Thousands upon thousands of devoted Thais feted their 84-year-old Monarch Friday on his first trip outside the capital in almost three years.
The elaborate tribute to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great in the old capital of Ayutthaya was a celebration of values and unity.
HM the King, the world’s longest reigning monarch, actively worked for decades on behalf of the country’s poor but has since greatly reduced public appearances since he was hospitalized in September 2009 for what the palace called a lung inflammation.
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great arrives in Ayutthaya province, Friday, May 25. Thousands upon thousands of Thais turned out in the historic capital Ayutthaya to show their devotion to the King on his first trip outside Bangkok in almost three years. (AP Photo/Courtesy of the Royal Household)
Since then he has had a variety of ailments and has lived in a royal wing of Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital, leaving only on rare occasions and always in a wheelchair.
Friday’s highlight was a visit to a rice paddy that HM the King also toured in 1996 and was part of a royal project to mitigate flooding in Ayutthaya. The devastating floods last year submerged much of Ayutthaya, damaging ancient temples, crops and hundreds of factories.
HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej arrives at a rice field in Ayutthaya province, central Thailand Friday, May 25. (AP Photo)
The Ayutthaya area is fraught with historical significance as the country’s capital three centuries ago that was sacked by invaders from neighboring Burma.
HM the King’s first stop was at a statue of Queen Suriyothai, a consort of an Ayutthaya-era king who sacrificed her life in battle with the Burmese to save her husband. HM the King handed over a garland from his van for an official to place before the statue.
HM the King left his van at the next stop, a specially constructed royal hall, where Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra paid her respects with a short speech declaring her devotion.
Thai residents cheer as the motorcade of HM the King passes in Ayutthaya. (AP Photo)
Politics, however, was pushed aside Friday for pageantry and displays of devotion by the huge numbers of ordinary Thais who crowded roadsides to see the only monarch most of them have lived under. HM the King ascended to the throne in 1946.
A parade staged for HM the King recalled a much earlier era, with people in period costumes marching along with nine elephants decked in glittering regalia. The show at one point included two warriors on elephant-back staging a mock battle, as well as performances of traditional music and dance, performed in the dramatic dusk light.
Residents take positions on the ground near the site where HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej was about to pay a visit in Ayutthaya. (AP Photo)
Dressed in a military uniform, HM the King earlier was wheeled from the hospital and into a white van adapted to accommodate his wheelchair.
He, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit and one of their daughters, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, were driven past crowds of people waving Thai flags and the yellow royal flag as police outriders stopped traffic to let the entourage pass.
People dressed in yellow and pink - colors associated with the monarch - lined the roads from Bangkok to the country’s central plains hours before the royal convoy was due to pass.
Thousands of Thais lined the roads from Bangkok to the historic capital Ayutthaya to catch a glimpse of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej on his historic visit to the ancient capital. (AP Photo)
The palace has given little explanation for the trip, though farming is closely integrated into national tradition and HM the King is closely associated with it.
It likely serves as a chance to publicize HM the King’s improved health - a matter of such public interest that a Bangkok newspaper carried a front-page headline Thursday that stated: “His Majesty The King Takes 50 Steps Without His Cane.”