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Thailand's Royal Funeral

 
 

Last week, hundreds of thousands of people from around the country came to pay their last respects to beloved late King Bhumibol in Bangkok. The nation’s longest-reigning monarch — whom many consider to be a father figure — was bid farewell in a lavish ceremony in the country’s capital on Thursday, marking an end to the year of mourning and more than a year since his passing on October 13, 2016.

In the days leading up to, and immediately following, the Royal Cremation of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol, it is estimated that more than 350,000 people from around the country made their way to Sanam Luang (the Royal Palace) in Bangkok. Due to the size of the crowds expected, some of those wishing to pay their respects to the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history came days in advance in order to secure access to areas closest to the Royal crematorium.

While preparations were months in the making, there was confusion and frustration as many were unable to get near to the crematorium where the daylong ceremony was held; thousands were forced instead to watch coverage live on television despite being only a few blocks away.

Mourners were met with blockades as the areas designated for public viewing of the ceremony quickly filled beyond capacity. Insistent on getting as close as possible, those outside the designated areas camped on sheets of plastic, using umbrellas to protect themselves from the harsh, late-morning sun, which later gave way to torrential rain owing to the waning monsoon season.

On narrow side streets, thousands of volunteers offered assistance to those unfamiliar with the ceremony layout or the city itself, since some had come from rural areas solely to be as close as possible during the cremation. While some residents and business owners provided free meals and cold drinks to those who had come to wait with little provisions, the majority of businesses — including all of the country’s 7-Eleven stores — closed their doors to observe what had been declared a national holiday.

The effect of the funeral — an unprecedented event in the country’s history — was far reaching. In an effort to manage the massive crowds, a number of replicas of the Royal crematorium were erected around Bangkok, as well as throughout the country, where members of the public could pay their respects. These too were often filled to capacity, forcing many to queue for hours outside. Unofficial and non-emergency vehicle traffic was prohibited within a wide radius of the Royal Palace and Crematorium, forcing many to make their way toward the ceremony on foot. Bangkok’s Chinatown became a highway of pedestrians making their way to and from the Royal Palace grounds. Nearby Khao San road — a backpacker and tourist mecca — was eerily silent as bars and nightclubs had shut their doors as a sign of respect.

Thai media was also affected, with television stations ordered in advance to refrain from upbeat programming before, during, and immediately following the cremation and to reduce the color of their broadcasts as a sign of respect to the late King. On the day of the cremation, channels were provided content by government run stations, to be broadcast for the duration of the cremation ceremony. Stations were permitted to return to scheduled programming at 6 a.m. on October 27. Newspapers filled pages with coverage and tributes to the late King and removed color from their websites.

While the official period of mourning has passed, it is unlikely that life will return to normal in Bangkok for some time as thousands still make their way toward the Palace grounds to pay their respects to the late King.

Cory Wright is a photographer/videographer currently based in southeast Asia. His work includes stories relating to conflict, migration, and the wider effects of incarceration and imprisonment. His website is www.coryjwright.com and his Instagram is @coryjwright

Thailand's Royal Funeral
Thousands line up along main roadways to pay their respects to the late King Bhumibol near the Palace grounds in Bangkok, Thailand. Despite the harsh weather conditions, crowds remained determined to stay for the cremation ceremony, which took place in the late evening.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Members of the public arriving early on the day of the cremation ceremony were able to use public transport free of charge to facilitate travel. Hua Lampong station — Bangkok’s rail hub, its hallways adorned with tributes to the late King — was especially busy as an influx of rural and urban travelers made their way toward the cremation site.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Passengers disembark from a train arriving from Phitsanulok on the day of cremation at the central train station in Bangkok, Thailand. Trains from all over the country carried mourners — wearing black as a sign of respect — to the nation’s capital. Transit system buses were used to shuttle mourners to areas close to the Royal Palace where many queued for hours in order to pay respects to the late King.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Travelling on foot through Chinatown, crowds were met with blockades a few blocks from the Palace grounds. Designated public viewing areas quickly filled to capacity, forcing officials to block thousands more from entering.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Despite being only a few blocks away many mourners gathered around televisions that were broadcasting the Cremation ceremony live. Some local restaurants opened their doors to those wanting to stay cool and watch the coverage unfold, but many remained closed.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Mourners gather in a military bus a few blocks away from Sanam Luang (the Royal Palace) in an effort to catch a glimpse of the ceremony as the procession passes a gap between buildings just a few blocks away.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Participants in the ceremony dressed in traditional clothing pass through a crowd of mourners near a blockade a few blocks from the Royal Palace. Preparations for the lavish ceremony involved 10 months of planning, construction, and rehearsals and included hundreds of participants.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
A lack of vehicle traffic in a wide radius around the Royal Palace made for less crowded walkways farther away from the ceremony. Usually congested streets near Democracy monument and Khao San road were instead filled with mourners dressed in black as they made their way to and from the Palace grounds.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Khao San road — referred to as the "center of the backpacking universe" by author Alex Garland — stood eerily empty as nearly all of the streets bars, restaurants, and nightclubs shut their doors out of respect for the late King. Those that remained open served as refuges for those looking for some respite from the climbing temperatures and late monsoon rains.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
A young volunteer makes his way through crowded side streets near Khao San road during a torrential downpour in Bangkok, Thailand. Climbing temperatures gave way to torrential rain in the late afternoon, but did not deter those determined to get as close as possible to the cremation ceremony.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Members of the public unable to get access to public viewing areas wait for the cremation to begin after a late-afternoon rainstorm in Bangkok, Thailand. Streets quickly flooded after torrential broke the mid-day heat, forcing many to abandon mats laid out for resting on.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Thousands line up along main roadways to pay their respects to the late King Bhumibol near the Palace grounds in Bangkok, Thailand.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Mourners cross the Somdet Phra Pin-Klao bridge over the Chao Phraya river heading toward the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. Major roads were closed to vehicle traffic helping hundreds of thousands reach areas near the cremation ceremony.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
A local resident helps others with directions to and from the cremation ceremony in Bangkok, Thailand. Tens of thousands continued to make their way toward the Palace grounds for the late evening cremation ceremony as the day progressed.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Members of the security team break for a meal on the crowded side streets near the Royal Palace. Thousands of officials were charged with securing the site and directing pedestrian traffic in a wide radius surrounding the ceremony grounds.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
As the evening wore on many continued to line up to pay respects to the late King despite the likelihood of a long wait.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
The official cremation — scheduled for 10 p.m. — was carried out while hundreds of thousands watched smoke rise from nearby streets.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Medical volunteers apply a spray ointment to those with blisters near Khao San road in Bangkok, Thailand. Hours of standing and queuing up eventually took their toll for many members of the public who had come to pay their respects on the day of cremation.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
Thailand's Royal Funeral
Engineers and crew members prepare for a live broadcast following the late King’s cremation day in Bangkok, Thailand. Thai television channels were required to broadcast supplied content on the day of the ceremony and were permitted to return to regular programming at 6 a.m. on October 27.
Image Credit: Cory Wright
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