Thursday, October 18, 2012

Death of Sihanouk: Day 3, Return

The King and Queen Mother returned to Cambodia today (October 17) bearing the mortal remains of King Father Norodom Sihanouk who passed away in Beijing China October 15. They arrived at Pochentong International Airport in Phnom Penh and then traveled in a motor procession from the airport to the Royal Palace on the riverfront. The roads were cleared and the procession followed Confederation de la Russie Blvd (Airport Road) east to Norodom Blvd, Norodom Blvd south to the Independence Monument at Suramarit Blvd/Sihanouk Blvd, Sihanouk Blvd east to Sothearos Blvd and Sothearos Blvd north to the Royal Palace.

The procession was originally planned for about 3:00PM but ran a couple of hours late. The procession was preceded by a lead car and headed by a pick-up truck bearing a portrait of the King Father. This was followed by a adorned coach carrying musicians, official photographers and assistants, leading a dragon-shaped coach bearing the head monk, then the Royal Hearse surrounded by outriders, next a naga-shaped coach with several monks, and finally a car bearing the Royal Family followed by dozens more vehicles of officials and dignitaries. The King Father's coffin was borne by a hearse in the form of a sacred royal Veal Hang Bird (Hamsa.)

Huge crowds or mourners lined the entire route, at points as much as 20+ deep. Almost without exception people wore white, and today have begun wearing a black ribbon - a simple bow or even shred of black fabric. A few held signs and photos of Sihanouk. Given the size of the crowd, people were very well behaved, courteous and ordered. The sun was hot and the wait long. Where I was near the Independence Monument a few people fainted for the heat and were ferried away by ambulances. Police (mostly traffic police and MPs) worked to keep the crowds off the street and on the sidewalks. Much like the mourners, the police seemed to handle the situation as gently and politely as possible. As the procession passed, people satued, bowed and sometimes prayed quietly. The atmosphere was respectful and orderly. After the procession had passed the masses of mourners poured into the streets behind, as if filling a vacuum, making even more apparent enormity of this crowd. The government estimates approximately 500,000 people attended. (Edit: the following day the estimate was increased to 1 million.)

I walked from the Monument to the Palace, trying to stay behind the procession, but was slowed by the crowds moving though the streets and parks. All along the way I noticed clutches of incense and flowers around trees and roadside - impromptu shrines - sometimes with people still praying and placing joss sticks. Groups of monks with mourners clustered round prayed in the park near the south of the Palace.

Once the procession was inside the Palace the gates were closed to all but family and dignitaries. Large crowds, thousands of people, remained in front of the Palace at least a couple of hours after the gates were shut. Offering tables, urns and kneeling rugs still line the park sidewalk opposite the pavilion. The urns were overflowing with spent joss sticks and flowers and smoke from incense was thick on that side of the street. When I left the Palace area after 10:00PM there were still hundreds of mourners present, making offerings, burning incense, taking photos, praying...

Return of body of King Norodom Sihanouk, crowd at Independence Monument, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
2:00PM. Crowds gathering along roads (favoring the shady side of the street.)
Independence Monument at the intersection of Norodom Blvd and Sihanouk Blvd. Funeral music played from loud speakers at the monument.

Return of body of King Norodom Sihanouk, crowd at Independence Monument, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
4:00PM. Crowds wait (in the hot late afternoon sun.) Independence Monument traffic circle. 

Return of body of King Norodom Sihanouk, hearse and procession, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
5:16PM. The procession enters the Independence Monument traffic circle, led by the hearse bearing the King Father's remains. 

Hearse (Veal Hang Bird [Hamsa]) bearing the remains of the King Father. 


 Crowds at Independence Monument as procession passes.

 Head monk. Dragon coach.

Return of body of King Norodom Sihanouk, head monk in procession, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Head monk

Return of body of King Norodom Sihanouk, making prayers, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Impromptu offerings. Hun Sen Park. There were several such offerings along the route.

Return of body of King Norodom Sihanouk, crowd at Victory Gate of the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Victory Gate, Royal Palace. 

Return of body of King Norodom Sihanouk, crowd at Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
6:00PM. Royal Palace.

Naga coach, now empty, in the setting sun.

Return of body of King Norodom Sihanouk, cwreathes, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Wreathes at Royal Palace.

Return of body of King Norodom Sihanouk, night at Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
8:00PM, in front of the Royal Palace. 

Return of body of King Norodom Sihanouk, mourners at Royal Palace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
9:30PM, in front of the Royal Palace.


  1. Great photos! Thanks for sharing - am very interested to see how the country mourns the former King.

  2. Very good photographs. I spent most of the afternoon on Sothearos Boulevard and in front of the palace, and found the experience very moving indeed.

  3. Thanks for sharing... I'm up in N Laos on assignment, so another missed opportunity there in PP. Some nice shots, mate!