The number “nine” in Thailand is regarded by all Thai people as an auspicious number. The date yesterday was 9.9.49 which made it a good day to do something special. So, all around Bangkok and the country, events were organized in honour of His Majesty The King’s 60th anniversary on the throne. At the new Suvarnabhumi International Airport, they organized a marathon on the runaway. Probably something you wouldn’t be able to do again once the airport opens later this month. Another event was the walkathon organized across the yet to be opened Mega Bridge which spans the Chao Phraya River. A hard choice, but I decided to go for the walkathon. I had been closely following the progress of the mega bridge and I wanted the experience of walking across it on foot.
I hadn’t seen much publicity in the newspapers but I knew that people were told to dress in a yellow shirt. The event was planned to start at 4 p.m. Now, this is no normal bridge. It is massive. Due to a loop in the river, the bridge actually crosses the Chao Phraya River twice! And half way across, there is a major intersection which you can use to leave the bridge early. For us people who live in Samut Prakan, this will be our first, though not last, bridge that crosses the river. After the bridge opens in December, we will no longer need to drive one hour into Bangkok to cross the river on the Rama IX bridge. I have been looking forward to the opening of this bridge for a long time as it will now mean we can get quick access to the outer ring road and we can now avoid Bangkok when we go on our day trips.
I wasn’t sure about where I was supposed to go to join the walkathon. I had decided to follow anyone who was wearing a yellow shirt. But, I realized after a while, that these people were going in all different directions! Before I knew it, I ended up in the queue for the car ferry and so had to do a u-turn in order to find an access ramp for the bridge. I then spotted several coaches of people wearing yellow turning off onto a side road. Bingo! I followed them and soon found myself amongst hundreds of coaches and thousands of people. Many of them were wearing yellow but others were wearing blue. But, they all seemed to be organized into groups. It looked like it was going to be a colour co-ordinated event. I wasn’t actually sure if anyone could turn up for this event or whether you had to register first. But, then I heard on the tannoy that all the yellow shirted people should hurry to the starting point because the blue shirted people had already arrived. So, I mingled with a group of people wearing yellow shirts and headed towards the access ramp.
It was hot work walking up this road in the blazing sun. A number of people were holding water bottles but I had forgotten to bring any. By the time I got to the top I was not only tired but very thirsty. There must have been already a thousand people there and looking behind me I could see there were thousands more coming. It was literally a sea of yellow with some blue taking up the rear. At the top, stewards were telling people to line up in rows and to sit down and wait. Which everyone did without complaint. Up ahead I could see a giant portrait of H.M. The King and also a large amount of yellow balloons. It looked like we were waiting for an opening ceremony. As far as I could tell, a similar ceremony was going to be held at the other end of the bridge on the Bangkok side. I couldn’t see much from where I was standing so I calmly walked up to the front taking pictures as I went along.
Being a white-faced foreigner in Thailand, it is possible to get away with things like this as most security people don’t know how to confront you. It also helped that I had a camera with an expensive looking lens so it made me look like a press photographer. (I really need to get myself some kind of id card to hang around my neck for events like this.) When I do stuff like this I make a point of never making eye contact and do my best not to look like a tourist. So, I was able to get right to the front to take pictures of the governor of Samut Prakan and other local politicians taking part in the opening ceremony. The balloons were then released and the marching band started to play and everyone set off for the long walk over the bridge. I then ran on ahead a little way in order to get some pictures of everyone walking towards me.
We crossed the first part of the bridge over the Chao Phraya River and then a short stretch of land. I could see the river going off into the distance and then coming back to go under the second span. This was where we met up with the dignitaries from the other side. A stage had been set up here and there were television cameras and photographers from the national newspapers. There were also royal photographers there dressed in black suits and a red arm band. Apparently a member of the royal family was coming for the ceremony. I took pictures of the politicians with no problem. But then they made an announcement in Thai that only the royal photographers with red arm bands were allowed to take pictures when the royalty arrived. They made it very clear that even mobile phones with cameras were not allowed to be used. So, I decided to start the long walk back and to take more pictures of the views.
As I was walking back, it was getting darker and then the lights came on which beautifully lit up the bridge. I knew there was going to be a firework display at 7.30 p.m. so I decided I would try and get down to the river bank to see if I could get a picture of the bridge with the fireworks in the background. It took about an hour or so to walk back to the car. I should say stagger as I was really tired and dehydrated by this time. I then drove back to the main road and headed towards the river. But, there was so much traffic waiting to get onto the car ferry that it delayed me a lot. (I really cannot wait until this bridge opens. It will really speed things up for us.) In the end I didn’t get to my viewpoint in time and had to watch the fireworks display from the car. Never mind, it had been an eventful afternoon.