Thousands flock to cortege

Black-clad mourners pack part of Phra Pin Klao Bridge to pay respects to His Majesty the King as the procession of His Majesty’s body moves along the route from Siriraj Hospital to the Grand Palace. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

Tens of thousands of mourners from all walks of life lined up along a four-kilometre route yesterday to pay their respects to His Majesty the King as his body was moved in a cortege from Siriraj Hospital to the Grand Palace.

His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn led the procession to move the body of His Majesty from the hospital, where the King had received medical treatment for two years, to the Phiman Rattaya Throne Hall inside the Grand Palace.

The Throne Hall is where the royal bathing and religious rites were held yesterday.

Yesterday was declared a public holiday to allow as many people as possible to attend the ceremony and other mourning activities.

The King’s body left Siriraj Hospital about 4.30pm. As the cortege passed Arun Amarin Road, Phra Pin Klao Bridge, the mourners performed a wai and many of them were seen wiping away tears in silence.

The motorcade procession of the King’s body left from Gate 8 of the hospital, turned right to Arun Amarin Road, crossed Phra Pin Klao Bridge, and moved along Ratchadamnoen Road to the Grand Palace, entering by the Thevapirom Gate.

The procession was led by Somdet Phra Wannarat, the abbot of Wat Bowon Niwet, in a front car preceding the vehicle transporting the King’s body.

The mourners crowded the footpaths along the route several hours before the procession, waiting to pay their respects to the late King. Most lifted pictures of His Majesty high above their heads.

Some held them close to their hearts.

Several thousands formed a long queue as they flocked to the Sala Sahathai Samakhom Pavilion for the symbolic royal bathing rite for His Majesty the King in the morning.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet ministers were among the mourners.

The Royal Household Bureau announced that the symbolic ceremony in front of the late King’s image was scheduled until noon. But it was later announced the public would be allowed admittance until 2pm as the crowds grew larger and jammed footpaths along the procession route.

Black-clad mourners, braving the heat and blinding sunlight, thronged the Siriraj intersection and nearby roads, crowding footpaths along the route. Some waved yellow royal flags and lotus flowers.

Sidewalks at Siriraj intersection and along Wang Lang and Arun Amarin roads were packed.

Many broke down in tears and bowed to pay respect as the van which carried His Majesty’s body passed by. They shouted “Long Live the King” loudly. Billboards expressing condolences for the King’s death dotted the roads.

Thousands of police officers and armed forces stood guard along the route.

Winai Udompol, 60, of Nonthaburi, said he arrived at the hospital at 4am. He could not sleep all night. “I wanted to join the royal ceremony to send His Majesty up to heaven. This is all I can do for my beloved King,” he said.

Somnuk Mulmongkol, 44, of Phetchaburi, stayed overnight on the hospital grounds after the King’s passing was announced. He said he still could not quite grasp the situation.

“I just love him so much. The King was our father, our everything. I knew this would happen one day, but I didn’t expect it to happen so fast,” Mr Somnuk said.

Photographs of a youthful King Bhumibol Adulyadej, commemorative pins and twinkling memorabilia filled street vendors’ carts yesterday in most areas next to the Grand Palace.

By noon, the vendors were rushed off their feet. Crowds swarmed in, looking to buy food, drinks and trinkets before the start of the funeral procession.

Yukolthorn, a 46 year-old Bangkok resident, set out early in the morning to secure the best spot to watch the cortege outside the Grand Palace.

However, after several hours of waiting and a couple of strolls around the block, she lost her spot on the front row.

“I don’t care about the heat or crowds. I just wanted to be here,” Ms Yukolthorn said.

Roads were closed off early in the day, and shuttle boats quickly filled up with passengers as people pushed and shoved.

“It’s impressive how calm people are despite the chaos,” Ms Yukolthorn noted.

Another Bangkok resident, Preecha, said the late King was the country’s only monarch he has known.

“I missed his coronation by only one year. I was born too late,” he said.

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