* Watch the 1926 Funeral of Thai King Vajiravudh (Rama VI)

I included a link and caption to this rare digitized footage of the 1926 funeral of Thai King Vajiravudh (aka Rama VI) to accompany a pair of travel advisory stories I wrote for the South China Morning Post related to King Bhumibol’s funeral rites in October 2017. The actual cremation took place on the evening of October 26, preceded by a half-dozen processions that day and by five rehearsals in the days before that. (The gist of my stories: Don’t even think that you can get close enough on October 25-27 to see anything in the vicinity of the funerary structures.)

The video caption I wrote was edited down a lot, so I don’t think readers could draw much from it. Early on in the video, that’s Vajiravudh’s brother, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII), presiding over–by pulling a rope–the raising of the Royal Six-Tiered Umbrella to a spire atop the multi-story wood crematorium. That ceremony occurs a few days before the actual cremation; this year it took place October 18, with Thailand’s new king, Vajiralongkorn, residing.

The experts at the Thai Film Archive believe the scraps of film, found in 1981, were probably leftovers from a long-lost newsreel that would have been shown in movie theaters. The later parts of this footage are probably from the cremation day. You can see the large urn with the king’s body being transferred from the grounds of the Royal Palace. Actually, there were two urns, Professor Tongthong Chandransu, an expert on royal funeral ceremonies, told me. An outer gold urn encased a silver urn that contained the king’s body. The silver urn was then removed from the gold one at the time of cremation.

In the film, that urn probably was being transferred from the Grand Palace to the chariot that conveyed it to the crematorium on Sanam Luang. It was on this same great field, north of the Grand Palace and fronting Thammasat University, where Bhumibol’s ceremonies took place as well. An urn was used 67 years ago for the funeral of Bhumibol’s brother, Ananda (Rama VIII), but a western style wooden coffin was used for Bhumibol (Rama IX).

I was so surprised to the see women in sleeveless dresses in the film, ascending and descending the stairs as they paid final respects. Surely they must have been foreign women—wives of diplomats and such? As a general rule, Thai women rarely wear sleeveless garments even today. The dress code for this year’s ceremonies was quite explicit: black and grey colours, and covered arms, shoulders and legs for men and women alike.

Brothers Vajiravudh and Prajadhipok were half-brothers of  Bhumibol’s father, Mahidol, a physician who was never a king. That bit of information was deleted in the editing process, so the caption in the Post says the two kings featured in this film were Bhumibol’s “half-uncles.” Hmm, I guess technically that’s right, but sounds strange. They were also full cousins, since their mothers were sisters but I suppose that would be Too Much Information.

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* Funeral of Late Thai King May Not Be for Tourists; Here’s How to Pay Respects

The funeral of King Bhumibol Adulyadej involves five days of ceremonies. Venues will be closed, traffic will be disrupted and massive crowds are expected around the royal palace. Here’s how to view this historic event.

By Susan Cunningham
South China Morning Post

The five days of funeral ceremonies this month for Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej will truly be fit for a revered monarch who ruled for 70 years. Ceremonies will draw on Buddhist and Hindu rites dating back hundreds of years and will take place in and around a cluster of temporary wooden structures north of the Grand Palace that architects and artisans have been labouring on for most of this year.

However, visitors to Bangkok from October 25 to 29 should give up any thought of attending the site of ceremonies in person. Especially on October 26, the day of cremation, they instead should be prepared for traffic disruption, closures of public and private venues, and massive crowds in the vicinity of the old royal city. MORE

 

* Thai Elections Postponed As Violence Hits Tourist Territory

By Susan Cunningham
Forbes.com | May 15, 2014

Tourist alert! Three people are dead and 22 people are injured in Bangkok after a gunfire and grenade attack on a new protesters’ site early Thursday morning. The anti-government PDRC camp is close to the Democracy Monument–in the city’s prime tourist area.

The deadly violence achieved one of the immediate goals of the anti-election PDRC protesters: parliamentary polls set for July 20 have now definitely been postponed by the Election Commission. The commission’s secretary-general indicated Thursday that the elections are being postponed rather than cancelled: “The situation has to be right and accommodating for an election to take place … We don’t think this is the right time.”

Army Reacts to Fresh Bangkok Violence

Were members of the  UDD (United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship), the so-called Red Shirts who support the present Pheu Thai Party caretaker government, responsible for the shots and grenades last night?

As in most previous incidents–28 people have died since last November in violence related to the protests–we may never know.  The grenades and guns were wielded by occupants of a pickup truck that plowed through the protest camp. But the responses of the military and Electoral Commission certainly aren’t what the pro-elections UDD is seeking. The Army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, warned Thursday that if unrest continues, “it will be necessary for the military to launch a full-scale effort to end the violence.” MORE

 

* Bangkok Shrine Bombing – Case (Pretty Much) Closed

BANGKOK–Two Chinese Muslims are set to go on trial in 2016 on murder charges stemming from last August’s bombing that killed 20 people and injured 125. Thai authorities don’t appear eager to probe into their accomplices or motives, however. Nor will they charge the two with terrorism, despite the web of foreigners implicated in the pipe bomb explosion at a popular Hindu-Buddhist shrine in central Bangkok.

The first man to be arrested, Bilal Mohammed, originally claiming to be a Turkish citizen called Adem Karadeg, was discovered August 29 in an apartment in a Muslim neighborhood of northeastern Bangkok. In the same apartment were several hundred forged Turkish passports and a cache of bomb-making components–suggesting that more attacks might have been planned.

Only in late September did Thai police claim that 27-year-old Bilal was the “backpack bomber” himself –the yellow t-shirted man who left his pack containing a 5-kilogram pipe bomb on a bench at Erawan Shrine shortly before the explosion. According to his lawyer, Bilal has now confessed to the crime; Bilal previously said he had arrived in Thailand–with the help of traffickers–four days after the bombing.       MORE

 

* Burma’s Last Royals

The King in Exile: The Fall of the Royal Family of Burma by Sudah Shah (Harper Collins)

Reviewed by Susan Cunningham
Los Angeles Review of Books

MYANMAR’S LAST ROYAL FAMILY, summarily ousted by British colonizers more than 125 years ago, hasn’t been a sensitive subject since independence in 1948. But less than three years ago, The King in Exile by Sudha Shah might have run afoul of censors just for noting that Taw Phaya Galae, a grandson of the last Burmese royal couple and one of her sources, served a stint in prison after participating in the squelched 1988-1990 democracy movement.

It is one of many signs of change that an edition of Shah’s family biography, already available in English in Myanmar, will soon be published in Burmese.

4 Daughters of Myanmar's King Thibaw

The Final Four Burmese Princesses

For the past two years, Myanmar’s military government has assumed a gentler, less martial face as it bids to welcome tourists and Western investors. After nearly 20 years of house arrest, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in Parliament in 2012 and ventured abroad to collect her 1991 Nobel Prize and other laurels. The strides the country has taken toward greater freedom of expression in the past two years have received less attention, but are also important.    MORE

* Indonesia hoteliers eye emerging middle class

By Susan Cunningham
HotelNewsNow.com correspondent

BANGKOK—Fueled by steady economic growth exceeding 6% annually, the rise of Indonesia’s middle class and its impact on the hotel landscape were prominent themes at Travel Trends’ No Vacancy conference in Bangkok last week.

Of the 248 million people in Indonesia, approximately 20%–50 million–now belong to the middle class, said Sonia Kapoor, client service director for Nielsen Singapore. Now compiling between $4 and $20 each day to save or spend on leisure activities, members of this group will comprise 50% of the population by 2030, she predicted.

The number of new hotels being built or in the pipeline is unknown. The breakdown of travelers also is hazy, but Scott Blume, group CEO of PT Raja Kumar International, provided an estimate: “At least 25% is probably business travel and the travelers are staying in the 3- to 3-and-a-half-star range hotels. That’s 400,000 to 500,000 rupiah, or about $40.” … MORE

* Deals and developments in Sri Lanka

Cliff-side Kandalama Hotel (Aitken Spence), a Bawa design in central Sri Lanka

Geoffrey Bawa-designed Heritance Kandalama in Cultural Triangle

Sri Lanka’s hotels have been far from the international spotlight for 30 years, but the country accumulated a sizable inventory during the 1960s and 1970s. More than 500 Sri Lankan hotels and other types of lodging are listed on online booking sites. There are approximately 70 listed just for the Bentota-Kalutara beach strip southwest of Colombo.

Here are some companies that have announced sizable investments for renovations or new builds since the end of the country’s civil war in 2010.

Jetwing Hotels Limited

Jetwing Hotels will build six hotels by 2014, adding to its existing stable of 12, according to Jetwing Chairman Hiran Cooray. Forty-year old Jetwing, which also runs outbound tours, already operates the largest number of hotels in the country with a total of approximately 520 rooms. Cooray said Jetwing will spend $18 million … more