BANGKOK - Chanting "Long Live Their Majesties" while waving Thailand's national flags and the royal flags, over 50,000 people lined a 3.4km stretch of the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok for the first Royal Barge Procession under the reign of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
A tradition dating back centuries, the elaborate 45-minute procession on Thursday (Dec 12) was the final event marking the coronation of the 67-year-old king, who was crowned in May.
The banks were a sea of yellow - the colour of both King Vajiralongkorn and his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej - as the crowds strained for a better view amid the thousands of umbrellas wielded against the afternoon sun.
The riverine parade comprised 52 traditional golden barges powered by 2,200 oarsmen in colourful uniforms. They had practised rowing in different moves synchronically for over a year.
The barges, some dating back two centuries, bear the forms of different mythical creatures and deities such as Hindu god Vishnu, Naga and Garuda, as Thai kings are believed to be Vishnu's reincarnations.
The pace was set by the lead barge. On board, the "chanterman" recited poems in praise of the king, his volume steering the oarsmen's tempo. The rowers on other barges echoed his chants in unison, their sonorous voices resounding over the waters of Thailand's main river.
Sitting on the Suphannahong, the most important vessel with a bow shaped like a swan's head, was King Vajiralongkorn in full regalia. By his side was 41-year-old Queen Suthida, while his youngest child from his third marriage, 14-year-old Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, sat by his feet.
Originally scheduled for late October, the procession was postponed to December due to strong water currents.
This was the first such ceremony in seven years, in a city where canals were so ubiquitous it was once called the Venice of the East.
There were 17 such processions during King Bhumibol's seven-decade reign. He died in 2016.
Like the land procession for the coronation in May where King Vajiralongkorn was carried on a palanquin around Bangkok's old town, Thais flocked to the restricted areas many hours ahead to reserve the best spots.
Mrs Kaewsarika Wongpho, 54, travelled 200km from the central province of Chainat the day before with her two grandsons who took a day off from school.
"I feel quite overwhelmed already, getting to see Their Majesties in person," she said with tears in her eyes.
Retired civil servant Wongsatit Wattanaseree said: "It's like watching sports. Seeing it on TV at home isn't the same as being there yourself for the ambience." He was one of the early birds who managed to grab a seat on the waterfront area of Siriraj hospital.
Since ascending the throne, King Vajiralongkorn has made several moves to consolidate power. Most recently in October, two key army units were transferred to his direct supervision. Last year, the King was granted full ownership of assets belonging to the Crown Property Bureau worth billions of dollars.
He was the first king to appoint a Royal Noble Consort aside from the queen in almost a century in July, but in a shock move three months later stripped the 34-year-old former nurse of all titles for allegedly trying to sabotage the Queen.