The death of King Bhumibol of Thailand has plunged the country of 67 million people into an intense state of mourning. He was so revered that many people have been overcome with grief.
The government says it has provided medical treatment to scores of people and has told mourners they can call a hotline to help them through the trauma. "There are people who hyperventilate and we try to calm them down by talking to them," Boonruang Triruangworawat, director general of the Department of Mental Health told Reuters. "Others we have to send to hospital."
Thousands of black-clad mourners have flocked to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, a glittering complex of halls, pavilions and gardens where the remains of the king will lie for months before a royal cremation ceremony. Many spent the night outside the palace, braving sweltering heat and torrential rains. The king's body, however, is being kept in another building, and it will not be revealed to the public for another 15 days, authorities said. The mourners are ushered into a room with an ornate portrait of the king where they can pay their respects and sign a condolences book.
No date has been set for the cremation, which in royal families is usually months if not years later. Officials have suggested it would be at least a year. Buddhist funeral ceremonies have already begun at the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok's historic centre where Bhumibol's body is kept in an ornate hall for the royal family members to pay respects. The hall will be opened to the public on 28 October.
Thais loved King Bhumibol as a father figure, and the death of the world's longest-reigning monarch after 70 years on the throne has left many uncertain about the future. Most of Thailand is hushed in dignified mourning, but in some areas news of the death fuelled tension.
Authorities are urging calm as social media is flooded with criticism of people who aren't wearing black and white clothing to mourn the revered monarch. Some clothing sellers have been quick to hike prices for black garments. Others have run out of stock. A tractor importing company came up with a novel solution – they have set up a free dyeing centre in Bangkok, with bubbling vats of black dye to cater for people who can't buy mourning clothes.
On the tourist island of Samui, a woman accused of insulting the late king was forced to kneel before his portrait at a police station as several hundred people bayed for an apology. The woman's arrest and public shaming was the latest of several such incidents since the death of the king. About 400 people gathered outside the home of a soya milk vendor in the southern province of Phuket to protest against a Facebook post by the vendor's son that they saw as insulting to the king, police said. Teerapon Tipcharoen, the provincial police commander in charge of the case said the vendor's son could be charged with breaking Thailand's royal defamation and computer crimes law.
As Thais begin a year of mourning for their king, parties and celebrations will be toned down, particularly over the next month, temporarily crimping consumer and tourist spending. With the government asking for people to "refrain from festivities" for 30 days, and embassies advising tourists to show restraint after the death of the king, even Bangkok's bustling bars and the country's famous holiday resorts are unusually quiet.
Shops supplying portraits of the king are scrambling to meet demand as mourners flock to buy pictures of him. Parts of Bangkok are decked out in black and white funeral bunting and portraits of the king framed with black cloth dot the Thai capital. Recently, portraits of the king's son and successor have also increased. But vendors said they have not yet received orders for the prince's portrait.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn does not command the same adoration his father earned. He has chosen to delay his coronation. Instead, a 96-year-old confidant of the late king has been formally confirmed as the regent to manage the throne in the place of the crown prince and heir apparent. It isn't clear how long the caretaker arrangement will last. In a speech, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that "his royal highness was deeply concerned for the Thai people during this time of national bereavement" and has asked for more time to grieve along with the nation before taking over the monarchy.
Thailand's strict lese-majeste laws protect the most senior royals from insult. A junta that took power after a May 2014 coup has used the law to hand down stiff sentences to critics of the monarchy. However, for ordinary Thais, the overwhelming focus is on grieving for Bhumibol, not the succession.