Almost nobody in Thailand knows where and how King Maha Vajiralongkorn celebrates his milestone birthday. Whoever asks around on the streets of the capital, Bangkok, reaps a shrug of the shoulders. The monarch is rarely seen at home, usually at official ceremonies. He probably spends most of his time in Bavaria, in his villa on Lake Starnberg, but even from there, hardly anything about him and his life is made public anymore. What is known: With an estimated fortune of 30 billion dollars (over 29 billion euros), Rama X., as he is officially known, is the richest royal in the world. On Thursday (July 28) he will be 70 years old.
The King’s birthday is always a public holiday in Thailand. This year, citizens can even look forward to a long bridge weekend. The State Railways celebrate the day with special trips by two World War II steam locomotives.
They take interested parties on a historic route from Bangkok to Ayutthaya, 80 kilometers away, the former capital of the Kingdom of Siam. Thais could “take part in the celebrations and show their loyalty to His Majesty,” the Nation Thailand newspaper quoted a railway spokesman as saying.
Maha Vajiralongkorn was born the second eldest child and only son of Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit. When his father died in 2016, the then 64-year-old had to follow in huge footsteps. During the seven decades of his reign, King Bhumibol was considered down-to-earth and conscientious. He was worshiped almost like a god by his subjects. His death sparked an unprecedented outpouring of grief across the country.
The crown prince, on the other hand, had made a name for himself as a bon vivant who had already had three failed marriages at the time of his coronation. He has long been described as a sort of Asian cousin to Prince Charles, who was never known to ascend the throne.
His mother, who will be celebrating her 90th birthday in August, once said of him: “My son has something of a Don Juan. He finds women interesting and he finds women even more interesting.” His marriages produced five sons and two daughters. As far as we know, his son and heir to the throne, Prince Dipangkorn, who was born in 2005, goes to a private school in Germany. He has been married to Queen Suthida (44), a former stewardess and now lieutenant general after several promotions, for three years.
The two said yes just a few days before the official coronation in May 2019. When Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodin Dradebaya Warangkun (which means something like: “The King of Lightning, descendant of almighty deities”) officially donned the 7.3-kilogram “Golden Crown of Victory”, he had already been monarch for two and a half years. Since the beginning of the Chakri Dynasty in 1782, only nine kings have worn the weighty crown. The protocol is ironclad, life is easier in Germany.
But even if the regent is mostly out of the country, he is omnipresent at home: larger than life portraits are displayed everywhere, not only in state authorities, but also in schoolyards, on the train, in front of the huge shopping malls and even on many high-rise buildings he looks down. Strict and mostly in golden regalia, but also in uniform with many medals, he can be seen, sometimes alone, often together with Suthida.
The best way to find out how the officials would like their king to be is to go to the cinema. Before each film, a compilation of scenes from his life is shown, but above all from his coronation. He is waving with his family on a balcony, tens of thousands are cheering him on. The solemn royal anthem is played. The rule is: Everyone should stand up. Recently, however, not everyone has been following the guidelines for a long time.
In recent years there have been repeated demonstrations calling for the amendment of a strict law against lese-majeste. Criticism of the king, queen and other members of the court carries draconian penalties of up to 15 years in prison. The subject has long been taboo in the Southeast Asian country. The royal family still has many supporters in Thailand.