It is 7am and the ground floor of the Chalermphrakiat Building at Siriraj Hospital is already crowded, not with patients but an ocean of pink shirts _ well-wishers trying to catch a glimpse of His Majesty the King on his 84th birthday.
Flag-waving well-wishers line both sides of Ratchadamnoen Avenue to catch a glimpse of His Majesty the King as he passes by in a van. APICHART JINAKUL
Although the highlight of this year's celebration took place on the balcony of the Chakri Throne Hall, where the King made an appearance late yesterday morning, thousands still preferred to wait and greet their beloved monarch at Siriraj Hospital, where he is staying.
The hospital visit was a must for many Thais including, Suwanna Kennamtieng, a 56-year-old retiree. She left her inundated home on Phetchakasem Road a day before the monarch's birthday so that she and seven of her friends would be able to sit in the front row on the building's ground floor and get the best view of the King and the royal family when they walked by.
His Majesty the King smiles as he leaves the 100 Years Building at Siriraj Hospital to go to the Grand Palace yesterday morning. PAWAT LAOPAISARNTAKSIN
The eight friends all come from different places and backgrounds, but have stayed together since first meeting at the hospital in August 2006 when they came to see the King released after a spinal injury. They have kept in touch ever since and have met one another in the very same spot every time the monarch has left the hospital for ceremonies.
"It doesn't matter how long I have to wait or how crowded the hospital will be. The moment I can see His Majesty the King right before me is really worth my whole life, even if it is just a few seconds," she said, clutching a picture of the monarch in her hand.
This year was also very important since it marked the King's seventh-cycle birthday, and Dolnapa Kladbuppa could not afford to miss this opportunity. The English tutor closed her school for the day to join her friends and celebrate this auspicious occasion. In her opinion, giving moral support to the King is crucial since he reportedly fell ill from fretting over people suffering from the flood.
The whole nation seemed to feel the same as Ms Dolnapa.
Although she could have spent the day cleaning up the flood damage in her Buddhist religious paraphernalia shop in Nakhon Sawan's Muang district, Piyatida Wongwikkorn put the work off. Instead, she drove to Bangkok to join others to shout "long live the King" and wish the monarch good health.
The long wait for the King ended at 10.19am, when the monarch, clad in an official white uniform, arrived at the ground floor of the Chalermphrakiat Building in a wheelchair. He was accompanied by members of the royal family, including HM the Queen, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, HRH Princess Chulabhorn, HRH Princess Srirasm, HRH Princess Soamsawali, HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha and Princess Ubolratana _ all of them wearing ivory-coloured traditional Thai silk gowns. The King was also accompanied by a team of doctors.
When the King arrived, the crowd started chanting, "long live the King", their voices filling the hallway. Many shed tears of joy when they saw His Majesty looking well as his entourage boarded a royal van. A sea of pink, national and yellow royal flags fluttered along the route from the hospital to the Grand Palace.
The deep reverence for His Majesty covers all generations. Patananan Sangthongprasert, a 9-year-old student at Satit Chula Demonstration School, didn't hesitate to wake up at 2am to accompany her mother to the hospital.
Despite not having had breakfast, the girl said she was not hungry at all after seeing the King. The school and her parents have taught her much about the monarch's dedication to a better quality of life for all Thais. "Although I am just a kid, I know that by being a good student and obedient to my parents and teachers, I can also make the King happy and smile," she said.
Fireworks light up the Bangkok sky at Sanam Luang as thousands of people light candles for His Majesty the King. PAWAT LAOPAISARNTAKSIN
Well-wishers pack Sanam Luang to participate in a candlelight ceremony at 7.19 pm yesterday. PAWAT LAOPAISARNTAKSIN
Naval officers fire an artillery piece during a 21-gun salute to honour His Majesty the King in front of the Trat provincial hall yesterday. JAKKRIT WAEWKRAIHONG
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, left, Parliament President Somsak Kiatsuranont and Supreme Court President Pairote Wayuparp extend their best wishes to His Majesty.