Thai King's Cremation Marks the End of a Year of Mourning
By Dene-Hern Chen
October 27, 2017
BANGKOK – As the final wisp of smoke from King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s funeral pyre curled into the night sky late Thursday, thousands of black-clad Thais said their last goodbye to a much beloved monarch.
Local news reported that about 157,000 people attended the elaborate ceremony around Bangkok’s Grand Palace, while 20 million people nationwide paid their respects at different official memorial sites.
The $90 million funeral was marked by pomp and pageantry, but the night ended on a quieter note. Although the whole day’s ceremony was televised on Thai TV and broadcast across the city on giant screens, the actual cremation, scheduled at 10 p.m. local time, was a private affair for the Royal Family and special guests.
The cremation marked the end of a year of mourning, since King Bhumibol passed last October aged 88, and ushered in a new era for Thailand overseen by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Officials had designated Thursday as a public holiday, and by Friday the city had returned to normalcy with businesses and schools restarting — though commuters continue to don black attire.
At Wat Yannawa, famous for its boat-shaped temple, local officials and temple staff poured sandalwood flowers by the boxful into a burning pit in the middle of a replica of the golden crematorium.
Surakant Pothichak, a district official who had stayed up all night working, says the temple received more than 60,000 flowers from well-wishers around the district and from Thais in the U.S.
“I managed to pay my respects finally, after most of the people got their chance” Pothichak tells TIME. “We all have to do our best to help and we all want to be a part of this ceremony. I feel very content that we are almost there.”
Napatsorn Jitsupap, 39, is having trouble letting go. Arriving in Bangkok from northeastern Surin province Thursday with her son, she tells TIME that the crowds were so big that she could only see the tip of the 50-meter tall Royal crematorium, and she remained there until 2 a.m.
“When I saw the smoke, I thought, ‘Is he really going?’ I don’t want the King’s body to be cremated,” she says. “It feels like he’s really leaving us. I just felt my heart sink.”