It’s a lovely time of year in Thailand, and Princess Sirivannavari, daughter of the unpredictable King Maha Vajiralongkorn, is determined to enjoy it.
With less than impeccable timing, Sirivannavari has decided it’s time for a diving vacation.
Her alleged jaunt to the island paradise of Koh Samui comes as the country reels under a virulent third wave of the coronavirus, a disastrous vaccine rollout marred by cronyism, a complete shutdown of the pivotal international tourist trade, and a political crisis that has resulted in a jailed anti-monarchy and pro-democracy campaigner being desperately ill after a 42-day hunger strike.
Most of the kingdom is tightening travel restrictions and imposing quarantine requirements, but Sirivannavari has been gaily sharing images from the holiday on her private Instagram account, which have been published by subscription newsletter Secret Siam.
Secret Siam, which has become a go-to source for those interested in the day to day abuses of power by Thailand’s elite, is authored by Andrew MacGregor Marshall, a former Reuters bureau chief in Bangkok, who is free to quote his Thai sources without fear of the country’s draconian censorship laws as he no longer lives in Asia.
MacGregor Marshall says that orange flags bearing Sirivannavari’s royal crest have been raised around the island and that there is a heavy security presence with five naval vessels anchored off local beauty spot Crystal Bay. Sail Rock, between Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, widely regarded as the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, has been completely closed to all other boats, with local diving companies told to stay away during her trip.
MacGregor Marshall suggests that Sirivannavari’s holiday may be to celebrate the publication of her latest book, The Princess’ Dog Diary 2, about her beloved Yorkshire terrier Perfume, which was launched at the Mandarin Oriental on April 17.
The behavior is wearyingly familiar to observers of the corrupt Thai royal family: a trip to Phuket and surrounding islands with a large entourage of high-society friends at New Year in 2020 caused chaos with fishing boats, ferries, and tourist cruises banned from large swaths of the ocean.
The Thai royal family does not typically respond to press inquiries but a request for comment was sent to the Thai embassy in London.
In comparison with her father’s peccadilloes, Sirivannavari’s vacation habits are small beer. The king’s transgressions include bigamy, allegedly breaking his sisters’ ankles by jumping on her legs when she complained about the bigamy, maintaining a harem of 20 concubines in Germany, building up an extraordinary fleet of 38 jets and helicopters for the exclusive use of the Thai royal family, and expropriating the country’s $30 billion sovereign wealth fund for his personal use, making him the world’s richest monarch.
A video leaked on the internet of a birthday party being held—in Caligula-esque style—on behalf of his dog, a white poodle named Foo Foo, gave global insight into the king’s unorthodox lifestyle. The video, which the Thai authorities have never been able to fully suppress, shows his then-wife, Princess Srirasmi, wearing a G-string and feeding cake to the dog as courtiers crawl on the floor around them.
Foo Foo was also the unintended star of a 2007 reception hosted by U.S. Ambassador Ralph “Skip” Boyce. “Foo Foo was... dressed in formal evening attire complete with paw mitts, and at one point during the band’s second number, he jumped up onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ water glasses,” Boyce wrote, according to a WikiLeaks document.
Another note written by the U.S. ambassador to Thailand in 2009, Eric John, and published in the Wikileaks cable dump, stated: “Vajiralongkorn is believed to be suffering from a blood-related medical condition (varying sources claim he is either: HIV-positive; has hepatitis C; is afflicted by a rare form of ‘blood cancer’ or some combination which leads to regular blood transfusions).”
The Thai authorities have never commented on the allegations.
Even with the high bar of her father’s eccentricities, the princess’ high-handed insistence on ordering large areas of the sea to be closed so she can enjoy herself far from the prying eyes of commoners cannot help but mark a sharp contrast to the devastation sweeping the country. Having successfully managed the first wave of the pandemic with relatively few cases, Thailand has been hit hard by a new wave of coronavirus.
There were 2,048 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, and 8 deaths, local media reported.
The country has stumbled badly on vaccines, with the government handing the contract for domestic production of 61 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to a royal-owned company, Siam Bioscience, in an attempt to boost the royal family’s popularity.
The results have been a predictably slow rollout of vaccines. This has not stopped the royalist Prime Minister, and leader of Thailand’s 2014 coup, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, from praising the palace and promoting royal propaganda on live TV addresses.
Pushing back is dangerous: Thai police on Tuesday charged banned opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit with defaming the monarchy after he said the government had mishandled the vaccine campaign and had given an unfair advantage to the king’s company on a Facebook live stream.
Juangroongruangkit is just the latest to fall afoul of strict laws preventing direct criticism of the monarch, his household, and even his pets.
Last year there was a mood of open defiance and a series of student-led protests unnerved the government.
Opponents of the commanding position and privilege of the Thai royal family were briefly emboldened as rallies by student protesters against the establishment grew.
However, the leaders of the protests were subsequently rounded up and jailed, most notably Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak.
Chiwarak has now been on a hunger strike for more than 42 days.
In recent court appearances, Chiwarak has been extremely weak and used a wheelchair.
When Princess Sirivannavari returns from her vacation, it is believed her attention will turn to her horses as part of her ongoing campaign to represent Thailand in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.