Colonel Narongdej Nanda

Royal family crisis in the mid-1980s. Bhumibol and Sirikit had grown apart, the queen’s open infatuation with her military aide Colonel Narongdej Nanda-photidej became profoundly embarrassing for the king.

Narongdej was sent away from Bangkok to the United States as a military attache, and died suddenly in New York in May 1985, at the age of just 38. The official explanation was that he suffered a heart attack but many Thais, including Sirikit herself suspected something more sinister.


So what do Thai people say really happened? Thais mistrust the conclusions of the “official” investigation. A heart attack seems unlikely for two reasons: first, the Colonel was young and fit (only 38), he had even won many competitions. Medals too.

Hardly the profile of a heart attack victim. Secondly, the bruises. Right across his left cheek, in fact. The Colonel was even found to have a fractured rib. Are these the symptoms associated with a heart attack? Isn’t it more likely that he was violently attacked and killed?

But most worrying of all, according to some Thais, no autopsy was carried out on the body. Some even claim the body was “still warm” after being brought back to Bangkok. Something doesn’t add up in all this.

Thai police, however, thought little of these unusual clues and closed the case. Orders from “above”. Her very public grief over the colonel’s death spiraled into a breakdown, and at the end of 1985 Bhumibol ordered her to undergo hospital treatment for what was officially called a “diagnostic curettage”.

Sirikit vanished from view for months, and with public disquiet growing, Princess Chulabhorn was enlisted to calm anxiety in a televised interview in 1986 in which she declared: We all work for his majesty because of our loyalty towards him. Nobody in our family wants popularity for themselves. Everybody is sharing the work and we work as a team. But again, there are people who say that our family is divided into two sides, which is not true at all. The opposite was true.


The whole sad episode spelled the end of Bhumibol and Sirikit’s marriage, and they lived separate lives for the next two decades. A rival royal court developed around Sirikit characterized by ultra-right wing politics and all-night dinner dances.

Thailand’s establishment was never a monolithic united bloc, and the estrangement of Bhumibol and Sirikit further widened the divisions. This gave even greater scope for other leading agents in the network monarchy above all,Prem to pursue their own agenda.As his marriage collapsed, Bhumibol appears to have begun seriously considering abdication.

He shocked the nation on his 59th birthday in December 1986 by hinting that he would soon step aside to make way for Vajiralongkorn to rule Thailand but Vajiralongkorn disastrous visit to Japan in 1987 and the embarrassment he made, gave the king no choice but to stay in power.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.