A Grand Invitation

Thailand throws a year-long party in honor of the King

By: Monica Poling

If there is one thing that is true of the Thai people, it is their profound love and respect for their own royal family. It is a cultural unifier that runs deep in Thai society. This year Thailand celebrates the 60th anniversary of His Royal Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej’s ascension to the throne, making him the country’s longest reigning king and the world’s longest reigning living monarch. To celebrate his Diamond Anniversary, the Kingdom of Thailand is throwing a huge party.

The celebration known as Thailand Grand Invitation 2006 is made up of a year-long series of special festivals and activities.

“These events are especially exciting because of their rarity many are once-in-a-lifetime activities,” said Santi Chudintra, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand in Los Angeles. “The Grand Royal Barge Procession, for example, an event being organized by the Royal Navy, cannot normally be seen by the general public. Even most of the Thai people have never seen this program.”

The Royal Barge Procession, to be held in June, will feature 52 majestic barges, rowed by a crew of 2,082 Navy oarsmen.

Many of this year’s events are themed around the King’s favorite activities. The Grand Jazz Festival, for example, scheduled for December, is being organized specifically because the King himself is an avid jazz musician and composer.

Other events include regular festivals that have been expanded to include tributes to the King. The increasingly popular Candle Festival held annually in Ubon Ratchathani during the Buddhist Lent, will be expanded to Bangkok this year. On display in both cities are many dramatic, car-sized structures, hand carved by the skilled craftsman that live in the Ubon Ratchathani area.

Another one of this year’s highly touted events is the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2006, an annual international horticultural show that features more than 2.5 million plants and 2,200 species of tropical plants and flowers. Exhibitions will include a “Gardens for the King” tribute, featuring a display of 30 international and 80 domestic gardens.

In addition to a comprehensive events calendar, Thailand is also welcoming numerous new developments this year. The long-awaited Suvarnabhumi Airport, which will replace the current Bangkok International Airport as Thailand’s primary international transportation hub, should open in the fall. The new airport will be home to a few record-holding structures, including the world’s tallest control tower and the world’s largest single standing building.

Other new developments include the recently opened 2,000-seat Siam Niramit Theatre. Having technically opened in November 2005, performances are already meeting with rave reviews from advance audiences. Being billed as the largest stage production in the world, the nightly program offers an entertaining and historical overview of Thailand in such a grand production that Disney shows pale by comparison. The 80-minute program unfolds through the stories of 15 classic Thai myths, with 150 performers filling the stage’s massive four-story-tall proscenium.

Another theater, the first Royal Theatre (Sala Chalermkrung), which was built in 1932 to commemorate Bangkok’s 150th anniversary, has been fully refurbished and recently opened to the public. It presents special performances of the Khon Thai Masked Dance, an art form that previously could only be seen by members of the royal court. Performances will run through the end of the year. Also open in time to join the celebrations, is the 5-million-square-foot Siam Paragon mega-shopping complex. This entertainment center, conveniently located adjacent to the Siam Square skytrain station, features an opera house, an aquarium and 250 high-end retail shops with such designer names as Hermes, Gucci and Chanel.

For travel industry professionals, 2006 also brings the 55th Annual Conference of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), from April 23-27 in Pattaya. The Royal Cliff Beach Resort, the conference host venue, will provide a range of complimentary lifestyle activities for delegates, including Thai massage and spa programs, and classes in such activities as Thai floral arranging, banana leaf decorations and vegetable, fruit and soap carving; Thai cooking; Thai kite making; bamboo basketry; and palm leaf weaving.

Thai tourism officials expect the Thailand Grand Invitation 2006 to bring big tourism revenue to the country. In 2006, the TAT anticipates more than 13.2 million visitors to Thailand, equaling tourism receipts of nearly $12.5 billion. About 600,000 of these visitors will hail from the United States.

Numerous tour operators are offering Bangkok programs this year, which will allow your clients to take advantage of most of the major festivities. Customized extensions are readily available for more specific travel needs.


The Orient Flexi Pak offers a three-night Bangkok Program from $229, land only.

Pacific Delight Tours offers a seven-day Bangkok Program from $1,008, land and air included.

Ritz Tours offers a 15-day Tantalizing Thailand tour featuring Bangkok from $1,399, land and air included.

SITA World Travel offers a three-night Bangkok Program from $295, land only.