Today I took a boat up the river and stopped at Wat Pho to take some photographs of the Reclining Buddha.
Before I had left out for the day I had heard that the King’s elder sister, Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana, had unfortunately passed away the previous night due to complications arising from cancer. Since the palace is only a short walk from Wat Pho I decided to see if it was open or if it would be closed for the full fifteen day mourning period.
As I came up on the river side of the compound I noticed that people were lining the streets around the palace. I kept walking around to the front and I noticed that nearly everyone was dressed head to toe in black as had been the request from the government.
At one gate many people were being let in and out but it was obvious this was not for riff raff tourists. Everyone going in and out was either in very formal all black clothing, a monk, a nurse (in hospital outfit), or military officers in full dress uniform.
I kept walking to the main entrance and the traffic police had completely blocked off all traffic around the palace. Again people were lining the streets straining to see something coming down the road. I had my guesses but I asked around and the best that I could gather was that they were bringing her body to the palace.
It’s not like you get to witness an event like this everyday so I considered sticking around. I waited out in the hot sun for about a half hour when I finally asked someone what time this was supposed to take place. I received replies ranging from 45 minutes to an hour and a half but regardless of the estimate most people hedged their bets saying they really didn’t know.
It was 2:45, I was hot, and I started to ask if I was being a little selfish wanting to see this for my own benefit. In fact, right about this point two small school girls pushed their way through the crowd a bit to get to the front row view. Unfortunately they had inadvertently pushed their way through the crowd on a path that had me between them and the view they wanted. Had I been Thai (and/or anywhere near their size) they might have tried to sneak a shoulder and then an arm in and continue working their way forward. But I was a big, tall (comparatively), farang and when the lead girl looked up I could tell she knew her journey to the front had ended. She smiled and then looked down shyly like someone who’s been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. I watched as she tried to peer threw spaces between the bodies in front of her.
I guess that was God or Buddha’s way of telling me that my conscious was right on this one. I tapped the girl on the shoulder and made way for her to get to the front. I looked at her friend who had that worried look on her face like she just got screwed over and I laughed and moved completely out of the front row and told her that they could both stand where I was. They smiled and thanked me and then I fought my way back to a clearing well into the rear.
I started to head back in the direction I came and as I rounded the river side of the compound I noticed there seemed to be a lot of action going on at the side gate. First off, guys with full honor guard type uniforms on just jumped off the back of a truck, lined up, and marched into the side gate.
I kept walking and about the time I passed the gate the security personnel began shouting for everybody to go to their knees. Everyone did (yes, even me) except some old Thai guy who kept yapping away into his mobile phone while sitting on the bench picking his toes. I thought the security guy was going to knock him silly but before he could several other people gave the man disapproving looks and told him to get off the phone which he did.
Even though the street was already blocked off and there were traffic police stationed every few feet of the street two police cars come roaring by. First thing to strike me as odd about this is that they were BMW’s. Not exactly standard issue cop car. When they come to an abrupt halt just past the side entrance a driver jumps out and opens the door for a man who had the swagger of a guy who has quite a bit of power.
Same thing happens with the second car. Both men join up with some other important looking guys and they form a line across the street in front of the side entrance. They are standing at attention.
Seconds later a convoy of vehicles begins rolling down the street and all the important men snap a salute which they hold until the last vehicle has entered the compound. At least one of the vehicles was a large ambulance which I can only assume held the body of the King’s sister by the treatment the convoy received.
When the convoy had finished entering the palace and people began to filter out of the crowd I made my way back to the ferry.