Of course, I never knew Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej personally; only by reputation. While a filtered view could sometimes be presented, according to accounts he was a modest figure widely respected for initiating reforms and programs, especially those benefitting poorer Thais in rural communities. Not to mention creative interests.

My visits to Thailand, beginning with the first many years ago, often coincided with events surrounding the king – usually birthdays – and one couldn’t help noticing how much locals revered him. Last year I touched down on October 13th, a sad occasion for Thais: it was the day he died, aged 88 after a 70 year reign. Recently I was in Bangkok during his funeral – it seemed apt.

Following a year of mourning, elaborate ceremonies took place over four days from the 26th to 29th October. Reports about the Old City being booked-out proved exaggerated and a room was found easily enough.

During the lead-up to the 26th, the main funeral day, quietness was equally prevalent in the Old City streets, only being busy around Sanam Luang, a large park where ceremonies would be held.

Three days out from the funeral and nearer the park Thais were staking claims to footpath space.

At this point (below) progress was denied without the company of a Thai, and dressed in black as they were – which meant head to toe, though not all locals strictly followed that suit yet.


On the way to rehearsals.
The Royal Crematorium in the distance.

Two days out the crowds grew larger.

Free-feeding the masses.

That night it poured.

The Thai in the hat (below) suggested that people were happy now, but on Thursday there would be tears. Though he added something about local beliefs, along the lines that the king had only gone in human form, so it wasn’t completely goodbye.

Unconditional love?

On the late afternoon before the cremation on the 26th there was a merit making ceremony at the Dusit Maha Prasad Throne Hall where the king’s funerary urn was being held before its transportation to the Royal Crematorium.

Thais lined Ratchadoemnon Road overseen by volunteers.

The merit-making ceremony had just ended, but wasn’t viewable from here. These Thais were present to acknowledge those dignitaries attending as they passed.

Despite the many people and the occasion, there was calm silence.

A nearby pedestrian light ticked in countdown. A voice crackled intermittently through a walkie-talkie. Behind us a giant screen flickered with images of the end of proceedings at the Throne Hall.

Eventually, limousines and sedans escorted by motorbike cops sped past, almost equally as silent as the crowd, a hum on bitumen. Those immediately in front of us, mostly volunteers, saluted.

One volunteer (who’d also told me earlier that no more photos could be taken) took it further, saluting as the vehicles’ approached turning stiffly on his heels to maintain the position as they disappeared toward and beyond the Democracy Monument. There was a sense of his anxiety as a vehicle neared – was it a saluting car? 

Not that you could see through the tinted windows in the dark of night from this distance at that speed.

That evening I met Golf (her Thai nickname), a flight attendant for Thai Airways, but now a volunteer (sans scarf and cap because she was too late to officially register) adorned with this sign in English, so I accepted the opportunity to gather information, as it wasn’t always easy to find (even the Bangkok Post lift-out was shy of precise details).

The info I was piecing together was that visitors would be welcomed tomorrow, the 26th, the main funeral day, wearing black, which may or may not mean a long-sleeved shirt. I had everything black except pants, and the khaki ones wouldn’t be a problem depending on where I wanted to go and who I encountered vetting access.

I wasn’t intending to attempt entering Sanam Luang. And unless you were in, or bordering, the park you wouldn’t see much, so I’d skirt around the edges – experience by observing. Similar to last October.

A common local response was that watching on television was the best option, but would it be in English? Golf sought and received confirmation there would be subtitles (there wasn’t, but I found a website that had a multilingual broadcast, which added cultural and historical context you wouldn’t otherwise receive).

loaded up with food and drink, I was sent off with a free massage from fellow-volunteer Fon that was as good as any I’ve had.

Poor girl, sweaty me.

These people where queuing up in Samsen Rd, some distance away from Sanam Luang.

Early morning of the 26th and crowds had grown even further, spilling out into side streets, and a long way from the park.

Security was tight. At some access points officials wanted to see passports. At other places they were more relaxed, just ushering you through a scanner.

Smoke seen through the trees from saluting cannons.

Queues to offer sandalwood flowers at a nearby temple (as far as I could ascertain).

The king’s urn was transported to the crematorium via elaborate processions taking several hours and ending in a ceremonial cremation, with the real one taking place later in the night at 10PM.

The weather had cleared – the only rain falling was during a gap in proceedings.

Khao San Road has rarely been so quiet.

Thais dressed in black now occupied the bars to watch the television broadcast.


Ceremonies continued for the next four days, though crowds lessened after the 26th and some through-roads temporarily re-opened (despite reports to the contrary).

The only procession that left the Sanam Luang area was on the 29th when the king’s ashes were transported from the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to Wat Bowonniwet Vihara (one of two temples to receive ashes). Another volunteer, Oi, confirmed it would go along Ratchadoemnon Rd.

Outside the destination temple (below).

Overall, the Thai people took to everything in good spirit – respectfully and quietly. There was little outward displays of grief, but after a year of mourning and five days of ceremony there was a sense of emptiness – what now? What does the future hold? Some worry about the motives of people waiting in the wings seeking to profit now King Bhumibol is not present to curtail them. 

But next day people were out in full colour – was it more so than usual or just more noticeable after that period of wearing black? The mood was lighter too. 

They were heading to the Grand Palace, open for the first time in over a month.

There was also access to the crematorium area, but not inside yet. From November 1st, entry would be allowed for a month before it is dismantled and recycled elsewhere. Very Buddhist.

Like the king – it’s goodbye, but not forgotten.

Poor girl, sweaty me.