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A royal bubble bursts: Thailand's king faces trouble on 2 continents

By Shashank Bengali and Erik Kirschbaum, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

In the picturesque southern state of Bavaria, Vajiralongkorn, who has been married four times, is said to have purchased a villa near pristine Lake Starnberg in the town of Tutzing in 2016. He reportedly spends time there and at a four-star Alpine hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen that he rents out entirely for his entourage, including what one newspaper described as "hundreds" of servants.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung in Munich reported earlier this year that the king has "acquired an abiding fondness" for the rugged Bavarian foothills.

"He likes to pick strawberries, ride bicycles or visit one of the country inns after his tasters have tested everything first and his bodyguards have found the premises appropriate and safe," the newspaper wrote.

As crown prince, he was known in Bavaria primarily for his eccentric tastes. He was pictured wearing a tight-fitting crop top over an otherwise bare torso while getting on a ski lift, and covered in temporary tattoos during an excursion to a Munich mall.

Since he assumed the throne upon his father's death in 2016, King Vajiralongkorn's stay in Germany has become more controversial.

He amended the Thai Constitution to allow himself to rule from abroad without appointing a regent, as past monarchs did during long stints outside Thailand. After taking personal ownership of the estimated $70 billion crown fortune, he broke with custom by intervening directly in Thai politics - barring his popular sister from running for office in 2019 elections, the first since a 2014 military coup.


"His authority is much greater than past monarchs, and he has exercised it very shamelessly since he ascended the throne," said Junya Yimprasert, a Thai activist who was charged with insulting the monarchy in 2010 and went into exile in Finland.

She has organized several protests in Germany, including outside the hotel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in September, when she said members of the king's entourage tailed demonstrators in a car and took their pictures.

When they reported the harassment to local police, she said officers told her this was the king's "normal practice."

Activists and local media have raised questions about the king's tax status in Germany, as well as whether the government approved his hotel stay while the rest of Bavaria was closed to tourism during a COVID-19 lockdown in the spring.


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