- Tourism and Monarchy in Southeast Asia ed. by Ploysri Porananond and Victor T. King
Several Southeast Asian countries—Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Brunei—have retained or reintroduced monarchy in its constitutional form. In the case of other countries, royalty has been removed but its heritage has been reinvented. These latter include Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore. In spite of these disparate trajectories, Southeast Asian monarchies have become nearly everywhere a resource available for translation from their symbolic role to one useful in the generation of tourism revenue. The book provides various examples of this "refashioning" of Southeast Asian monarchies through eleven case studies covering eight countries: Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia and Singapore.
Three main themes run through the book. The first one relates to the decisive role of monarchy in the creation of specific travel practices and places of interest. On Java, as in Vietnam or in Thailand, travels on the part of members of the elite lay the foundation for later mass tourism. This process differed across the various national contexts, however. On Java, tourism clearly emerged as an emulation of a colonial practice and reflected the structure of Indonesian society. In Vietnam, aristocratic travel long predated colonization and combined sightseeing with political and diplomatic motivations. In each case, earlier habits of travel were instrumental in the creation of resorts and places that later became major destinations for domestic mass tourism in the colonial and the post-revolutionary contexts.
Thailand offers still another case, as it was never formally colonized. But, like the Javanese elite earlier, its aristocracy imported the travel practices of European elites. Its travels paralleled the progressive centralization of the political power and the internal colonization of the geographic and social margins of the kingdom. Emblematic of this process, the monarchy launched, at the end of the [End Page 220] 1960s, agricultural development projects in ethnic-minority highland communities located near the winter palace of the king, where the monarch used to go trekking. In the early 2000s, the Royal Projects also entered the tourism business. They now offer the opportunity to spend a night or two in the mountains to a mostly domestic clientele that comes to enjoy the scenery "in the King's footsteps" (p. 69) while having little interaction with local people. In this sense, tourism focused on royal heritage expresses an extension of belonging rather than a desire for encounter.
In contrast, other chapters in the book stress "centrifugal" or outward dynamics. Tourism oriented towards royal heritage caters initially to domestic visitors, but it can also grow to include international. While the chapters devoted to Brunei and Malaysia suggest that their monarchies control this process, other contributions show that it surpasses the royal realm. In Chiang Mai, for instance, the branding of elephants as a symbol both of the monarchy and of the Northern city dates from the 1920s when a troupe of pachyderms carried King Prajadhipok and his queen from the railway station to the city proper during their official visit in 1926. Later on, the tourism industry intensively commoditized the image of the elephant in various ways, including through the sale of woodcarvings and the establishment of elephant camps to attract foreign visitors. Another chapter shows how a Balinese royal house in Ubud used its global social network to promote the tourism industry and simultaneously encouraged the local communities to use the benefits of tourism to maintain local arts and crafts. Tourism then grew and diversified largely beyond the control of the puri or royal residence, so that neither the local tourist industry nor the royal house are overly dependent on one another.
Finally, the book also covers the ambiguous and sometimes conflicting relationships between tourism, royal heritage and national narrative. In Vietnam and Laos, the legacy of monarchy was denied during the post-revolutionary period and then resurrected for mainly economic reasons. The labelling of the ancient royal capitals of Huế and Luang Prabang as UNESCO World Heritage Sites facilitated [End Page 221] not only the reinterpretation and promotion of...