A Peculiar Submersion into Thai Culture in Bangkok: The King’s Ceremony at The Grand Palace
The love the Thai’s have for their King is immense. As you probably know by now, King Bhumibol passed away in October 2016. Since then, mourning has been in session for Thailand. I was instructed only to wear black and/or neutral colours at public places. So it didn’t surprise me one bit when I was told that I was going on a trip to Bangkok with 500 people from my town to pay respects to the King at the Grand Palace. I sat in many meetings about the trip – all spoken in Thai – I just sit there like a nodding Churchill dog, not knowing what the fudge is being said. But I knew this was a big deal and a something they were taking very seriously.
16th October. 2am wake up. We arrive at 3am. Leave at 4am. That’s when the karaoke started. And it continued. It did not stop. Thai’s love to sing. They were passing that mic around everyone and you HAD to sing. There was no choice. Luckily for me, there were no songs in English so I got out of it. Karaoke in the western world is something you do after a few drinks and shots. I think more than half of Britain would be mortified in front of a karaoke mic stone cold sober. The songs they were singing, they weren’t happy, feel good karaoke to get you in the mood to party. It was like karaoke in a little old run down inn at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere where all the songs are sad and depressing and sang a little off tune… But they were having fun and they needed something to pass the time right? Knock yourselves out guys. I’ll stick to my western tunes.
It wasn’t even 6am yet and we were pulling into a gas station for food and a toilet break. Great! Breakfast time. Back on the bus. Start to snooze. 8am – oh we need another toilet break and more food! I’m not exaggerating here. We stopped every 1-2 hours for at least 15 minutes. Everyone queued for the restroom every time. We stopped at market stalls, tourist attractions… It took us over 16 hours to get to Bangkok. It should’ve only been 11-12 hours. Another element i’m trying to adjust to here in Thailand is that there is no rush. They take their time. Taking it easy. Mae Pen Rai (No Worries…) which is a great way to live but as a westerner, we like to get things done on time. Be places on time. Make changes and move on with things as quick as possible. I’m a self-confessed impatient Brit. I admit. I want Thailand to change that and I know that I will be tested and challenged by it before I can start to welcome Patience into my life. We finally arrive into Bangkok at 8pm that night. I’m told another 2am wake up in the morning. I hit the sack.
2am wake up. We have breakfast at 3am. I’ve only just got used to having rice and curry for breakfast at 8am but to stomach it at 3am?! Thankfully, the Bangkok hotel catered for all and there was a beautiful nest of cornflakes in the corner. We wait on the bus for an hour (like I said, no rush) and set off for the Palace at 4.30am. We arrive at 5am. I thought, “Man, we are so early, we’re bound to be first in the queue!”, boy was I wrong…
We were rounded up like sheep and was hoarded under this shelter thing and was told to sit on the floor. This is not unusual in Thailand. Thai’s don’t stand for every long. After a minute, they’re on their knees sitting on the floor. The floor was hard, gravelly and I was in pain within seconds. I stand up. The Thai’s look at me strangely and tells me to sit back down. A real positive (or negative for the weighing scales but I couldn’t give a monkey’s about that today…) is that there were about 50 food stalls and the food was free. Let me repeat – THE FOOD WAS FREE!! They just hand you food and water for free! When we were sitting on the hard, dirty floor melting away and sticking to the gravel – they would bring you ice-cream and water. Something like this would be so unheard of in the UK.
7 hours later – 8 meals, 5 coffees, 2 ice-creams and a lost foreigner wandering around the food stalls – we eventually move from our cattle market like existence to another queue where we were standing and actually moving. The bizarre thing – if we stopped for more than 2 minutes, the Thai’s started to sit on the floor! Again, the food vendors would come to the queue and offer free food and water. The security guards would be spraying you with cold water with their water guns. It took me a little by surprise when this happened as I wasn’t ready to be squirted by a policeman’s water gun whilst I waited to enter a temple.
It was here I learnt a little bit about what was happening today. People from all around Thailand travelling miles upon miles to attend this special event at the Grand Palace. It was a ‘must-thing’ to do. 30,000 people visit the Grand Palace every day to go through this procedure in order to pay their respects to their beloved King. I then realised, that I was the only foreigner that day. Having this experience. Something you could not possibly have just being a traveller. I felt instantly lucky and privileged. We waited some more.
At 3pm, we finally enter the Grand Palace. The traveller in me wanted to stop and take photographs but I wasn’t allowed and I was shuffled quickly through the corridors inside this incredible Palace. All of a sudden, everything seemed rushed. We had to walk in twos, like the soldiers. We daren’t step out of line. We entered a section of the Palace – the King’s private gardens – and I was overwhelmed by its beauty. I had no control over my hands as they lifted my smartphone and took a cheeky photo. I got shouted at. But it was worth it. We got to the King’s special ceremonial room. We take off our shoes. We enter. We bow. We stand up. We leave. It didn’t last two minutes and we were rushed through it. I can see why when they have 30,000 people to get through but I wanted to soak it in a little more and relish in this experience, After all, we had traveled 16 hours on a bus, waited 11 hours at the Palace and had a lovely 16 hour bus journey back to look forward to.
Nevertheless, it was a unique experience and something that isn’t experienced by any Tom, Dick and Harry. I felt exhausted but privileged and touched that the Thai people in my town wanted to take me along and experience this really important event that will no doubt go down in the history books of Thailand. Yeah, I was there. I got the postcard and ceremonial rice to prove it.
We stopped at this place of worship (tourist attraction) on the way back in Chumpeon where statues of the previous 9 kings were displayed. They were really impressive!