Nov 25 2012

King’s birthday festivities in Bangkok, December 5

Published by at 3:29 am under Festivals

Doubling as Father’s Day, the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (aka Rama IX) on December 5 is one of Thailand’s most important holidays. Although celebrated throughout the kingdom, festivities are centered around Bangkok‘s Ratchadamnoen Road from Democracy Monument to the Grand Palace. Being among the throngs of Thai people as they honour the King is an enchanting experience — and it’s a chance to see the Grand Palace for free.

Swept up in the Kingdom.

Swept up in the kingdom.

Although King Bhumibol’s health has been touch-and-go over the past several years (he still indefinitely resides at Siriraj Hospital), his public appearances have increased in recent months and he’s looking healthier than he has in a while. King Bhumibol will be turning 85 years old after 66 years on the throne, the longest reign of any living monarch in the world.

A young King Bhumibol is portrayed comforting one of his subjects.

A young King Bhumibol is portrayed comforting one of his subjects.

Far more than a ceremonial figurehead, the Thai king is revered by many as a bodhisatta (fully enlightened buddha in a future life) or even a semi-divine being who possesses potent spiritual and moral authority. Despite his silence during Thailand’s last major political upheaval in 2010, many feel the mild-mannered king has been a unifying presence throughout his reign. All visitors to Thailand should be aware of the deep level of devotion many Thais feel for their king — to the point that insulting him could leave you with a black eye, if you’re lucky, or in jail if you’re not.

This devotion comes to life on December 5 when thousands flock to Ratchadamnoen Road (see map), its usual snarling traffic replaced by a twinkling, carnival-like atmosphere. Plan ahead if you need to get to the airport from nearby Khao San Road on the evening of December 5 as this major eight-lane thoroughfare is closed to all traffic save a handful of public buses and even the side streets will be clogged.

Lantern offerings dot the sky.

Lantern offerings dot the sky.

The king also has a birthday tradition of opening the grounds of his Grand Palace to all people for free between 19:00 and midnight. A range of ceremonies take place throughout the day and into the evening at prominent Bangkok temples like Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho and Wat Saket, and cultural performances are held at Sanam Luang near the Palace. Note that ceremonies at Wat Phra Kaew are closed to the public before 19:00 on December 5, as is the entire Grand Palace complex.

This is an easy festival to get to if you’re staying in the backpacker district around Khao San, but a difficult one if coming from elsewhere in the city. Be sure to depart before the sun goes down if coming by taxi or express boat and expect to huff it a good three kilometres from National Stadium BTS station if making your way here after dark, as traffic in the direction of Ratchadamnoen will be at a standstill. The celebrations take place all day long, although it’s most lively in the evening.

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3 Responses to “King’s birthday festivities in Bangkok, December 5” ...

  1. Anaon 02 Dec 2012 at 2:33 am

    This is a really useful post for me as I have to attend an exam at the UN in Bangkok on the 5th. Their address? Ratchadamnoen Road!

    I wonder if you could advise me on how best to do this? My flight arrives at Don Muang airport at 12.40 and then I want to get to the UN as soon as possible. I have to be there by 14.45. Perhaps instead of showing the driver the UN address I should ask him to drop me off somewhere as close as possible, seeing as that road will be closed? Any advice will be very welcome.

    Glad I decided against taking a flight out of BKK that night…
    Thank you.

  2. David Luekenson 02 Dec 2012 at 6:06 am

    Hi Ana,

    I’m fairly certain that Ratchadamnoen will not be closed until around 16:00 or 17:00, although I’m not positive on that. Although festivities take place at Sanam Luang all day and generally it’s a fun, festive day (everyone gets the day off from work), the festival is really a night time thing at Ratchadamnoen so I’m thinking you should be fine. One good thing about holidays is there’s generally less traffic within the city since many people leave town or stay at home. So two hours should be plenty for you to get from Don Muang to the UN, though I’d guess it won’t take more than 35 minutes. If I were you, I’d tell the driver exactly where you want to go – even if Ratchadamnoen is closed they’ll be able to get you very close by way of a side-street assuming they know Bangkok as well as the average taxi driver.

    Good luck.

  3. Anaon 03 Dec 2012 at 4:17 am

    Many many thanks.
    Travelfish has been such a great help with our SEA travels, I knew it would also help me with this slightly non-travel issue.
    Hope you enjoy the festivities or at least the day off!
    Thank you again.

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