His Majesty the Late King's Birthday
His Majesty the Late King’s Birthday falls on December 5th. Thais will get a day-off to pay respects and in honour of the Late King, His Majesty King Bhumipol Adulyadej.
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This day has also come to be seen as a Thai national day since the king is considered a symbol of national unity and Thailand’s version of Father’s Day, on which many sons and daughters give a “canna lily” (not a true lily) to their father or grandfather.
Bhumipol Adulyadej was born in 1928 in the United States, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father was then there studying at Harvard. After a short-lived return to Thailand, he and his family moved to Switzerland and did not return until after World War II had ended. Back in Thailand, when his father and brother had already passed away, he became King of Thailand on June 9th, 1946. At that point, he took up the title, “King Rama IX.”
Later, King Bhumipol went back to Switzerland to engage in further educational pursuits, leaving an uncle to rule as regent in his place. There, he met a young lady who eventually became his wife and Queen Sirikit. Only in 1950 did was he officially crowned in the traditional ceremony. King Bhumipol now has four children, three daughters and one son, Prince Maha, who is regarded as the “Crown Prince.”
Although the monarchy has had little power in Thailand since a constitutional monarchy was instituted in 1932, King Bhumipol has been a pillar of stability amid the upheavals of Thai politics over the decades. He has managed to increase the influence and powers of the monarchy to a degree through his personal popularity and prestige.
If in Thailand for King Bhumipol Adulyadej’s nationwide birthday celebration, some advice on what to do and how to act may be helpful:
- Go to the main celebration, in the royal city of Hua Hin. There, you will see many houses decked out with decorative lights, massive crowds cheering and shouting, “Long Live the King!” (in Thai) as the king’s motorcade passes by, and many wearing yellow, which is the king’s official colour. You will also see many feeding monks as an act of thankfulness, the king’s Royal Guard marching by, and (often) the king himself making an appearance and giving a short speech.
- Visit the many palaces of Thailand. The Bhubing Palace in Chiang Mai has wonderful rose gardens, and tourists are allowed. The Grand Palace and the teak-built Vinanmek Palace in Bangkok are also usually open to visitors, but the Grand Palace is closed on the King’s Birthday and the palace in Hua Hin is never open for sightseeing.
- Be aware that it is illegal in Thailand to speak ill of the king, and the punishments can be severe, even for foreigners. It is also looked down on to speculate on who will succeed the king. Finally, when you hear the royal anthem suddenly played in public, you are expected to stand out of respect like everyone else. Even the king’s image on currency is supposed to be respected.
Thailand is, to put it mildly, a land in love with her king. Visiting Thailand on His Majesty the King’s Birthday will give you a chance to see how deeply ingrained respect for the king truly is in Thai culture.