Phuket, Thailand’s most popular island destination, had the honour of being visited by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej four times during his 70 year reign as the King of Thailand. His son, HM King Maha Vajiralongkorn, is now the reigning monarch.
The first visit by King Bhumibol took place in 1959, when the King and Queen Sirikit arrived in Phuket on a car ferry from Phang Nga, and were welcomed by Phuket Governor Uan Surakul at the Governor’s Residence. In those days there was no bridge and people had to wait for the periodical ferry to cross over the 500 metres of water between Phuket and the mainland.
During their stay, the royal couple made several public appearances, including at Phuket Provincial Hall, Wat Phra Nang Sang School, and Surin Beach. They also visited Rawai pier, where they made merit by releasing spiny lobsters into the sea and met with local residents, including sea gypsies, to learn about their way of life. The Thai King also had a jam session with musicians from the Nai Muang Phuket Club, being an accomplished musician himself.
On the fourth day of their visit, the King and Queen visited Patong, where His Majesty accepted refreshments from locals, and also visited Wat Mongkol Nimit and Wat Phra Thong. They also met with locals from Pa Khlok on the east side of the island and visited the mangrove forest at Tha La Beach.
Eight years later, in 1967, King Bhumibol returned to Phuket to preside over the inauguration ceremony of the Heroines’ Monument, dedicated to the memory of Phuket’s female war heroes. He also led a blessing ceremony at Wat Charoen Samanakij, and presided over the opening ceremony of Vachira Phuket Hospital’s new blood bank in Phuket Town.
In 1968, King Bhumibol and Crown Prince (at the time) Maha Vajiralongkorn donated a Buddha image to Phuket, which was installed at the Phuket Provincial Hall. The King also visited a local tin mining operation and inaugurated the Ratchapathanuson Monument at Patong Beach.
His fourth and final visit to Phuket was in 1973, when he was accompanied by Queen Sirikit, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and Princess Chulabhorn Walailak. The royal entourage conducted a merit-making ceremony at the Heroines’ Monument, visited Thaisarco again, and then sailed to Naka Noi Island to donate clothes and other goods to the island’s elderly.
To this day, Phuket remains a favourite destination for the royals and His Majesty Rama 9’s visits will forever be remembered fondly by Phuketians. It’s a testament to the strong bond between the monarchy and the people of Phuket, and serves as a reminder of the important role that the monarchy has played in the history and development of the province.