Being disillusioned Americans, we did not fully grasp how much love and admiration the Thai people had for their king. When King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand passed away suddenly in October of 2016, it shocked Thai people, leaving the country in a state of mourning for many months. We didn’t think a modern day monarch could be so revered, but learned how wrong we were on an afternoon walk through Bangkok. It was the late king’s birthday, or in Thailand, simply celebrated as Father’s Day.
What started as an attempt to wander the flower district became a serendipitous day of experiencing an important moment in Thai culture. When we arrived, the flower markets were completely flooded with admirers and elaborate flower arrangements, centered around portraits of the late king. Dressed in all black, the crowds meticulously moved from one arrangement to the next, clicking away selfies and group photos with their family and friends.
Not far from the flower markets, we wandered into an alley full of more Thai locals dressed in black, lined up along a food station. A friendly man named Lo greeted us and was delighted we had joined for the feast we had just stumbled upon. He insisted we join him for a bowl of Lad Na, a noodle soup in a thick sauce, to celebrate Father’s Day. We were handed piping hot bowls of noodles we topped with all sorts of chilis and oils, and then were introduced to all the volunteers that were cooking. The hospitality Lo showed us was truly moving, as was the chance to partake in a celebration that was clearly so important to the Thai people.
After full bellies we walked (maybe waddled) our way to the Royal Palace where we were surprised again by large crowds gathering on the sidewalks surrounding the palace. After asking the palace guards what was going on, we discovered the late king’s son, now the new king, would be making an appearance to the people to honor his father. We grabbed a spot on the sidewalk and waited in utter silence as the new king drove by in his motorcade. Just as quickly as he came, the moment was over and the crowd began to disperse. While departing we contemplated the warmth of all the people that invited us to experience a day full of memorials to a king we knew little about, but one that clearly left a profound impression on his nation. ◆