Thousands gather for glimpse of Thai king at final coronation event

Thousands gather for glimpse of Thai king at final coronation event

Thai oarsmen row during the Royal barge ceremony along the Chao Phraya river
hai oarsmen row during the Royal barge ceremony along the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok on December 12, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

BANGKOK: Flanked by more than 2,000 oarsmen rowing to a steady drumbeat, Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn travelled down Bangkok's Chao Phraya river as part of a 52-barge flotilla on Thursday (Dec 12), marking the final event of his coronation.

The flotilla comes seven months after the monarch was crowned in an elaborate three-day affair that involved sacred bathing rituals and a grand procession where he was carried on a palanquin around Bangkok's historic old quarter to greet the public.

Thousands of well-wishers dressed in royal yellow sat along the riverbanks, cheering on the king who wore a feather-adorned hat and Queen Suthida, his fourth wife, as they passed on a gilded Suphannahong - or "Golden Swan" - barge.

spectator look at giant screen showing thai king dec 12
Spectators look at a giant screen showing Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn (C) and his son Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti arriving for the Royal Barge procession, in Bangkok on Dec 12, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)
Thailand's King, Queen and Prince sit at the Royal barge
Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn (C), his wife Queen Suthida and Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti sit at the Royal barge during the Royal Barge procession, in Bangkok on December 12, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

Seated next to them was Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, the king's 14-year-old son from his third marriage, while his two daughters from previous marriages were on a separate barge decorated with a pink exterior and naga-head figurines.

The river procession allows Thais a rare chance to see the royal family in the flesh - a prospect that drew elderly supporters.

"I am so excited because this is my last chance," 69-year-old Renu Thanadauksorn told AFP.

Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn's Royal barge
Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn's Royal barge is seen during the Royal Barge procession, in Bangkok on Dec 12, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

Having seen rehearsals on television, Youngyut Maeaksamut said he had wanted to experience the grandeur in person.

"I wanted to see the real thing, the actual ceremony, for once," said the 66-year-old, who had waited in the sun for hours before to see the procession float past.

thai king final coronation dec 12
Thai people sit near the Chao Praya River before the start of the Royal Barge procession, in Bangkok on Dec 12, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)
spectator holds a Thai National and a Thai Royal flags, at King final coronation event
A spectator holds a Thai National and a Thai Royal flags as he sits on the banks of the Chao Praya River before the start of the Royal Barge procession, in Bangkok on December 12, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian SUWANRUMPHA)

Public transport fares on Bangkok's skytrain and underground subway were waived for the day, and onlookers were served complimentary meals while they waited.

The traditional event - which also drew foreign dignitaries and diplomats - originated from the river journeys of ancient Thai kings as they lead their battle flotillas into war.

Vajiralongkorn ascended the throne after the 2016 death of his father Bhumibol Adulyadej, who remains widely adored in Thailand and was revered as the country's moral authority.

Since he took the throne, the assertive monarch has beefed up his security detail and retained direct control over the palace's multi-billion-dollar fortune.

The flotilla had originally been scheduled for Oct 24, but was moved to mid-December due to worries over "water conditions and weather".

Days later the 67-year-old king stripped his royal consort of all titles for displaying "disloyalty" and acting "against the appointment of the Queen".

The public downfall of 34-year-old Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi provided a rare glimpse into the inscrutable private lives of Thailand's ultra-wealthy and powerful monarchy.

The royal family sits at the apex of Thai society, and is protected by some of the world's harshest anti-defamation laws.

Source: AFP/nr

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