Tourists bemused as Bangkok sobers up for Thai king funeral

by Jenny VAUGHAN The booze taps were turned off and the wild go-go bars were closed for business in Bangkok on Thursday as the normally hard-living city went quiet for the cremation of a king.

Bemused tourists — many attracted by the Thai capital’s good-time reputation — were left to cool their heels as the country paid its last respects to a revered monarch.

“I’m a little bit disappointed because I leave Bangkok tomorrow,” German tourist Dennis Siemers told AFP.

“On the other (hand) I understand that the people are not in the mood for any big party.”

Streets were deserted in Bangkok’s infamous red light district, where bars and clubs were dark on the eve of the massive funeral for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The five-day event has brought Bangkok — one of the world’s most visited cities — to a halt, with pubs, restaurants and many malls shutting down out of respect for a figurehead revered as a demi-god.

On Soi Cowboy — a normally flourescent-lit strip packed with beered-up tourists and near-naked dancers — booming music was replaced by the sound of rats scuttling underfoot.

Elsewhere in the city clusters of tourists were easy to spot on Thursday, appearing as awkward pools of colour in a sea of black-clad Thais honouring their king.

Even the ubiquitous 7/11 shops, much loved for their normal 24/24 business hours, were closed for most of Thursday.

Khaosan Road, a grubby lane of bars and restaurants popular with Bangkok’s backpacker set, was also forced to suspend the party.

The few restaurants that stayed open on Wednesday night were ordered to pull alcohol from the menu. Bored waiters sat around in black outfits waiting for customers who never came.

“You wouldn’t be able to move here two weeks ago” for customers, British tourist Adam Brinton said on the near-deserted road, which he had visited earlier in the month.

It is not the first time visitors to the “Land of Smiles” have seen their holidays disrupted.

Coups, violent protests and floods have paralysed Bangkok in recent years, dampening the lucrative tourism industry, but it has always bounced back.

Still, business owners said this October has been especially tough, with the junta government urging entertainment venues to mute the fun in the run-up to the cremation.

“We have to pay salaries, pay the rent, and I’m still worried how to cover that,” said Manjeet Singh, who owns a restaurant and tailor shop near Khaosan Road.

Most bars and restaurants are expected to reopen by Friday, which Singh hopes will end the dry stretch.

“We’re really expecting that business should shoot up as soon as this ceremony is finished,” he said. “We’re very much looking forward to a bright November.” DM


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