One of the saddest days

generous spirit: Volunteers offer drinking water and smelling salts to mourners.

On the night of Oct 25, preceding the royal cremation day, people secured almost every inch of space around Sanam Luang. They knew that in the hours ahead the royal processions would pass by where they were sitting and move towards the royal crematorium in Sanam Luang.

That evening, volunteers handed out food and water to Thais and foreign visitors, including those not clad in black.

Mosquito repellent and cotton balls soaked in ammonia solution were added to the items being handed out to the public for free, with floor mats on sale for 20 baht while umbrellas were 100 baht.

Several people near the Royal Hotel where people entered Sanam Luang went through security screening. They were heard calling their friends and family members on the phone when free spots became available.

Even beyond the security control zones, the pavements were filled to the brim by 10pm.

By 10.40pm, the security screening stations were closed owing to the fact that no more people could squeeze past the checkpoints. Thousands of disappointed people were advised to go back the way they came.

Many mourners were also encouraged to try their luck getting through other areas such as the Khok Wua junction and Wat Chana Songkhram.

Several parents brought their small children along. For some, it was a history lesson taught by their parents as they sat on the pavement about how the monarchy had been the pillar of the nation’s strength and a stabilising force.

Despite the areas around Sanam Luang being over capacity, thousands defied the authorities’ warning and continued to enter the premises. Some were lucky, as they found kindness in those already seated, who were willing to share space on their floor mats.

The thousands who had settled down created surprisingly little noise. Some were pensive while others chatted in a low voice. Few mourners dozed off despite the exhaustion from the long wait.

Mourners watched as participants of the royal processions arrived on the scene between 1am and 3am. Their presence was a heartbreaking reminder that one of the saddest days in history was upon us.