Thailand has perhaps seen no greater display of royal love than in the many thousands of people queuing for long hours to pay final respects
People from across the country endured long waits in Bangkok this week for the last chance to show their devotion and gratitude to His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Public viewing of the Royal Urn in the Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall of the Grand Palace ends on October 5. The palace and adjacent Temple of the Emerald Buddha will be closed until October 30 amid preparations for the royal funeral, scheduled for October 25 to 29.
Tens of thousands of citizens have been queuing daily from the wee hours of the morning to enter the Grand Palace and see the elaborately decorated urn.
Most have had to wait up to 12 hours and in unpredictable weather – from withering sunshine to lashing thunderstorms.
The queue of blackclad mourners lines Ratchadamnoen Avenue from the entrance gate of Sanam Luang to the Khok Wua intersection 500 metres away. The line moves very slowly, typically taking half an hour to progress mere steps, but remarkably there have been no shows of impatience in the crowd.
On Wednesday, just a week before the Royal Household Bureau was to close the palace doors, an enormous number of people anxious to view the Royal Urn had gathered from all corners of the country.
They had come to the heart of Bangkok to show their abiding devotion to the beloved monarch for the last time. For some, it was a once-in-a-lifetime mission that could not be denied.
Suchart Thipkhunok, 43, came from Samut Prakan and joined an already growing queue at 4am. By 1pm the day had become brutally hot. That’s when I spoke with him, just outside the Royal Rattanakosin Hotel and a few metres from the entry to Sanam Luang, where the royal funeral is to be held.
He said this leadup to royal funeral was the first he’d witnessed in person.
“I’m very proud to be here to show my respect for the late King for the last time,” he added.
Asked how weary he felt after waiting in the queue for nine hours and being still far from the palace, Suchart would only say he was determined to pay his respects before the Royal Urn. He would have such an opportunity only once in his lifetime and he wasn’t about to give up.
“I can tolerate the heat and the tiredness,” he said. “It hasn’t been too harsh – there are many volunteers attending to people in the queue and they provide everything we need.
“I will not give up, because this is my last chance to show my loyalty to my beloved King.”
Ang Thong resident Namaoi Pethngam, 50, had been in the line since 7am – and she’d gone through this procedure five times previously. She’d seen the urn each time, but wanted to pay one last visit in a bid to earn more merit that would help carry His Majesty’s soul to Heaven.
“I knew this day would come, but it’s still heartbreaking to realise that this is the last time I can be near my beloved King,” Namaoi said.
She said devotion fosters all the patience needed to withstand the hot weather, lack of shade and any inconvenience, including getting to the toilet.
Once the queue reaches Sanam Luang the ordeal eases, because there are cool tents and ready access to food, water and toilet facilities. Before that, though, everyone is fully exposed to the elements and crowded onto the roadsides. Many visitors describe this stage as the hardest portion of the experience.
They will eventually, however, be among the mourners exiting the Grand Palace, having seen the Royal Urn. Those emerging from the Throne Hall say all sense of weariness vanished once they laid eyes on the vessel holding the remains of the late King.
Jin Buaniam, a 77-year-old grandmother from Phetchaburi, almost gave up on seeing the urn because she’d been overcome by exhaustion during her 12-hour wait. But she was ultimately able to fulfil her intentions.
“It was very long and tiring wait – I was in the queue since 2am,” she said, “but all the tiredness was gone when I was finally before the Royal Urn.
“I never had a chance to see His Majesty in person, but I made it here at last. His reign extended over nearly all my life and was a very happy time for me. As loyal citizens, my family will keep doing good deeds for our beloved King.”
Despite her age, she intends to be back in Bangkok for the cremation ceremony on October 26.
Nattaphol Kaewthamcharoen, one of the volunteers attending to the mourners’ needs, said he’d noticed a sharp rise in the number of visitors to the Throne Hall in recent weeks. Yet, despite the growing crowd, everyone was ready to help others – to do good deeds in honour of King Bhumibol.
“I’ve been able to pay my respects before the Royal Urn several times, and out of gratitude for that I’m ready to help others, to make their long wait as pleasant as possible,” Nattaphol said.
There were so many people now that the provided food and drinks were no longer meeting demand, he said, but the visitors were always well behaved and always respectful of the rules covering visits to the Throne Hall.
“His Majesty did so much for the people and devoted himself for many decades to their wellbeing, so, as loyal citizens, we should all strive to improve our society and honour his memory,” Nattaphol said. “We should all follow in his footsteps.”