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SPECIAL REPORT

Thais flock to Bangkok to pay last respects to late King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Thais from across the kingdom arrive in Bangkok to pay last respects to beloved King

They came from across the kingdom. Since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej last Thursday at Siriraj Hospital after a long period of illness, Thais have been arriving in Bangkok in droves to pay tribute to their beloved monarch.

Prayer rituals continue to be held for the King at the Grand Palace, while tributes have been put up around the city - on walls and buildings, in homes and at street corners.

The government has declared a one-year mourning period and asked the public to refrain from entertainment for 30 days.

Yesterday, a quiet calm settled on the city, as many people returned to work on the first Monday since the news broke.

Last Friday was declared a national holiday to mourn the 88-year-old monarch. On that day outside Siriraj Hospital, many began to gather at dawn to wait for the cortege carrying the King's body to the Grand Palace in the afternoon.

Most came to get a good spot to observe the procession, and many were seen clutching portraits of the King.

The streets were noticeably clean as the area was spruced up the night before. At around noon, scores of people carrying umbrellas started making their way to the area around the Grand Palace.

 Mourners waiting in the rain to sign the condolence book inside the Grand Palace on Sunday. Prayer rituals continue to be held for King Bhumibol at the palace, while tributes have been put up around the city - on walls and buildings, in homes
A mourner praying during a candlelit vigil for the late King outside the walls of the Grand Palace on Saturday. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Mourners walked in line in an impressively orderly fashion. Amid the stifling heat, free water was passed around the crowd, along with ammonia-soaked cotton wool to help prevent people from fainting.

At 5pm, like dominoes, the crowd started prostrating and remained silent in preparation for the procession. As the van carrying the late King passed, the sounds of sobbing and weeping could be heard throughout the sea of black.

Schoolgirls, the elderly and even grown men cried as they remembered the world's longest-reigning monarch. Although the public could start signing the condolence book only the next day at 8.30am, a large majority stayed on to pray outside the Grand Palace.

Over the weekend, the general mood remained extremely sombre.

At shops lining Dinso Road near the Democracy Monument, people were seen snapping up portraits of the King to be placed at home and in offices.

 

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The mourners' black attire also contrasted sharply with the pink taxis and yellow and green tuk-tuks plying the roads.

At entertainment areas, gone were the neon glows of night spots. Soi Cowboy, one of the most vibrant streets in Bangkok catering mostly to tourists and expatriates, was void of human traffic.

Despite the heavy rain on Sunday, people of all ages went to sign the condolence book at the Sahathai Samakhom Pavilion in the Grand Palace compound.

Some elderly folk were assisted by policemen to the front of the long queue.

Throughout the night, candles were lit and flowers were placed along the walls outside the palace as people prostrated and offered their prayers.

Elsewhere, in shopping centres around the city, shopkeepers put black and white clothing on their mannequins, while screen displays featured memorials of the King instead of normal advertisements.

Life goes on in Bangkok, but most of the hustle and bustle has given way to an unusual kind of quiet.

For now, it is time to mourn in the Land of Smiles.

• Mark Cheong has been in Bangkok since Thursday to cover news of the King's death.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline 'City in mourning'. Print Edition | Subscribe