See Thailand Like Never Before as Millions Mourn at King's Funeral

© Diego Azubel/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
© Diego Azubel/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
Photo of Kyle Hulme
31 October 2017

On Thursday October 26, 2017, the late King Rama IX of Thailand was cremated after one year of mourning and reflection. As part of a five-day, US$90m funeral, an entire nation came to a standstill – paying their respects to their beloved monarch.

Phra Meru Mas, the golden royal crematorium, was constructed specifically for the cremation ceremony at a cost of US$30m. As per centuries of Thai tradition, its design represents the palace above Mount Meru (the centre of the Buddhist and Hindu universe), and the place Thais believe their royals ascend to after death. Ten months in the making, standing at 165 feet tall, the crematorium will be open to visitors from November 2 to 30 – after which it will be dismantled.

Thai police line up in front of the royal crematorium on the morning of the ceremony | © Rungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

The royal chariot brought the urn to the funeral pyre, passing crowds of mourners who lined the street along the way. Many mourners camped out for several days in order to reserve a good spot to watch the procession and pay their respects.

Military officers pull the ‘great victory royal chariot’ carrying the royal urn of the late Thai king | © Diego Azubel/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Rama IX was commonly referred to as the ‘father of all Thais’ and was widely loved and respected. Tears were shed by many people in attendance, and by the millions attending events in provinces around the country.

A mourner in tears presents a picture of the late king during the ceremony | © Diego Azubel/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Once the funeral of the late king is finished, the coronation of his son Vajiralongkorn, or Rama X, can go ahead in December. At age 65, he will be the oldest Thai prince to ascend to the throne. He was tasked with lighting the funeral pyre, to begin the cremation process.

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun takes part in the ceremony | © Pongmanat Tasiri/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
Artillery fire salutes at the start of the royal cremation ceremony in Bangkok | © Rungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Once the royal chariot carrying the urn arrived at the crematorium, foreign dignitaries and guests laid offerings of sandalwood flowers – an act that was repeated at venues throughout Thailand. Some time after 10pm on Wednesday, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the 9th king of the Chakri dynasty, was cremated.

The royal cremation ceremony in Bangkok, Thailand | © Panupong Changchai/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Mourners clutched portraits of their late king as a mark of respect as they walked the streets of Bangkok, in scenes reminiscent of the time the king was in poor health, shortly before his death. Only a few thousand made it to the site of the crematorium, with the rest having to make do with watching from wherever they could.

Mourners make their way to pay their respects | © Culture Trip
Mourners wait for the procession | © Culture Trip
Police make an announcement to crowds in Bangkok | © Culture Trip

As well as transport services offering free or discounted travel on the day of the cremation, many shops provided free food and water to the mourning crowds, most of whom endured high temperatures and torrential downpours during their vigil.

Food and water is distributed by volunteers | © Culture Trip
Mourners sit and watch the ceremony on a projector, using umbrellas against the sun | © Culture Trip

Bangkok’s Khaosan Road, usually teeming with tourists, attracted a different crowd. With its close proximity to the site of the cremation, it quickly became filled with passing crowds – a change from its usual backpacker clientele.

Downton Bangkok | © Culture Trip

As well as in Bangkok, up and down the country Thais watched the events unfold on their screens as footage was broadcast on all television channels. In the weeks leading up to the funeral, entertainment shows were curtailed and broadcasts were made in black and white. Many shops and businesses closed for the day in order to give their staff time to watch the funeral and pay their respects.

Shops and restaurants offered mourners a place to watch the televised proceedings | © Culture Trip
Live screenings were held all over Bangkok | © Culture Trip

Major roads were pedestrianised in order to ensure the safe and orderly movement of the mourners towards the site of the cremation, and many attractions were closed for the day.

People wear black as a mark of respect to the late King | © Culture Trip
Security forces control crowds in the hundreds of thousands | © Culture Trip
Mourners wait to cross the city | © Culture Trip

Some 80,000 security personnel were on duty, in order to keep order and peace. Additionally, drones were forbidden not just from flying within 19km of the site of the cremation, but also from going over the replica crematorium sites around the country.

A Thai woman patiently waits to cross | © Culture Trip

As well as road closures, there were restrictions affecting the Chao Phraya, with boats for both mourners and tourists restricting where they stopped. The Chao Phraya Express boat was operating for free, so as not to take advantage of people mourning the loss of their king.

Mourners board the public river boat | © Culture Trip
Mourners, monks, students and those who volunteered to help make their way towards the Grand Palace | © Culture Trip

The weather ranged from hot to rainy throughout the day and some members of the funeral procession fainted due to the heat and their warm outfits. However, the rain did little to deter those who came out in their thousands to witness the events.

Alexander Martin / | © Culture Trip

Thailand is a majority-Buddhist country, and so those religious traditions featured prominently in the ceremony. Thai males are encouraged to join the monkhood as some point in their lives, and Rama IX spent 15 days as a monk in 1956 following the death of his grandmother.

A group of monks saying a prayer for the late king on the day of the cremation | © Sean Edison/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Since the king’s passing on October 13 last year, over 12 million people have visited the Grand Palace to pay their respects.

Funeral proceedings are set to continue until Sunday 29 October, where the king’s ashes will be finally laid to rest in the Royal Crematorium at Sanam Luang, next to Bangkok’s Grand Palace.