The King of Thailand and the Royal Barge rehearsal

Trip Start Jan 08, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

"I will reign with righteousness, for the happiness and benefit of the Siamese people" His Majesty The King of Thailand, Rama 9 on the occasion of his coronation as king in 1946 when he was just 19 years old and a university student in Switzerland. Since that day he has worked extremely hard every day of his life to uphold his promise, and he is greatly loved by the Thai people for it.

Yesterday we (Kanchana, her Mum, Alif, Vava and I) got up at 0430 and left the house at 0530 to get into the city. We wanted to try to catch a glimpse of His Majesty The King as he drove through Royal Plaza at about 1000hr. We all wore yellow shirts in a show of support for the King and the majority of the rest of the crowd did also. It was an amazing sight. When we arrived near the Royal Plaza at about 0630, the place was already packed and filling up with many more people. We found a place to sit on the road where we thought we may see His Majesty's car. We sat for about 3 hours in the sun as the crowd around us grew and grew and people patiently waited crushed in lines to get a somewhere they could maybe see the King. The kids slept a little and I read and meditated a little, but it was quite hot (already at least 30 degrees Celsius) and uncomfortable. My ankles were bruised black from sitting crossed legged on the asphalt. However all in the crowd were quite willing and happy to put up with some discomfort to show their love for their King.

Eventually it became apparent that the King's car would not drive past this spot and the crowd dispersed. Some people headed towards the front gate of the building where the king would later be addressing the crowd but we decided (taking into account the kids and Knachana's Mum) that this would be too hard. So we headed to a restaurant where we had some breakfast and watched the King on TV.

In the paper today the crowd was estimated to be around 500 000 people (and maybe up to 1 million) and many of them had slept the night before at the front gate.

After breakfast we headed to the Chao Phaya river to get seats for the afternoon. The Royal Barge procession full dress rehearsal was on this afternoon, and because we could't get tickets to see the actual event on the 12th, we wanted to see this. We reserved a spot and then again went to a restaurant to eat lunch. A crowd had gathered to watch the King's speech on TV. It was somewhat sad to see him, as it is more and more apparent that he is getting quite old and none of us wants to see him unhappy and certainly no one wants him to go. But it was amazing to see the love in the crowd as they got to hear him and some see him. Many people including Kanchana had tears in their eyes. It may be apparent by now that the Thai people love their King. I will explain a little of this soon.

Again the wait in sun on the concrete for the Royal Barge Procession was extremely uncomfortable and the crowds built up so as it was not possible to move from our spot. I am glad I didn't need to go to the toilet. Eventually the event took place and I will add some photos and videos to show you what it looks like. It was finished just as it started to rain at about 5.30 or 6pm and we finally got home at 8.30 or 9pm.


Almost all homes and buildings in Thailand have a picture of the King. If you go to a Thai restaurant (one that is actually run by Thais) anywhere else in the world, you'll probably also see a picture of His Majesty. You may see two pictures of Kings. The one with a moustache is actually Rama 5, who is also greatly loved, the other, perhaps wearing glasses is the current king.

I knew nothing of the King of Thailand until a few years ago. As I was traveling in the North of Thailand with Noi he started telling me a little about his King. I learnt that the King was friends with Elvis Presley when he was younger and the King is quite a good musician as well as composer of music. He is also a sportsman and won a gold medal in sailing in an Asian games. Noi taught me that the King had spent a lot of time in the North helping the hill tribes of Thailand. As I have stayed in Thailand longer I have learnt much more about this amazing man.

I have learnt that the King spent time as a Buddhist monk and walked through the streets barefooted to receive his daily food as so many other monks do. He still meditates often. I learnt that the king never kills anything, not even mosquitoes and the people that work for him report that they have never seen him angry. Since his early years as king he established an experimental farm in much of his palace in Bangkok and here he has developed ideas to help make farmers' lives easier. Most Thais are farmers and all of us rely on them for our food. The king is the head of the rain making scheme that every year successfully delivers rain to drought affected areas. There are so many interesting stories about the king.

Thailand's hill tribe people are an amazing and interesting but very poor group of people. They have a variety of languages, cultures and religions and they are basically refugees that moved into the unused hill areas of Thailand, from Burma, China and Laos. In more recent times as the population of Thais has increased and spread there has been some problems associated with the Thais attitude to hill tribes. The hill tribe people were semi nomadic, and used basic slash and burn agriculture in an area until it was exhausted and then they moved on. They never had an opportunity to develop beyond this lifestyle as the areas they farmed in were not fertile and they did not have the resources available to them to develop a more stable or better life. They grew opium poppies for extra income and the elderly amongst them used them as a pain killer. Many Thais started to blame the hill tribes for the environmental destruction occurring in the Thai forests and also for the problems associated with the illegal drug trade. The hill tribe people were looked down upon and their life was not getting any easier even as the standard of living of lowland Thais improved. The solution came with this king spending so much time visiting and listening to these people. The nightly news showing the Thai king sitting in the dirt listening to the hill tribe people and caring for them forced people to re-evaluate their thoughts. The king didn't force the hill tribe people to give up opium, nor wage war against them, nor send them to jail. Instead he taught them about alternative crops where they could make more money. He taught them better farming techniques and dug them wells and built them schools. On each of his trips, his medical team accompanied him and treated the local people. They stopped having to be nomadic and built better homes and through better farming techniques have developed a better diet. The hill tribe people are still quite poor and there is much work to be done in improving their living conditions further whilst helping them maintain their culture, but the king has started off this work.

When asked by one hill tribe to give them a tractor, the king istead delivered buffalos. Buffalos are harder work to farm with, but they can be fed from the local area and bred and even sold. A tractor needs petrol and repairs which cost money. When it breaks down it wil need to be replaced and most likely the farmers will borrow money and get into debt when doing this.

Another story about the king that I liked occured after some young boys were throwing rocks at a group of monkeys. (Don't worry, this is not normal behaviour, but I suppose young boys anywhere in the world are capable of such stupidity). Anyway, one of the monkeys was hurt. The king didn't punish the boys, instead when he heard of this he sent for the monkey who was then cared for in his hospital and by his doctor. When the monkey was better it was sent back to that troupe. Everyone was now aware that those monkeys were protected by the king and they were then very safe.

Many of the kings dogs are strays and his favourite, Khun Tong Daeng is a stray puppy that was given to him. It is worth reading the king's story of Tong Daeng if you ever get the chance.

The King teaches his people about self sufficiency, about not wanting too much or being greedy, and talks to people about saving the environment and farming and living in a sustainable way.

I could go on with so many more stories about the King, but to really understand the respect he has, you also must consider the historical context of his reign. He came to power shortly after World War Two. Thailand or Siam as it was known was a very poor country as was almost all of South East Asia. The Japanese had freed much of Asia from Western colonialism only to attempt to colonise the area for themselves. The French tried again to come back into Indochina, causing war in Vietnam to fight them off, followed by the USA and China also being forced out of Vietnam. The whole region was quite unstable. The USA and Russia and China had started their cold war and each was trying to gain influence in Asia. Democracy in Thailand was just beginning and it has been through many attempts and military coups to get it to where it is at now. Communism was seen as an answer to the corruption and inequality caused by many of the previous governments in the region and Thailand had it's own small insurgency war occuring. Through all of this the Thai King was a stable influence. Throughout the Communist insurgency he continued visiting small remote villages, where ever they were. He helped people in need no matter what their political beliefs. To him they were Thais and in need of their King's help. During political crisis he has avoided interfering until the last possible moment, but has stepped in to resolve things when there has been no other way. He has traveled to other countries and developed relationships that surely have helped keep Thailand free from foreign domination. At a time in the world when many other royals have become bloated and irrelevant symbols of the past, the Thai king has been a vital part of Thai life, giving his people guidance and hope, through his constant hard work and dedication. His family have also helped him. Of Thailand's neighbours - Vietnam has had to fight off foreigners, Cambodia went into one of the worst civil wars in history, Laos remains a poor country suffering from corruption, Burma too has long been in a continuing civil war, and Malaysia has fought off it's own communist insurgency to become a wealthy nation, but has lost much of its culture in the mean time and still lives in a racist and un equal way. Thailand has fared well comparatively and much of this is surely due to the King.

Anyway - I better stop. I think it is hard to grasp the Thai King without living here for an amount of time and studying the history of Thailand and the region, but as I have done that, I can assure you he is a great King and has done an enormous amount for Thailand.

I will add the videos of the boats soon
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