Retracing HM Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Steps: Rare Travel Photos (Part One)
Thailand Tatler recently joined our nation in mourning the loss of one of the greatest rulers the kingdom has ever known, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty. At only 18, His Majesty acceded to the throne in 1946. As a constitutional monarch, His Majesty had no direct political power, and yet his lifetime commitment to the well-being of the people and the betterment of society made him an influential figure and moral authority who at the same time was—and still is—a deeply loved and respected father of the nation. He was not one to revel on his throne or bask in opulence although he very well could have done so. Instead, going above and beyond his royal duties, our beloved monarch spent most of his days venturing into the most remote parts of the country, establishing over 4,000 sustainable development projects in an effort to provide healthcare, food, water, education and employment to the destitute communities of Thailand. His Majesty had a profound understanding of the social, economic and environmental issues in Thailand and effectively enhanced the livelihood of those in need. The profound love and adoration for His Majesty King Bhumibol that swept through the country was not something he inherited but something he rightfully earned during his 70-year reign.
His Majesty worked tirelessly to address various problems in the kingdom, be it poverty, employment, education, inequalities, sustainable industrialisation, agriculture, the perennial floods that Thailand faces, water resource management, access to clean water and access to energy. When His Majesty travelled to the most deprived corners of the kingdom, he would meet with the locals to listen to their problems. It was not uncommon to see him crouching on the dusty ground, discussing and consulting with villagers and farmers, often with a detailed map of the area in hand—something which, prior to his reign, was unheard of. Through political turmoil, natural disaster, economical crisis and other turbulent times Thailand faced, His Majesty was the rock of the nation.
Anand Panyarachun, who had the honour of serving twice as prime minister under His Majesty’s reign, gives us an insightful and moving portrayal of His Majesty the King. “He visited every province. He has crossed through forests, rivers and mountains. His Majesty knew the country by heart. He knows more of the country than any other Thai,” says Anand. His Majesty never imposed his views on the people he visited. Rather, he was keen to gain insight into their struggles and hardship. His Majesty would seek their advice and assist them, and this, says Anand, makes him a democratic king who encouraged participation and advocated transparency and accountability.
“His Majesty had a tremendous sense of responsibility and duty,” says Anand. “He approached his work for the country with much commitment and determination. He was a working king, a development king who dedicated his life to the advancement of the kingdom and to improving the lives of his people.”
His Majesty was so instrumental in the prosperous development of the country that he even received numerous awards from the United Nations, among them the United Nations Development Programme’s first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award which he received from former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, in 2006. And on October 28, 2016, US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, spoke about his legacy at a UN General Assembly tribute to His Majesty. “Nearly two decades ago, a journalist asked the King how he wanted to be remembered,” she said. “He replied that he cared very little about how history would remember him. He said “If they want to write about me in a good way, they should write about how I do things that are useful.” In the eyes of His Majesty, doing things that were useful meant finding a way to solve problems that affected real people, most importantly the vulnerable and marginalised.” Referring to this speech, Anand says, “This is very touching. It tells us a lot about His Majesty as an individual.”
When His Majesty ascended to the throne, he made a public commitment in his speech that he shall rein with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people. “That,” says Anand, “was a true commitment and he never departed from that path of responsibility.” An intellectual king with a highly creative mind, His Majesty built and modified numerous inventions himself, to be used as tools in his development projects. Much of the palace ground was transformed into pilot test facilities for these projects. “His life has always been in dedication to the Thai people, and for that we are eternally indebted to him,” says Anand. You need only travel around the country to see the fruits of his hard work.
He adds, “I think most Thai people have demonstrated the depth and intensity of their love and devotion to him as our King. But I hope that we would not neglect to study his activities and his way of life. There’s wonderful meaning in whatever he did, in everything that His Majesty touched and we can learn a great deal from that. Above all we should try to emulate the fine example that he set. To me, that is the most meaningful way of showing our deep respect and paying tribute to his remarkable legacy.”
Anand reminds us that as a King acting under constitutional monarchy, His Majesty could not allow himself to be involved in anything political. Of hisroyal visits abroad, he told us, “When His Majesty visited these countries, he would always be resolute in not delving into politics. He went there to promote relations between two states, two peoples, never between governments. This is no easy task but His Majesty always managed to succeed,” says Anand.
Continue to part two.