On a hot day, Sanam Luang (Royal Field) is far from charming: a shadeless expanse of dying grass and concrete pavement ringed by flocks of pigeons and homeless people. Yet despite its shabby appearance, it has been at the centre of royal ceremony since Bangkok was founded.
Large funeral pyres are constructed here during elaborate, but infrequent, royal cremations, and explain the field’s alternative name, Thung Phra Men (Cremation Ground). The most recent was in October 2017, for the funeral of King Rama IX, and was ostensibly one of the most ornate funerals in modern history. The ceremony took a year to plan, saw the construction of a nearly 50m-high gilded pyre, cost a total of US$90 million, and was attended by tens of thousands of mourners. Sanam Luang also draws the masses in December for Constitution Day (10 December) and New Year.
Less dramatic events staged here include the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony, in which the king officially initiates the rice-growing season, an appropriate location given that Sanam Luang was used to grow rice for almost 100 years after the royals moved into Ko Ratanakosin. After the rains, the kite-flying season (mid-February to April) sees the air above filled with butterfly-shaped Thai kites. Matches are held between teams flying either a ‘male’ or ‘female’ kite in a particular territory; points are won if they can force a competitor into their zone.