Thousands enter hall for first time to pay respects to King Bhumibol

All roads led to the Grand Palace yesterday as the Royal Household Bureau opened the Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall to the public to pay respects before the royal urn for the first time since the King passed away on October 13.

The black-clad mourners filled Sanam Luang, the 12-hectare open field in front of the palace. In lines of black, they queued up, rain or shine, since the very early hours to get inside the hall and pay their final respects to the beloved His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana, Prime Minister Office's Minister and head of a command centre to monitor situation at Sanam Luang, said around 50,000 people came to pay their respects. He also said that the number of people who entered the Grand Palace was also higher than the set quota of 10,000 people.

The Royal Household Bureau earlier announced 10,000 people daily would be allowed to enter the Throne Hall, from 8am onwards. But the plan was changed as mourners from all corners of the Kingdom unceasingly poured into Sanam Luang.

The first mourners yesterday were allowed inside the hall at 5am. They were among those camping at Sanam Luang since the night before.

Bangkok Deputy Governor Amnuay Nimmano assured that all people were welcome to pay their respects. He said the Royal House Bureau would give everybody an equal chance to do so. No strict dress code had been announced by the bureau, he said.

"Some farmers who just grow rice all their lives have no shoes. It's fine. They can go inside shoeless," he said. "For those women coming from other provinces and didn't have any proper skirts, it's fine, too. We will lend a sarong."

Despite hot weather and a muddy ground, hundreds of thousands of mourners waited very patiently in the line managed by authorities yesterday. The influx made the distribution of queue cards impossible. Authorities said no number limitation had been set and mourners were welcome until otherwise announcement.

Officials were deployed yesterday to keep order and help people. Bottles of water as well as handheld fans were constantly distributed.

Hundreds of volunteers also worked tirelessly, offering smelling salts and balms for weakened people and collecting garbage around the crammed field.

The Joint Operation Safety Centre's deputy commander Maj-General Pongsawat Panchit said that 70 people were allowed to enter the hall at a time.

Those with special needs such as the elderly and sick people, however, were separated from other mourners and allowed to enter the hall via a fast-track entry route.

Amnuay said authorities led by the First Army Area were planning the construction of the royal crematory in Sanam Luang. He said it would take up two-thirds of the total space, leaving only a third for people to pay homage to the King. He added that authorities were coming up with a new management plan to deal with the current crowds at the park.

He said that authorities planned to reorder the food camps. They would be put together in one area to free up more space, he explained. And a timetable would be set for |specific distribution times, unlike now when food and drinks were handed out around the clock, he added.

Amnuay said authorities would try to make everything work, adding that this was one of the biggest events for Thai people.