Daily life in Thailand hasn’t been the same since the 13th of October, when king Bhumibol passed away. Thai people have been mourning the Thai King ever since and will probably keep doing so for many weeks to come. The most attended mourning activities are at the old heart of Bangkok, specifically the square at Sanam Luang. Free food and drinks are handed out there everyday and the royal anthem was collectively sung by thousands of people, last Saturday. I went there on Sunday to get a better understanding of how important the King has been for the Thai.
When walking around on the streets of Bangkok nowadays, you’ll see a large percentage of people wearing black clothes. Most billboards will have a picture of the King on them with a text. Bars and nightclubs have been closed for the most part, in the first days after the passing of the King. All of the TV channels have been showing documentaries about the King, nonstop. Most of it in black and white.
There will be different phases in the mourning period. The total mourning procedure will go on for a year, but not as intensive as it currently is. How long Thai people will be wearing black clothes in the streets, is not totally clear to me. For now, sombre clothing has become pretty expensive. Some shops have even recolored all of their clothes in black colors to avoid going out of business.
The central place in Bangkok where most people are mourning the Thai King, is definitely the Sanam Luang area. All of the buses that go there can currently be used for free. At the Hua Lamphong train station, from which I took the bus, there was already a big chaos as they were handing out free bottles of water and snacks. They are making it as easy as possible to get to Sanam Luang so that people of all walks of life get the chance to pay their tribute to the King.
Traffic isn’t allowed anymore from about a 2 kilometer radius away from Sanam Luang. The walk to get there felt a bit like a pilgrimage, marching in line with hundreds of Thais all dressed in black. People were handing out different kinds of drinks and snacks along the way and police officers were guarding every square inch of the streets.
Sanam Luang is a big field of grass located next to the Grand Palace and the famous temple Wat Phra Kaew. Most of the public commemorations take place in these areas. Inside the palace and the temple are where the private mourning ceremonies are taking place. Sanam Luang is where Thai locals are massively coming together to express their grief, and get a meal while doing so.
Several TV screens at the field display all of the rituals taking place in the nearby royal buildings. The group of people sitting around at the field grew a lot bigger as the evening kicked in. The atmosphere was quite uplifting and positive. I was offered food by several Thai locals and even a place to sit. Although there weren’t a lot of foreigners here, they were very welcoming of foreigners like me.
Not much grass left after 100,000+ people sang the Royal Anthem here
Flowers were handed out in the corner of the square, to form an impressive colorful pile in front of the King’s portrait. The mourning television shows, that have been on all TV channels for the past days, are on the screen next to it.
There must have been at least 50 different food stalls giving out free meals of all kinds. Some of them with lines of over 50 people, others less popular. I didn’t really want to line up to get a free meal as I’m not a Thai but I was offered food by several people when just walking by. It’s hard to resist it when you’re hungry.
Noodles with pork
Not only food is provided free of charge here. There are also free massages, free haircuts, free medical services, free WiFi and phone charging available. Pretty much everything you could need can be obtained here for absolutely free.
The lines at the food stalls became extremely long around dinnertime, as people from all over Bangkok finished their jobs. Not surprising that everyone’s going here because most of the food is of restaurant quality. They also like to take every opportunity they can get, to be collectively mourning the Thai King that ruled them for over 70 years.
Huge rice cookers
The square filled up again in the evening hours, with beautiful views on Wat Phra Kaew. When I walked back out, the King’s daughter was just about to pass on the main road. I was ordered to sit on the road as they passed with an entourage of what must have been over 50 cars and a handful of motorcycles.
It’s amazing what the Thai will do just to get a glimpse of the Royal family. There were thousands of people sitting on the streets to see the daughter of the King leaving the Grand Palace in her car. Most people waited for over 2 hours before she finally passed them by.
On my way out I passed through Khao San Road, which is a popular backpacker’s street very popular with tourists. It was a lot more quiet here than usual. It seemed to be about 80% foreigners walking around here, which is usually the case. Alcohol is already being sold again at the bars and most tourists seem to be unaware of the mourning activities that are taking place just a few miles away.
Getting out of the area was a bit harder than expected. Because the buses were all free of charge, there was a massive crowd fighting to get in. Taxi’s and other forms of transportation are not yet allowed in the area so there’s not much choice.
Unfortunately, I was pointed into the wrong bus by a man in an officer suit who seemed to know what he was talking about. On top of that, the bus had no air-conditioning, was packed with about 150 people and was stuck in traffic for most of the time. Although it didn’t take me where I wanted to go, I was only a 50 Baht taxi ride away from my apartment. Not that bad.