Bangkok 2015: “The King and I” at the Grand Palace

One of a handful of posts from a couple of days’ stopover in Bangkok, Thailand.    


If you’re a Yul Brenner fan, you’ll be interested to know that King Bhumobol Adulyadej of Thailand — a.k.a. Rama IX — is the modern-day King of Siam.*  It’s a shame I didn’t get to meet him on my trip through Bangkok. Between the two of us, “The King and I” have a combined US$30 billion, control 3,000 acres of downtown Bangkok, and have reigned over Thailand since 1946. Admittedly, most of that is him: he’s the World’s Richest Royal, and the world’s longest-reigning monarch.  They say Rama IX is well respected, but then it’s against Thai law to not respect him, so take that for what it’s worth.



This sign stands next to the river, in front of the Grand Palace. Notice that it’s (exclusively) in English. Signs and advertisements around the airport and the historic, shopping and tourist areas were just as likely to be in English as in Thai.



Outside the temple of the Emerald Buddha, you could sprinkle yourself with sacred Buddha water using a symbolic lotus flower. I opted out, but a couple of folks slung water my direction anyway.

The grounds of Rama’s Grand Palace look more like Disneyland than many parts of Disneyland do.  If you go on a Sunday, let me just warn you that you’re making a mistake: you’ll be elbow to elbow with a sea of locals and international tourists alike. Touring the grounds is as much about Buddha as it is about Rama. There’s an enormous “Wat” (temple complex) on site with Buddhas galore, including the tiny-but-most-revered Emerald Buddha (made of jade, not emeralds). You don’t see much of the King, aside from a handful of grand portraits. The faces around the Palace are Palace guards in formal pink uniforms, backed up by more conventional-looking military guards in green.  Over at the Wat, cameras were prohibited in the Emerald Buddha room — I saw one of the guards literally spank a woman with a handheld “No Photography” sign.  Some of the same folks enforced a strict dress code. You can’t show your legs or shoulders – or your tattoos.  And if you come unprepared, they make you rent pants.


On guard at the Royal Palace, it was this guy’s turn to be serious.





See what I mean about Disneyland?



* Before he was Ramses and before the Magnificent Seven, Yul Brenner played a 19th Century King of Siam in the musical “The King and I” in 1956.  His favorite word was “etcetera.”  The iconic role earned Brenner a mention in the 1990s pop song “One Night in Bangkok.”  “Siam” is what the rest of the world called Thailand for centuries, but the Thais never used it themselves.  Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country that was never under European colonial rule.   I was hoping to wedge the phrase/pun, “Yes, Siam!” into this writeup, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.