As Thailand prepares for the 50 day anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej death on December 1 the daily queues of bereaved Thais wanting to pay their respects to the dead monarch show no signs of abating.
From before sunrise each day – tickets begin being issued at 5.30am – buses, tuk tuks, riverboats, and trains disgorge a constant stream of people, predominantly dressed in black, who trudge their way to Sanam Luang, the royal crematorium grounds, in front of Thailand’s Grand Palace to wait their turn.
Little by little and in groups of 70 they move from marques set in the car park with little to offer except shade from the baking sun or torrential downpours and free bottles of drinking water, progressing to those closer to the Grand Palace with plastic chairs, and misting fans.
Up to 30,000 slots a day are available, with some people waiting five hours or more. While the wait is long no one complains. No length of time is too great for any of them to wait. The reward: A chance to prostrate themself before the Royal Urn of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, resting atop the King’s body in the the Grand Palace’s Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall.
Supporting the thousands of people a day making the pilgrimage from all parts of the country is a not so small army of volunteers from organisations such as the first responder’s Poh Teck Tung Foundation, all branches of the Thailand armed forces, street sweepers, groups of students from individual schools, corporations, and numerous others whose identity is hard to establish. A small fleet of mobile toilet buses provides some relief, but advance planning is advised.
With the roads closed off around the Grand Palace, the constant rumble of Bangkok’s normal traffic is gone. But so too is almost any other sound. It’s the one striking thing for anyone used to Bangkok’s raucous background noise.
Apart from necessary announcements by loudhailer to direct groups of people – and even these are not anywhere near as loud as usual – conversations are absent. People sit and look at their smart phones, but very few discussions are held. A truly hushed atmosphere if anyone was ever in need of an example.
The Thailand government has already announced that work will shortly commence on the erection of the Royal Crematorium, which will occupy the land immediately in front of the Grand Palace. The lavish and painstaking process will take some nine months to complete.
Mourning King Bhumibol at Sanam Luang Slide Gallery
Photos: John Le Fevre