Maha Vajiralongkorn, the 68-year-old king of Thailand, better known as Rama X, sits atop both a throne and the upper-most floor of a luxury hotel in a tiny ski village in the alpine regions of Germany. He fled there back in April. It’s his quarantine pad. (The king was granted a special dispensation by local German authorities that allowed the hotel to remain open, since all others in the town are closed due to COVID.) And because he’s royalty, he’s brought a private army with him.
But this army is no conventional fighting force. It’s a unit of 20 “sex soldiers.” They’ve been given the honorary title of “Sirivajirabhakdi,” which means “The Beautiful One Who Will Be Faithful to the King,” per Max Boddeker, a reporter at the German newspaper Bild.
For the women called to serve their king, it’s both an honor and a privilege. Yet, in a society where women are subservient to men, honorable exploitation doesn’t seem all that honorable, just exploitative. As journalist and Thailand expert, Andrew MacGregor Marshall explains, “The concubines make a big gamble — with the hope of winning big. Some are happy to join and are hoping for riches and success for themselves and their families. … Others give in to the king’s pressure to join over fear of the consequences if they refuse.”
Rama X became king in 2019. The X in his name is a Latin numeral; it’s to mark the fact that he’s the tenth monarch of his family line. His full name at birth was Vajiralongkorn Borommachakkrayadisonsantatiwong Thewetthamrongsuboriban Aphikhunuprakanmahittaladunladet Phumiphonnaretwarangkun Kittisirisombunsawangkhawat Borommakhattiyaratchakuman. His family birth name, Vajiralongkorn, is equally impressive — it means “adorned with jewels, or thunderbolts.” Meanwhile, his personal fortune is estimated at $30 billion, making him richer than both the Queen of England and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
He’s also that rare monarch today who is an official polyamorist. He still has a wife, his fourth (with three previous divorces), but at the same time, he’s had a very public, very tempestuous relationship with the 35-year-old nurse-turned-jet pilot who he named as his official royal consort. In fact, Rama X held a televised ceremony to mark the occasion of naming her his royal consort. Her government title is “Noble Royal Consort,” but as the head of his army of sex soldiers, she also has a military rank. So her full title is Major General Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, Noble Royal Consort. The Thai people, however, call her “Koi.”
When the royal family posted a picture of Koi as she piloted a plane in a crop-top — because she’s also a pilot, just like the king, who flies his own 747 — the sexy-ish photo went massively viral in Thailand. So much so that his subjects crashed the royal website.
But again, their relationship is complicated. Case in point: Last October, Rama X had Koi imprisoned — along with nine of her family members. He accused the family of leveraging their proximity to him for personal gain. He also accused Koi of plotting against the queen by attempting to elevate herself to “the same state as the queen.” (The queen is currently in Switzerland, where she lives in her own villa.) As punishment, Rama X stripped Koi of her military rank and official title. But in the year since, he’s forgiven her, and on August 28th, he reinstated her, denying that he ever punished her in the first place. “The stripping of royal titles, official position in serving the crown in military capacity and military ranks and the recall of all declarations has never taken place,” according to a recent royal proclamation.
These days then, Rama X’s biggest problem is his German neighbors, who have lost their patience with the pleasure king. In particular, Katharina Schulze, leader of the German Green Party, has questioned his unofficial “private stay” in Germany, and asked why he’s allowed special privileges. (In addition to co-opting a floor of the alpine hotel, Rama X also owns a luxurious German villa, where he and his sex soldiers have been known to go on long bike rides in the countryside.) “Normal citizens weren’t allowed to travel in or out [of the country], let alone rent a hotel,” Schulze has questioned. “We’d like to know the legal basis.”
Meanwhile, back in Thailand, the king’s subjects have started a social media hashtag to express their frustrations with their absent monarch during the COVID crisis. It gets right to the point: #WhyDoWeNeedAKing?
Rama X, however, has begun to remind his loyal subjects that, under Thai law, anyone who publicly criticizes the monarchy commits a crime punishable with a prison sentence of three to 15 years. And that’s for each charged offense. For instance, in 2017, a Thai man was sentenced to 35 years in jail for insulting the royalty on Facebook. The law is called lèse majesté, and it was part of Thailand’s first criminal code established back in 1908. It was later strengthened in 1976, with the express purpose to quash dissent. The reason behind it is pretty simple — Thailand has endured a long history of coups.
Even the king’s great-grandfather, King Rama VII, was once deposed as monarch. He was golfing at the time. The year was 1932, which marks the end of the Thai royal family’s absolute monarchy. It also was the beginning of the nation’s constitutional parliament. Much like the U.K., for the day-to-day governance of the nation, the country relies on a parliament headed by a prime minister. However, unlike in the U.K., the Thai royal family prefers to handpick their prime minister. They’ve been doing so ever since the CIA started backing them to keep communism from spreading throughout Southeast Asia.
The royals like to have backing from the West due to those aforementioned coups. That said, they tend to be led by loyal royalists, who take up arms to usurp or undermine the nation’s constitutional parliament. The current prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, is one such royalist. He’s often referred to as a dictator by the people of Thailand.
Still, because they can’t legally challenge the monarchy without fear of a prison sentence, Thai youth have begun to openly criticize Chan-o-cha. At a recent protest, sung to the tune of a children’s song, 15-year-old Benjamin Nivas recited the lyrics, “We don’t hate the country, but we hate you, Prayuth Chan-o-cha. We don’t want dictatorship.” Outside observers like Paul Handley, the author of a biography on King Rama X’s father, have noted that the recent wave of anti-government protests were the most strident opposition movement in the country since Rama VII was forced to end his absolute monarchy back in 1932.
To protect himself, in 2019, Rama X made the prime minister sign a decree that designated two regiments of the Thai Army — the ones responsible for the security of Bangkok and central Thailand — to operate under Rama X’s direct command. As for managing the heart of the people, the king has waged a war of soft power. To that end, he’s pushed for a wave of historic soap operas to be broadcast. Called “lakorns,” they’re all set in the grand era of Old Siam, which he hopes will remind his people of the grandeur and power of royalty, and how central it was to a once-great Thailand. Think of it as “Make Siam Great Again.”
It seems to be working. Consider this online review of the lakorn Love Destiny [sic throughout]: “The story was in Ayutthaya during the reign of King Narai era around 300 years ago. You will see a beautiful landscape and an awesome CG. It is not just about romance, but it also includes family, friends, historical with a lot of moral value. Actually, I hate to study history but now I know the whole stories… how awesome! This trend made a big impact on the society. I saw everyone talked about it on social networks. Some of them cooked Thai traditional food, wear Thai traditional dress and visited temples in lakorn.”
In the spirit of that vibe, when Rama X officially became king, his golden, bejewelled crown weighed 15 pounds, and his coronation parade included 1,300 attendants. It even boasted a floatilla of elephants. The whole affair lasted for six and a half hours. Similarly, when his beloved poodle died — who Rama X named Air Chief Marshal Foo Foo and who had an official rank in the Thai Royal Air Force — the dog was honored with a four-day-long Buddhist funeral. (At an earlier birthday party for Chief Marshal Foo Foo, Rama X’s topless third wife helped the king light the candles of the cake, after which, she got down on all fours and posed for a photograph as if she planned to eat from the dog’s dish — much to Rama X’s delight.)
While Rama X has caught heat for staying away from Thailand during the pandemic, his photo-op game has remained strong. For instance, he was recently seen handing out protective gear to health-care workers. That symbolic overture came about after he returned to Thailand from Germany, piloting his own 747 (natch), dashing back in order to wish his mother, Queen Sirikit, a happy birthday. (Of course, as soon as he could, the king turned his plane right back around and flew his happy ass back to Germany.)
Speaking of his mom, she holds a rather low opinion of her son, apparently once calling him a “sex maniac.” Instead of denying it, though, he’s kinda made it the royal policy.
The question is, for how much longer? Sex soldiers may be fun or whatever, but they’re not gonna win any real wars. And someday soon, reality may no longer be something Rama X gets to define. But for now at least, he and his royal consorts aren’t abdicating their throne — or German hotel — without a fight.