That road is called Phra Phisit Korani Rd, but good luck finding any street signs to tell you that. Immediately after Wat Patong, the road runs through Baan Mon, one of the last remaining true community neighbourhoods in Phuket’s busiest tourism town.
On the right is a small building decorated in blue and featuring an elaborate traditional Thai-style roof, leading most people to think it is a shrine. They’re nearly right. The building is called the Ratchapatanusorn, otherwise known locally as the “Monument to The King’s Footprint ”.
The significance of the building is lost to most people, but it was remembered this week, as it has been by Patong families for just over six decades now. The building stands at the site of where Rama IX, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, first set foot on Patong soil 61 years ago.
The main festivities usually held each year to remember the auspicious occasion were this year cancelled at the last minute in light of concerns of the COVID-19 coronavirus spreading, yet the blessing ceremonies continued, including the launching of a raft at Loma Park to honour the King’s visit.
According to records kept by Patong Municipality, King Bhumbol arrived in Patong unannounced on March 11, 1959. His Majesty and Queen Sirikit had arrived in Phuket three days earlier on their first official visit to the island.
However, in Patong, King Bhumibol approached local villagers in Baan Mon alone, with his security entourage nowhere in sight.
Sukhon “Ei” Sae-ong, a 28-year-old mother at the time living in a house across from where the Ratchapatanusorn stands today, in an interview in 2016 when she was 85 years old recalled her experience meeting King Bhumibol.
“On that day, I was sweeping garbage over there,” she said, pointing to the front of her house, and adding that there was no road at that time.
“A man approached me and asked me in Southern Thai, ‘Don’t you go to see the King?’ “I replied that I have a baby. If I went, who would take care of my child?” Ms Sukhon said.
“The man smiled and said, ‘You don’t have to go, I’m already here.’ I was shocked and speechless,” she added.
“He left and asked the pregnant woman living in the house opposite the same question. After His Majesty told her who he was, she quickly offered a wai. Then he asked her about her living conditions here,” Ms Sukhon recalled.
A villager invited King Bhumibol to see the Wang Kee Oan waterfall nearby, located some 200 metres away where Phisit Korani Rd joins Hasip Pi Rd (“50 Year Rd”).
His Majesty accepted the invitation and walked along the dirt track to the waterfall, now a protected natural site, where he surprised some villagers doing their laundry.
“One of the villagers offered him a glass of nam bilit [soda and syrup drink]. The King graciously accepted it, and drank it,” Ms Sukhon remembered.
By that time villagers had learned of King Bhumibol’s visit and started arriving in larger numbers. His entourage of soldiers and bodyguards had also finally caught up with him and invited him to return to his accommodation.
Understanding the importance of the occasion, one villager, Mr Chow Piromrith, used a stake to mark where King Bhumibol first stepped out of his car onto Patong soil, at 12:06pm that day.
Under the guidance of the Abbot of Wat Patong at the time Phra Khru Pisitkoranee (also called Phor Than Khiaw), local villagers and monks from Wat Patong had a marble plaque one metre wide and 1.5m high installed at the site to remember the visit.
People also built a roof to protect the monument from sunlight and rain. “At first, it had only a tin roof,” Ms Sukhon noted.
On Feb 24, 1967, King Bhumibol’s mother, the Queen Mother Srinagarindra, also visited the site. Then on July 23, 1968, King Bhumibol returned to Patong, this time with Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. The Crown Prince turned 16 years old five days later, and today reigns as Rama X, King of Thailand.
Signatures from King Bhumibol, His Majesty Vajiralongkorn and Queen Mother Srinagarindra are now inscribed on smaller plaques placed under the main plaque, marking their officials visits.
Time passed, and the weather-beaten roof protecting the monument gradually deteriorated. A simple house was built around the monument to give it better protection from the elements, yet that too aged quickly.
In 2011, Pian Keesin, Mayor of Patong at the time, spend B4.99 million on building a new structure to house the monument. The foundation stone was laid on Aug 8 that year.
The building that people see today is considered the “sixth edition” of the monument building.
All through the years the people of Patong have commemorated the first visit by King Bhumibol with blessing and merit-making ceremonies, as well as festivities including live music performances and traditional Thai arts such as Nang Talung shadow puppet plays.
Mayor Chalermluck considers the visit – and the commemoration of the visit – among the most auspicious occasions remembered in Patong.
“Patong people regard the royal celebration of the Ratchapatanusorn as an annual event in Patong and is considered an important part of the history of Patong,” Ms Chalermluck explained during an interview last year.
“That visit resulted in people around the world learning about Patong, and today Patong is a famous tourist destination,” she added.
Additonal reporting by Kiattikul Chumanee