Thailand’s first royal coronation in nearly seven decades is taking place in Bangkok May 4-6, when King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun will formally ascend the throne.
For people who travel to Bangkok this weekend, it’s a rare chance to witness a landmark moment in Thai history.
Vajiralongkorn, 66, inherited the crown following the death of his father, King Rama IX, in 2016, becoming King Rama X. He is the 10th member of the Chakri dynasty, which has ruled Thailand since Rama I took the throne in 1782.
The coronation ceremonies will include a mixture of sacred Hindu and Buddhist rituals that date back centuries.
Gathering at Sanam Luang
Though much of the royal coronation will happen behind closed doors at Bangkok’s famed Grand Palace, it will be televised/live-streamed, and there are a variety of opportunities for the public to take part in the celebrations.
For many Thais, this will be their first chance to experience a coronation. King Rama IX took the throne in 1950 and was the world’s longest-reigning monarch prior to his 2016 death.
Thousands are expected to gather at Sanam Luang, a historic field adjacent to the Grand Palace, over the May 4-6 coronation period.
Bangkok’s Mass Transit Authority has been offering free public transport services for those planning to visit the area since May 2. Free train and ferry services to the area will also be available May 4-6. More info on services here.
According to officials, free food and water will be handed out while rest areas and mobile toilets have been set up to facilitate the expected masses at Sanam Luang.
The public has been encouraged to wear yellow over the coronation period, which is the color associated with the day of the king’s birth – Monday.
“For any visitors with plans to participate in the historic events, TAT would like to request that they wear respectful attire and be aware that in some areas transportation could be affected,” said Thailand’s Tourism Authority in a news release.
Schedule of events
May 4 – Royal Coronation Day
This is the official coronation day, when the most important rituals will take place at the Grand Palace. (Normally open to the public, the Grand Palace and its Temple of the Emerald Buddha will be closed over the coronation period. See below for info on additional attraction closures.)
Again, though these events will take place behind closed doors they will be broadcast live on Thai television networks and online.
On this date, the King will take part in a Royal Purification Ceremony, which involves being anointed in sacred waters gathered from Thailand’s 76 provinces.
Then, he will be seated under the nine-tiered Umbrella of State – a symbol of full sovereignty – and presented with various royal regalia.
Thailand’s Ministry of Culture has issued an in-depth English-language PDF highlighting the various elements of the Royal Coronation Ceremony, including the meanings behind the royal regalia.
Later that day, the king will grant an audience to members of the royal family and senior Thai officials.
May 5 – Public Procession
At about 4:30 p.m., King Rama X will tour the area around the Grand Palace on an ornate royal palanquin and stop at three major temples – Wat Bovoranives, Wat Rajabopidh and Wat Phra Chetuphon.
According to officials, Vajiralongkorn will pay homage to the main Buddha images at each temple, before returning to the Grand Palace.
Large crowds are expected to line the seven-kilometer procession route to greet the king.
May 6 – Light and Sound Show
Monday, May 6, has been declared a public holiday so government offices and some banks will be closed.
At 4:30 p.m., the King is scheduled to greet the public on a balcony of the Suddhaisavarya Prasad Hall inside the Grand Palace.
Celebratory shows will kick off at Sanam Luang from late afternoon. These include a drone light and sound display – see the above video of the rehearsal – around 7 p.m.
Impact on local travel
All of the coronation activities will take place in the city’s Rattanakosin area.
Often referred to as “Old Town,” it’s a popular destination for tourists due to the high concentration of historic attractions as well as hotels, restaurants and bars in the Khao San Road and Phra Arthit Road neighborhoods, among others.
In addition to the Grand Palace, which will reopen May 7, other attractions set to close over the coronation period include the National Museum of Bangkok, the Queen’s Gallery, National Gallery, the City Pillar Shrine, Museum Siam, Pipit Banglamphu Museum, Coin Museum, King Prajadhipok Museum, Wat Saket (Golden Mount) and Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium.
Wat Pho and Wat Bowonniwet Vihara are only closed on May 5, while the Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall is closed May 5-6.
More than 30 area roads will be shut to traffic at different times from May 2-6 as well, including Ratchadamnoen, Sanam Chai and Maharat. Travelers should expect major traffic delays and are advised to use public transportation when possible.
Outside of Rattanakosin, Bangkok is expected to be up and running as normal over the coronation period, with bars, restaurants and malls open for business.
Royal Barge Procession
Not going to be in Bangkok for the Royal Coronation Ceremony this weekend?
There will be one more chance to experience the celebrations later this year. Though the exact date hasn’t been announced, we do know a Royal Barge Procession will take place in honor of King Rama X on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River in October 2019.
If past processions are any indicator, it will be an incredible scene involving about 2,300 oarsmen, who will row over 50 barges from the city’s Wasukri pier to dramatic Wat Arun – a total length of four kilometers. The rare spectacle is heightened by rhythmic barge-rowing songs.
In the meantime, travelers can get an up-close look at the magnificent boats by visiting the National Museum of Royal Barges (80/1 Arun Amarin Khet, Bangkok).