Yesterday we were lucky enough to have an audience with the King of Thailand. We were particularly fortunate because the 84 year old King has been in a Bangkok hospital for the last couple of years. This was his first visit out of Bangkok in three years.
The occasion was a special ceremony a couple of hours from Bangkok at a place called Ayuttaya. There the Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra, presented the King with a gift of land from her family. It was the land where the king had harvested some rice back in 1996.
Now when I say audience, it was a rather large audience. We were part of a crowd of maybe 50 000 (my estimate… looked like a full house at the football.) I saw an article in the newspaper the day before and we only decided to go, on a whim, on the morning of the event.
We managed to make a very favourable deal with the travel agency across the road from our guest house. We negotiated for a taxi driver to take us there, stay with us for the ceremony and then bring us back.
Once we had scored the taxi, we went hunting for a couple of random strangers to share the taxi with us. At our 3rd attempt we found Louise and Jen, two younger travellers from England and Canada, who were great company for the day.
Everyone was issued with various flags on arrival: a Thai flag, one for the king and one for the queen. Security had cordoned off particular areas and people had already chosen their spots almost 3 hours before the king’s arrival.
We walked along the roadway to catch a closer look at the 11 stunning decorated elephants being used as part of the procession. Within moments the elephants were led off by their mahouts. We bobbed down on the roadway so we wouldn’t block the spectators’ views. The massive, majestic animals, some with tusks about half a metre long, passed only centimetres in front of us. It was awesome.
With the temperature in the high 30′s we headed for shade near a lake and I was interviewed by Radio Thailand. We saw only two other foreigners all day! Within minutes we saw the elephants being led down to the lake only metres from where we were sitting. They drank, spurted water at each other and then sprayed some of the crowd. Great moments!
As the king’s approach drew nearer, we shifted camp again. Luckily we were warned about not taking photos of the king and not wearing hats. We already knew about the law banning negative comments about the king.
Finally he arrived, fashionably late. Flags were waved enthusiastically and cries of ‘long live the King’ were shouted across the park. The official dignatories were now stationed across the lake, but we had a fair view and there was also a large screen to watch proceedings. More elephants, boats, the land presentation and a sound and light show followed. The taxi driver stayed with us the whole time and he was clearly having a great day!
There were some great moments mixing in with the locals during the day and also as we walked back to the taxi. Everyone was very excited to be there and pleasde that we were there to share it with them. They all love the king, who has reigned for 60 years. We arrived back at our hotel 8 hours after we had set out.
All in all a fantastic experience!