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Thailand Gets the Royal Treatment

August 10, 1986|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

The Prince of Thailand would smile if you called him the grandson of Yul Brynner.

With a characteristic sense of humor, Prince Diskul has just been introducing himself in Los Angeles and across the United States as the grandson of the king in "The King and I"--the monarch Brynner portrayed in more than 4,000 stage performances as well as in an Oscar-winning movie role.

The prince and his princess are contributing much more than their personalities and time to helping build tourism in a year that has already produced the largest number of U.S. visitors in Thai history.

They are also helping set the stage for 1987, which has been designated as the Year of Tourism in Thailand and seems likely to establish another record for U.S. visitors, with the largest percent again coming from California.

Current Shift in Tourism

According to Montri Jantrupon, director of the Thai Tourism Office in Los Angeles, this year's count of U.S. travelers to Thailand is expected to reach 170,000, a figure that would also reflect the current shift of tourism from Europe to the Pacific. It represents an increase of 15% over last year and is predicted to grow to 200,000 next year. Californians make up about 35% of tourism to Thailand.

Since Prince Diskul is a member of the royal family, he was properly introduced as His Serene Highness the other evening at a reception. But their western educational backgrounds and easy, outgoing personalities quickly had us addressing them as Prince and Princess.

The card the Prince handed us indicated that we could also call him professor. It identified him as Prof. M. C. Subhadradis Diskul of Silpakorn University, the University of Fine Arts in Bangkok, Thailand. Educated in Paris and London as well as his native land, he is now completing a second term as president of the university, and has also been a Fulbright lecturer at Cornell and the University of Ohio.

His specialty is the arts of Thailand and the main focus of his work today is "to help preserve the artistic and architectural heritage of my country so that they can be enjoyed by the people of all the world."

Books, Scholarly Works

He has written a dozen books and scholarly works. His latest is a booklet designed for the Thailand's Year of Tourism. Translated into French and Japanese as well as English, it tells the story of one of the country's greatest artistic attractions, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This temple adjoins the Grand Palace and is where the king performs his religious duties.

The prince contributes all of the proceeds from his books to help preserve and restore the art and architectural treasures of his country. He also contributes his salary as professor and president at the university, along with any other income he may receive as a guest lecturer or while promoting tourism to Thailand.

The royal family of Thailand is a revered and often stabilizing institution in a constitutional democracy that had 15 political parties winning parliamentary seats in the July election. Princess Diskul is a prime example of the liberated role of women in Thai business. She is an officer of a chain of banks founded by her family.

The prince and princess have most recently crossed the United States from Miami to Los Angeles and San Francisco to promote visiting Thailand during the 1987 Year of Tourism, and to give their support to new Royal Orient tour packages put together by Buchanan, Underwood & Associates of Houston, Texas.

Gala events throughout the coming year will climax on Dec. 5, 1987, the National Day and the 60th birthday of the present monarch, H. M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, one of the longest reigning and most beloved of Thai kings.

'River of Kings'

Magnificent royal barges, shaped like golden birds of mythology, will parade on the Chao Phraya "River of Kings" for this event.

"Life for us moves in 12-year cycles," Prince Diskul explained.

A 60th birthday and the magic of entering the following decade of life may help to explain how Prince Diskul could be the grandson of Rama IV, the monarch in "The King and I." Rama IV came to the throne in 1851.

"My father was born as the youngest prince when Rama IV was in his 60s," Prince Diskul told us with a smile, "and I was born when my father was in his 60s."

Prince and Princess Diskul have three daughters and a son, and one daughter has just graduated from the University of Southern California. They aren't talking about more children.

What is their advice for visiting Thailand? Both agreed:

"After you get to know Bangkok slowly, then go out into the country to discover the many Thailands between the border of Malaysia in the far south and Chiang Mai in the north, near the border of Burma."

For the Buchanan, Underwood Royal Orient tours, Prince Diskul will host the tour of palaces and Buddhist temples in Bangkok. This will include a reception at the Thai Royal Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. He advises that the best months for travel in Thailand are between the end of October and springtime.

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