View this post on Instagram
You might know about the Thai monarchy from “The King and I” or “Anna and the King,” starring Jodie Foster & Chow Yun Fat (1999). The only things I knew about the kingdom of Siam prior to this month came from those movies & to be honest, I never thought about who ruled Thailand beyond that. The only things I knew about the country were:
- People travel to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, and Ko Samui
- People travel there for beautiful beaches , elephants, and ancient golden temples
- It’s known as a sex tourism destination
- Thai food is delicious! and has Chinese, Indian and Malay influences
- It’s in Southeast Asia but also different from the countries around it
- It’s never been colonized by the French or British
The thing that piqued my interest in Thailand was the scandal of Vajiralongkorn, the current king, demoting his consort. Full disclosure: It was his scandal that made me interested, and once I found out about his personal history, I wanted to know about his parents and exactly where the royal family stands in Thailand.
But it gets tricky because the lese majeste law is very strict and demands that Thais don’t insult the monarchy. That, combined with limited English reporting on Thailand, makes it hard to know the facts. I found my information from sources such as banned journalists, social media, and publications that focus on SE Asia.
This is what I’ve found out so far about the current monarchy:
We are currently in the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty. The famous King Mongkut from The King and I was the 5th king. It’s been 237 years!
Beloved King Bhumibol (pu-mee-pon) passed away in 2016. He had ruled Thailand for 70 years prior to that. Fun fact: He was actually born in the U.S. because his dad was studying public health at Harvard.
He wasn’t expected to become king. His dad wasn’t king, and he spent most of his childhood abroad in Europe. We’re not really sure how his brother, Ananda aka Rama VIII died. Rumors say that Bhumibol accidentally shot his brother, but no one knows for sure. What we do know is that Bhumibol became king and people really loved him.
He was the king most Thais knew in this lifetime and he was an icon:
- He’s a musician. He played clarinet and saxophone and composed jazz.
- He had ONE eye! He lost his right eye in a car accident when he was 20.
- He visited rural areas and taught farmers how to grow crops instead of opium.
- He loved photography and was often seen with a camera.
- People really believed that he was a good king and wanted to do good for Thailand.
Queen Sirikit is Bhumibol’s wife. She is fashionable and charming, but she’s also made questionable decisions. For example, she wanted her son to marry her niece so that her side of the family would become the future of the Chakri dynasty. That was a terrible idea because:
- even when he was a prince, people didn’t want Vajiralongkorn to become king
- Vajiralongkorn didn’t want to marry his cousin
- the marriage completely failed & Vajiralongkorn had 5 kids with his mistress
Sirikit’s own marriage: She met Bhumibol in Europe. You could say the 50s and 60s were their glory days — they were seen visiting countries together and the future of Thailand seemed bright & modern. In the 80s, a rift started forming. Sirikit was infatuated with her bodyguard, Colonel Narongdej. After he mysteriously died, she was heartbroken and disappeared from the public for 6 months. This was of course embarassing for Bhumibol and they were estranged after that, even though they still appeared in public together.
Sirikit survives her husband but is rarely seen in public now.
I’m not saying Vajiralongkorn is the villain in this story, but I’m not not saying that he is the most destructive part of the monarchy today. Vajiralongkorn is the only son of Sirikit and Bhumbibol, and he has an older sister and two younger sisters. His older sister Ubolratana married an American, so forfeited her succession status. His younger sister Sirindhorn (in picture above) is actually very popular and people wanted her to succeed. His youngest sister is Princess Chulabhorn, who has two grown daughters.
What to say about Vajiralongkorn himself? Well, all his actions so far, in 67 years, have indicated that he is a terrible person. A quick google search brings up: crop tops & fake tattoos at airports, shopping in German malls with his mistress, and divorcing his wives.
Despite being the king of Thailand, he spends most of his time in Europe and uses taxpayer dollars to fund his lifestyle of living in villas and flying between European cities to see his mistresses.
You might think those are just his preferences, therefore harmless. But it’s not — he has a history of putting people in prison, tearing down their houses, and abusing his power. He is regressing Thailand to absolute monarchy and no one can check him.