When you visit a foreign country, you should come prepared and learn a little bit about their culture. One important thing in a foreign culture to learn is about the cultural do’s and don’ts — make sure you know what they value, and avoid doing things that are considered as disrespectful. In Thailand, one of these etiquettes is in talking or referring to the Thai King. There is actually a law that considers speaking ill about the King, the Queen, and the Heir Apparent as crime, and it’s serious enough that those found guilty of this violation can be sentenced to anywhere between three to fifteen years in prison.
For those coming from countries like the United States where there is so much emphasis on ‘freedom of speech’ (which in politics sometimes are taken quite far to even stretching the truths and saying negative things about other people), this ‘lese majeste’ rule seems to be too much. But I think you should consider looking at this from the point of view of the Thai people. They see their King as someone to admire, as he has many accomplishments and is known to be very committed to improve the conditions of the poor and unfortunate in his country. King Bhumibol Adulyadej has reigned since 1946, making him the world’s longest serving current head-of-state and the longest reigning monarch in Thai history. Throughout his reign, the King has accumulated a long list of royal nation-building projects ranging in scope from health to agriculture to education. In return, the nation displays their dedication to the King in their daily lives. You see the King’s photo in front of offices and on the wall of homes and stores, and people voluntarily wear yellow on Mondays to honor the day of the week when the King was born.
During our visit to Bangkok, we saw the photo of the King everywhere — what was interesting for a photographer like me was to see that on some of these posters, the King was shown with his Nikon camera hanging on the neck strap. Apparently photography was one of his hobbies. He is also an accomplished jazz musician and composer (known for his works on alto saxophone), an accomplished sailor and sail boat designer (he had won sailing races and designed several small boats), and a patent holder (for waste water aerator and rainmaking equipment). So quite an illustrious life — and no wonder his subjects revere him. During a tour while in Bangkok, our tour guide mentioned the Thai’s reverence to their King by telling the story about the city of Bangkok preparing fireworks and big celebrations for the King’s birthday so he could see those from his hospital bedroom (the King has been hospitalized since 2009 with various ailments).
The photo below was taken outside a building near the Grand Palace. We saw this as we walked from Wat Pho to the Grand Palace entrance. It was the first among many we saw around the city during our full day in Bangkok (which happened to be on a Monday — the day of the week when the King was born).