Riverside crammed from early in morning
Banks teem with locals, foreigners eager to see rare spectacle
It was a sea of yellow all along the Chao Phya River last night, when thousands flocked to see the once-in-a-lifetime spectacle of the Royal Barge Procession.
The procession took place in front of an audience that included 25 royals here to celebrate the anniversary of His Majesty the King's accession.
Thousands gathered along the riversides from Sunday night to reserve areas with good views of the procession, which went from Wasukri Pier to the Rama I bridge.
Some brought chairs while others climbed trees.
Open spaces by the river such as the Bank of Thailand and Santi Chai Prakarn Park on Phra Arthit Road were packed full from the morning.
Thammasat University had to close its gates at noon to prevent too many people flocking in.
Many restaurants along the riversides had been fully reserved for days in advance. Seats, some including buffet dinners, cost from Bt200 up to Bt1,000.
City officials had to warn food shops not to set up too many chairs by the water to prevent piers from becoming overloaded. Shops and stores at many piers also sold yellow shirts honouring the King.
Traffic on the roads leading to the river was clogged from 3.30pm.
More than 3,000 people gathered at Thammasat University's Tha Phrachan campus. Many arrived in the morning to book the best seats. The university provided two stands, which sat over 600 people. Seats cost Bt1,500 and sold out quickly. The rest sat on the ground, stood or climbed onto a nearby construction site.
After a long wait, the grand procession seemed relatively brief. The sound of the rowers echoed across the river. But the sight of the barges was the rare thing that touched viewers most. For 40 minutes they seemed spellbound.
"I came here at 10 o'clock in the morning. It's a very great experience," said Christopher Stachowski, a Polish telecom engineer, aged 59, who has visited the Kingdom 11 times.
"I'm not surprised that the Thai people love His Majesty King Bhumibol so much. And not surprised that he is the longest-reigning King in the world. He has done so many things for his people and what he's done is from his heart. I've seen that Thais are happy people."
French women from Bangkok's Alliance Francaise had a similar view. "We wanted to experience this rare grand Royal Barge Procession. It's rich cultural phenomena. It's amazing too to see many people all in yellow paying respect to their beloved King," said one, who asked not to give her name.
The Thai wife of German man Llartmut Styemple, Wilaiwan, decided to fly back for the big event after watching preparations for the celebrations on Thai channels 5 and 11, which are broadcast in Germany.
Styemple's family hailed the event "a wonderful moment when all are together cheering 'chaiyo' - and then lighting up candles at Sanam Luang on Friday night."
"We'd like the King to have a long life and to stay with the Kingdom forever," he said.
Among the spectators was a group of 40 foreign teachers from the Teaching Project Abroad.
Three young British teachers - Sara Breebon, Harriet Long and Navedia Young - were impressed with Thais' affections for the King.
"Strongly paying respect to the King reflects a sense of 'community'. And it's people from all walks of life, unlike in England, where you hardly ever see teenagers concerned with royal ceremonies," they said.
About 2,000 Thais and foreign visitors waited patiently under the Rama VIII Bridge next to the Bank of Thailand (BOT) headquarters to view the historic event.
Some had travelled from upcountry and stayed on despite afternoon rain.
The procession set up alongside the BOT so people there were perfectly placed. It rained and was windy from 3.30pm to 4pm, but the Royal Barge rowers started chanting at 4.30pm and the procession got underway on time, at 5pm.