BANGKOK — Millions of viewers watching a live broadcast of today’s Royal Barge Procession would likely have missed the sight of a community of riverside houses close to the Grand Palace.
That’s because the cluster of these shanty houses is literally hidden from the river by a giant barrier and a billboard honoring His Majesty the King. Residents interviewed by a reporter said they aren’t sure who erected the barrier – the image of which raised many eyebrows on social media – or why.
“We cannot really express our views about the billboard. We are just small people,” resident and food vendor Duangjai Limpalekha, 51, said in an interview at her home.
As a native who grows up right next to the Chao Phraya River, Duangjai said she had watched similar processions organized under the late King Bhumibol without any obstruction. But the metal barrier was suddenly built between the community and the river two months ago.
Her son, Teerawuth Panthasaeng, said he is also unsure about the purpose of the barricade, which stands at about 10 meters tall and stretches for 100 meters. But Duangjai said the sheds on the river are not beautiful and may affect the overall beauty of the royal barge scenery.
Seeing his mother feeling rather uncomfortable answering the questions from a reporter, her Teerawuth said a lot of space was left between the billboard and the houses.
“They don’t feel uncomfortable,” Teerawuth said of his neighbors, who are nowhere to be found for the day. “It’s just about beautification, and before it was done, people were asked about it.”
He believes the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration might be responsible for the barricade.
Located close to Maha That Alley, the houses are part of a 80-household community that protrudes into the river. Portions of the land here are owned by different state agencies, such as the Crown Property Bureau, Silpakorn University, Marine Department, and the Interior Affairs Ministry.
Although the houses technically sit on public land, and therefore could be considered an act of encroachment by the authorities, Duangjai said she pays a yearly “rent” of 200 baht to the Marine Department.
Negotiating a passage into the community requires considerable explanation to soldiers, both uniformed and plainclothed. The troops initially mistook a reporter as a Chinese tourist, and then made more inquiries to ensure that the reporter was no “terrorist.”
Some soldiers, dressed in uniforms of the king’s mass movement Chit Asa, were also seen sitting in the houses themselves, watching over the river. The reporter was told that those houses are “off limits” for the day.
Duangjai said the horde of soldiers means a good business for her; just today, the officers placed an order of 50 packs of either sticky rice and fried pork, or chicken with chili paste.