Thanin was himself overthrown in a military coup in October 1977 led by General Kriangsak Chamanan.
Kriangsak was succeeded in 1980 by the popular Army Commander-in-Chief, General Prem Tinsulanonda who later became the Privy Council President. Bhumibol’s refusal to endorse military coups in 1981 (the April Fool’s Day coup) and 1985 (the Share Rebellion) ultimately led to the victory of forces loyal to the government, despite some violence — including, in 1981, the seizure of Bangkok by rebel forces. The coups led many to believe that Bhumibol had misjudged Thai society and that his credibility as an impartial mediator between various political and military factions had been compromised.
In 1992, Bhumibol played a key role in Thailand’s transition to a democratic system. A coup on February 23, 1991, returned Thailand to military dictatorship. After a general election in 1992, the majority parties invited General Suchinda Kraprayoon, a leader of the coup group, to be prime minister. This caused much dissent, which escalated into demonstrations that led to a large number of deaths when the military was brought in to control protesters. The situation became increasingly critical as police and military forces clashed with protesters. Violence and riots spread to many areas of the capital with rumours of a rift among the armed forces.
Amidst the fear of civil war, Bhumibol intervened. He summoned Suchinda and the leader of the pro-democracy movement, retired Major General Chamlong Srimuang, to a televised audience, and urged them to find a peaceful resolution. At the height of the crisis, the sight of both men appearing together on their knees (in accordance with royal protocol) made a strong impression on the nation, and led to Suchinda’s resignation soon afterwards.
It was one of the few occasions in which Bhumibol directly and publicly intervened in a political conflict. A general election was held shortly afterward, leading to a civilian government.
In his December 4, 2002, speech on the eve of his birthday, King Bhumibol spoke about the rise in drug use, the high social costs and deaths caused by drugs, and called for a “war on drugs”. Privy Councillor General Phichit Kunlawanit called on the Thaksin Shinawatra government to use its majority in parliament to establish a special court to deal with drug dealers, stating that “if we execute 60,000 the land will rise and our descendants will escape bad karma”.
On January 14, 2003, Thaksin launched a campaign to rid “every square inch of the country” of drugs. His “war on drugs” campaign consisted of setting provincial arrest and seizure quotas including “blacklists”, awarding government officials for achieving targets, and threatening punishment for those who failed to make the quota, targeted dealers, and propagated a ruthless carrying out of the campaign. In the first three months, Human Rights Watch reported that 2,275 people were killed, almost double the number normally killed in drug-related violence. Human rights critics claimed a large number were extrajudicially executed. The War on Drugs was widely criticized by the international community.
According to the Narcotics Control Board, the campaign was effective in reducing drug consumption, especially in schools. The War on Drugs was one of the most popular policies of the Thaksin government. Bhumibol, in a 2003 birthday speech, praised Thaksin and criticized those who counted only dead drug dealers while ignoring deaths caused by drugs.
“Victory in the War on Drugs is good. They may blame the crackdown for more than 2,500 deaths, but this is a small price to pay. If the prime minister failed to curb [the drug trade], over the years the number of deaths would easily surpass this toll.”
Bhumibol also asked the commander of the police to investigate the killings. Police Commander Sant Sarutanond reopened investigations into the deaths, and again claimed that few of the deaths were at the hands of the police.
After the 2006 coup, the military junta appointed a committee led by former Attorney General Kanit Na Nakorn to investigate deaths in the war on drugs. The committee found that over half of those killed in 2003 had no links to the drug trade and blamed the violence on a government “shoot-to-kill” policy based on flawed blacklists. However, no one has been prosecuted, with interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont stating that there was insufficient evidence to take legal action.
While he was opposition leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva accused Thaksin of crimes against humanity in the war on drugs. After he became Prime Minister, Abhisit opened an investigation led by former attorney-general Kampee Kaewcharoen, claiming that a successful probe could lead to prosecution by the International Criminal Court. Abhisit’s investigation failed to find or publicize any evidence linking Thaksin or members of his government to extrajudicial killings.
Weeks before the April 2006 legislative election, the Democrat Party-led opposition and the People’s Alliance for Democracy petitioned Bhumibol to appoint a replacement prime minister and cabinet. Demands for royal intervention were met with much criticism from the public. Bhumibol, in a speech on April 26, 2006, responded, “Asking for a Royally-appointed prime minister is undemocratic. It is, pardon me, a mess. It is irrational”. After publicly claiming victory in the boycotted April parliamentary elections, Thaksin Shinawatra had a private audience with the king. A few hours later, Thaksin appeared on national television to announce that he would be taking a break from politics.
Also called the Diamond Jubilee, the 60th anniversary celebrations in 2006 of the King’s accession to the throne were a series of special events including a royal barge procession on the Chao Phraya River, fireworks displays, art exhibitions, concerts, dance performances, and the pardoning of 25,000 prisoners.
Tied in with the anniversary, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented Bhumibol with the United Nations Development Programme’s first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award on May 26, 2006. National holidays were observed on June 9 and June 12-13, 2006. On June 9, the King and Queen appeared on the balcony of Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall before hundreds of thousands of people. The official royal barge procession on June 12 was attended by the King and Queen and royal visitors from 26 other countries. On June 13, a state banquet for the royal visitors was held in the newly constructed Rama IX Throne Hall at the Grand Palace, the first official function of the hall. The Chiang Mai Royal Floral Expo was also held to honor the anniversary.
In May 2006, the Sondhi Limthongkul-owned Manager Daily newspaper published a series of articles describing the “Finland Plot”, alleging that Thaksin and former members of the Communist Party of Thailand planned to overthrow the king and seize control of the nation. No evidence was ever produced to verify the existence of such a plot, and Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party vehemently denied the accusations and sued the accusers.
In a rare, televised speech to senior judges, Bhumibol requested the judiciary to take action to resolve the political crisis. On May 8, 2006, the Constitutional Court invalidated the results of the April elections and ordered new elections scheduled for October 15, 2006. The Criminal Court later jailed the Election Commissioners. On July 14, 2006, Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda addressed graduating cadets of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, telling them that the Thai military must serve the king—not the government. On July 20, Bhumibol signed a royal decree endorsing new House elections for October 15, 2006. In an unprecedented act, the King wrote a note on the royal decree calling for a clean and fair election. That very day, Bhumibol underwent spinal surgery.
On the evening of September 19, the Thai military overthrew the Thaksin government and seized control of Bangkok in a bloodless coup. The junta, led by the Sonthi Boonyaratglin, Commander of the Army, called itself the Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy. It accused the deposed prime minister and his regime of crimes, including lèse majesté, and pledged its loyalty to Bhumibol. Martial law was declared, the constitution repealed and the October elections cancelled. Protests and political meetings were banned.
The king’s role in the coup was the subject of much speculation among Thai analysts and the international media, although publication of such speculation was banned in Thailand. The king had an audience with Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda at the same time that special forces troops were mobilized. Anti-coup protesters claimed that Prem was the mastermind of the coup, although the military claimed otherwise and banned any discussion of the topic. On Saturday, September 24, 2006, the junta warned it would “urgently retaliate against foreign reporters whose coverage has been deemed insulting to the monarchy.” The president of Bhumibol’s privy council, General Prem Tinsulanonda, supported the coup. The junta later appointed privy council member General Surayud Chulanont as prime minister.
On April 20, 2009, Thaksin claimed in an interview with the Financial Times that Bhumibol had been briefed by Privy Councillors Prem Tinsulanonda and Surayud Chulanont about their plans to stage the 2006 coup. He claimed that General Panlop Pinmanee, a leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, had told him of the briefing. The Thai embassy in London denied Thaksin’s claims.
The junta appointed a constitutional tribunal to rule on alleged polling fraud involving the Thai Rak Thai and Democrat political parties. Guilty rulings would have dissolved both parties, Thailand’s largest and oldest, respectively, and banned the parties’ leadership from politics for five years. The weeks leading up to the verdicts saw rising political tensions. On May 24, 2007, about a week before the scheduled verdict, Bhumibol gave a rare speech to the Supreme Administrative Court (the president of which is also a member of the constitutional tribunal). “You have the responsibility to prevent the country from collapsing”, he warned them in the speech, which was shown on all national television channels simultaneously during the evening. “The nation needs political parties… In my mind, I have a judgment but I cannot say”, he said. “Either way the ruling goes, it will be bad for the country, there will be mistakes”. The tribunal later acquitted the Democrat Party, but dissolved the Thai Rak Thai Party and banned 111 of its executives from politics for five years.
The junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Assembly later tried to use the King in a propaganda campaign to increase public support for its widely criticised draft constitution. The CDA placed billboards saying “Love the King. Care about the King. Vote in the referendum” throughout northeast Thailand, where opposition to the junta was greatest.
On January 16, 2007, the CDRM officially declared the end of the 60th anniversary celebrations and commenced year-long celebrations of King Bhumibol’s 80th birthday.
The military’s constitution passed the referendum, and a general election was held in December 2007. The People’s Power Party (PPP), consisting of many former Thai Rak Thai Party MPs and supporters, won the majority and formed a government. The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) refused to accept the election results and started protests, eventually laying siege to Government House, Don Mueang Airport, and Suvarnabhumi Airport. Although the PAD claimed they were defending the monarchy, Bhumibol remained silent. However, after a PAD supporter died in a clash with police, Queen Sirikit presided over her cremation.
In April 2008, Bhumibol appointed alleged coup plotter General Surayud Chulanont to the Privy Council of Thailand. In the weeks leading up to the 2011 general election, Bhumibol appointed Air Chief Marshal Chalit Pukbhasuk, a leader of the 2006 military coup, to his privy council.
Bhumibol suffered from lumbar spinal stenosis, and received a microsurgical decompression for the condition in July 2006. He was admitted to the hospital in October 2007 and diagnosed with a blood shortage to his brain. He received treatment for various ailments including heart problems and was released after three weeks.
Bhumibol was again admitted to Siriraj Hospital in September 2009, apparently suffering from flu and pneumonia. In 2011, it was revealed as part of WikiLeaks’s leak of United States diplomatic cables that he had suffered from Parkinson’s disease and depression. He was diagnosed with diverticulitis in the hospital in November 2011, and was treated for the condition in January 2012. Bhumibol suffered minute subdural bleeding in the left frontal area of his brain for which he was treated in July 2012. He left the hospital in July 2013 and travelled to Klai Kangwon Palace at Hua Hin on August 2, 2013, but returned intermittently in the following years.
Bhumibol was too ill to appear for the public celebration of his birthday on December 5, 2015, but made a televised appearance on December 14, his first in several months. The King temporarily left hospital to visit Chitralada Royal Villa on January 11, 2016, but returned later that day.
On October 1, 2016, the palace released a bulletin stating that after recovering from a fever, King Bhumibol underwent tests that revealed a blood infection and an X-ray found inflammation on his left lung, along with water in his lungs. He had been in kidney failure for some time and received dialysis. By October 9, he had been placed on a ventilator and doctors pronounced him “not yet stable”. Crowds of well-wishers, many dressed in pink symbolizing good health and luck, gathered outside Siriraj Hospital and the Grand Palace to offer prayers and support.
By October 12, the royal children had arrived at Siriraj Hospital and Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn had met with the Prime Minister. There are few concerns about the succession of HRH the Crown Prince, although he is not as respected as his father and speculation had it that some palace elites, responding to the people’s admiration for HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, might try to position her to take the throne.
His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej died in Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand on October 13, 2016, 15:52 local time, as announced by the royal palace just after six p.m. that evening. The following day, his body was brought by motorcade to the Grand Palace for the customary bathing rite. The government declared a year-long mourning period for Bhumibol. Citizens were asked to refrain from participating in “joyful events” and entertainment for 30 days following his death; as a result, a number of events, including sports (such as the Thai League football season, which ended entirely), were canceled or postponed. Entertainment outlets such as cinemas, nightclubs and theatres announced that they would shut down or operate under reduced hours during this period. The mourning period prompted concerns from Thailand’s tourism industry, who felt that the mood of the country, as well as the canceled events, would reduce interest in visiting Thailand.
Upon the announcement of his death, all television channels suspended regular programming and simulcast special programmes from the Television Pool of Thailand, which consisted of monochrome videos and photos of Bhumibol, and coverage of royal events. International channels were also blacked out and replaced by this programming. The channels were allowed to resume regular programming after midnight on November 14, but all broadcasters are forbidden from broadcasting programs that feature “any element of entertainment, dancing, joy, violence, impoliteness or overly expressed emotion”, nor any non-official information, speculation or criticism related to the deceased King and his successor. Most Thai media outlets and websites switched to greyscale color schemes as well.
To mark the mourning period, Thai shopping malls eliminated their Christmas and New Years displays as a mark of respect, while planning to install memorial displays in the late King’s memory.
The public square of Sanam Luang in Bangkok will be used as the cremation ground, where the construction of an elaborate, temporary crematorium will be started in early 2017 and will take more than one year to complete. The construction will cost the taxpayer ฿1,000,000,000. Once the cremation is over, the crematorium will be torn down. Designs for the cremation complex were officially unveiled on October 28, and a special ceremony will be held on December 19 for the royal funeral chariots to be used at the Bangkok National Museum. The construction work for the complex will officially commence in January 2017 with the building of the central column with a September target completion date.
On November 19, 2016, the Ministry of Culture’s Fine Arts Department head Anant Chuchote visited Nakhon Pathom, where the royal funeral urns have been manufactured for centuries out of old sandalwood trees. He asked for public support and assistance for the making of the royal urn alongside 150 artisans from the Traditional Arts Office.
Since the death of King Bhumibol, ultra-royalists in Thailand have criticized and harassed those who did not wear mourning black. They also subjected to witch-hunts people whom they accused of disrespecting the deceased monarch. On October 14, 2016, angry ultra-royalist groups in Phuket Province thronged the residence of a man who posted on social media a number of comments which they thought offensive to the late king and violated the lèse-majesté law, despite the local police having declared that the comments were not in breach of the law. The groups dispersed after the police agreed to prosecute the man for the crime of lèse-majesté. Similar incidents happened on the following day in Phang Nga Province and elsewhere in Phuket.
In November 2016, Nangrong School in Buriram Province seized colorful winter jackets from students and required them to wear those in mourning colors only. The students were reportedly distressed to lose their jackets due to the unusually cold weather, and many did not own multiple warm articles of clothing. On November 28, the director of a public school in Ranong Province was removed from office for not wearing mourning black on her first day at work.
The National Council for Peace and Order, the junta ruling Thailand, also announced after the death of Bhumibol that it will hunt down lèse-majesté fugitives and contacted foreign governments for assistance in doing so.
It was shortly after I moved to Thailand that I resumed collecting stamps for the first time in a number of years. I was drawn to the beautiful designs and learning the story behind the subjects portrayed gave me further insights to my adopted country. During the 60th anniversary celebrations of His Majesty’s ascension in 2006 and those of his 80th birthday the year after, many stamps were issued portraying King Bhumibol. My favorite of all Thai stamps is Scott #2234, which I previously used on this blog (recolored in greyscale) for my mourning post on October 14. The stamp pictures the Royal Portrait of His Majesty in full regalia. It was issued on June 9, 2006, a very high 100-baht denomination printed by lithography and embossed with gold foil (which, unfortunately, doesn’t scan well). I’m not sure what you would have to mail to use 100 baht in postage; the domestic first class rate in Thailand is 3 baht and international postcard card is 15 baht. The stamp is obviously a favorite of the Phuket Town post office as well as it is featured on their mourning display outside of the island’s main post office and the Phuket Philatelic Museum.