Thai king makes 1st trip outside Bangkok in years
Thousands of Thais lined the roads in Bangkok and near the historic capital Ayutthaya on Friday to catch a glimpse of the country's 84-year-old monarch on his first trip outside the capital since being hospitalized almost three years ago.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, once known for his active and highly publicized work on behalf of the country's poor, has almost disappeared from public life since he was hospitalized in September 2009 for what the palace called a lung inflammation.
Since then he has had a variety of ailments and has lived in a royal wing of Bangkok's Siriraj Hospital, leaving only on rare occasions and always in a wheelchair.
His hospitalization has coincided with the often violent political turmoil that has roiled the country in recent times and increased discussion on the still taboo subject of what role the monarchy should play in Thai politics and society.
The reverence most Thais have for their king was on full display Friday. People dressed in yellow and pink — colors associated with the monarch — lined the roads from Bangkok to the country's central plains hours before the royal convoy was due to pass by.
The trip was to center on a visit to a rice paddy that the king toured in 1996 as part of a royal project to develop a water retention system to mitigate flooding in Ayutthaya. During the country's devastating floods last year much of Ayutthaya was submerged, damaging ancient temples, crops and hundreds of factories in the area.
Grand pageantry was planned elsewhere in Ayutthaya, including a parade of rare white elephants.
The palace has given little explanation for the trip, which was announced a week ago. It likely serves as a chance to publicize the king's improved health — a matter of such public interest that a major Bangkok newspaper carried a front page headline Thursday that stated: "His Majesty The King Takes 50 Steps Without His Cane."
Bhumibol took the throne in 1946 and is the world's longest reigning monarch.