Lines of people dressed in black and white spilled forth from the royal structures of Veal Preah Meru on the eve of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s cremation yesterday morning for their chance to get close to his coffin and bid goodbye.
For those who made a pilgrimage to the capital in the afternoon, however, disappointment overcame them as they arrived to find barricades across Sothearos Boulevard and Sisowath Quay and were told they were not allowed closer.
Day three of the four-day funeral period for the revered monarch, who passed away in Beijing on October 15, aged 89, again drew thousands to the Royal Palace and the streets surrounding it.
In the morning, huge crowds of mourners in white shirts and black trousers or skirts lined up to pay homage to the King Father.
Hoe Yun, a 64-year-old ethnic Cambodian from Kean Yang province in Vietnam, was among those who had travelled to pay their respects.
“I’ll tell my relatives and friends what I saw,” she said upon filing from the crematorium.
“I wanted to salute directly to the King Father, but I didn’t think I would have the chance — ultimately, I did.”
Yun praised the government for organising a ceremony that she said befitted the revered Sihanouk.
“I’m very happy to show my heart to our beloved King on this final day – from tomorrow, we won’t see his face any more.”
Pin Nouy, 71, from Prey Veng province, shed a tear as she spoke of her efforts to make it to the capital to bid farewell to her former king.
“I don’t need anything but to burn an incense stick and pay homage to his body directly,” she said, adding that she had no relatives in Phnom Penh and had been staying at a pagoda while she waited. “I can die today if authorities open the coffin’s cover for me so I can see the King Father’s real face.”
Mao Hoeun, a government official standing guard outside the Royal Palace, said the general public was allowed to enter the crematorium between 8am and 2pm to pay their respects.
“I’m not sure why it’s only until 2pm,” he said, adding that security had been strict on order, directing mourners into long lines, to avoid potential disaster.
Lork Loeut, a 67-year-old nun from Angkor Chum district in Siem Reap province, was part of a group of seven Buddhist nuns who arrived at the palace after 2pm after being involved in a workshop with monks in the morning.
“We’re really depressed when the authorities would not allow us into the crematorium to worship,” she said.
Fellow nun Lay Laim, 64, said the group would remain in Phnom Penh for the cremation. “King Father Sihanouk would have done anything for the people, and he helped us live with peace and independence,” she said.
Mourners will be allowed to stand outside the palace this morning and enter the crematorium from 8am to 1pm.
Along with the mourners and armed guards, street sellers were continuing to ply their trade in the streets close by.
Moeng Phearom, 32, was busy taking snapshots of mourners standing in front of the golden dragon float that featured in Friday’s procession through the streets.
“People want to be photographed with the picture of the late King Father. They didn’t think 3,000 riel is expensive – they want to take home a picture,” he said, adding he had sold 40 in two hours.
Others selling photos of Sihanouk were enjoying similarly brisk business. Lek Sreyka, 19, told the Post she had sold 3,000 pictures of the King Father for 2,000 riel each since Friday.
“Most people bought a picture of the late King Father with his widow,” she said.
Sihanouk will be honoured today in a cremation that begins at 6pm and will be attended by a host of visiting dignitaries.
Sok Sokhun, president of the Phnom Penh Health Department, said that there were more then 1,000 people who were dizzy and developed headaches during the first three days, but added no one had fainted.
Long Dimanche, Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman, could not be reached for comment.