One of the most socially important public holidays on the Thai calendar is 05 December, which is the birthday of reigning King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In 2014 King Bhumibol, born on 05 December 1927 in the US state of Massachusetts, will turn 87. He remains widely revered by people across Thailand and consequently his birthday gives rise to a large number of celebrations and festivities across the country annually.
As the King is seen by many as the symbolic father of Thailand, 05 December is also celebrated as father’s day nationwide – in the same way as mother’s day falls on 12 August, the birthday of Queen Sirikit. On the occasion of father’s day Thais pay respect to their father and grandfather and may offer them a canna flower, known in Thai as a dok phuttha raksa (ดอกพุทธรักษา) and similar to a lily.
The location of celebrations for the King’s birthday can vary year on year: in 2013 the focus was on Hua Hin, where the King spends most of his time at the Klai Kangwon Palace and from where he made a public appearance. That said, the scale of the occasion means that events and festivities take place all over Thailand. In 2014, Bangkok resumes as the place to be for celebrations; the Bureau of the Royal Household will hold a number of royal ceremonies on 05, 06 and 08 December, while other activities will be led from 30 November until 06 December at Sanam Luang park, in Bangkok’s Phra Nakorn district and close to the Grand Palace, by the Foundation of King Rama Nine, The Great. These activities, open to the public, are expected to include cultural shows and the sale of artisan products from across Thailand’s 77 provinces.
In Bangkok, as well as official government events, a live show titled ‘Mahajanaka the Phenomenon’ is to be put on by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, the capital’s local government, every day at 7pm from 01-09 December. The show will take place at Benjakiti park on Sukhumvit Road (easily reached from BTS Asok and MRT Sukhumvit stations). The focal point of the celebrations, however, will be a candle-lit congratulatory ceremony led by the Prime Minister at Sanam Luang park. The event will take place at 7.19pm; the number nine is considered by many Thais as auspicious and, in the hope of good luck, events of this nature frequently take place at precise times that incorporate the number. In addition to this ceremonial event, the annual Trooping the Colour parade takes place in which soldiers of the King’s Guardian battalion from the army, air force and navy march along Bangkok’s royally important Ratchadamnoen Avenue to the equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn at the entrance to the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall in the capital’s Dusit district, and pay their own respects and pledge allegiance to the King.
Each year great numbers of Thais pour onto the streets to honour the King on his birthday, often camping out the night before in order to get a good spot and the chance to see the King up close when he makes an appearance and gives a speech. Nowadays the King makes fewer public appearances than in the past due to poor health, and so it is not uncommon to see Thais visibly emotional to see and hear him. Many Thais at these events will wear yellow shirts; yellow is the colour considered by many Thais to represent Monday, the day of the King’s birth in 1927. This is based on an astrological rule influenced by Hindu mythology, which holds that the colour is that of the god that protects that day. For this reason, many patriotic Thais are to be seen wearing yellow at the start of each week; the Queen’s birth took place on a Friday and so her traditional colour is light blue, and Thais will often wear light blue clothing on a Friday and around the time of celebrations for the Queen’s birthday. Though this practice of colour-coded clothing had been in decline in modern times, its rejuvenation was sparked by celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of the King’s coronation in 2006.
Note that, due to royal ceremonies being held, parts of the Grand Palace complex are at times closed to the public. In 2014, the Royal Chapel and the Grand Palace itself will be closed all day on 05 December, but the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (in the same complex) will remain open. On 06 December the Grand Palace itself will be closed, but the Royal Chapel and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha will be open. Another positive: though not yet confirmed for 2014, in previous years the grounds of the Grand Palace complex have been opened to the public in the evening of the King’s birthday and the days around it – with no admission fee. While again not confirmed for 2014, the admission fee to the complex has in previous years also been waived in the daytime on 05 and 06 December while parts of the complex are closed.
Ignore touts who tell you any different! If you need to check opening details you can call the Grand Palace on 02 623 5500, extension 1830.