An era has ended in Cambodia

Tens of thousands pay their respects to King Sihanouk who ruled the country for more than 60 years.

A send-off for a king like no other. A 3,000-strong procession, numerous floats of mythical animal, bands, monks and nuns wound its way through the centre of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh with the golden casket containing the body of King Sihanouk at its head.

Tens of thousands of people lined the streets to bid a final farewell to the man who led the country to independence in 1953.

His nephew and former personal assistant Prince Sisowath Thomico told me though: “When the King Father passed away, and the Cambodian people gathered to attend the procession [from the airport], they didn’t think about politics, didn’t think about independence, they only thought about the love King Sihanouk bestowed to them and gave to them. They just wanted to show they loved him the way he loved them and this is his legacy.”

A larger-than-life ruler, politician and head of state for more than 60 years, Cambodia will sorely miss his presence in the life of the country.

In contrast his son Sihamoni – the present king, on the throne since his father’s abdication in 2004 – has steered away from the political life Sihanouk relished.

Prince Thomico told me: “He hates politics! King Sihanouk was the last God king and King Sihamoni is the first constitutional king of Cambodia. As such I think he will lead Cambodian monarchy toward other monarchies like the monarchy of Belgium, the British, Scandinavian monarchy, where the king reigns but doesn’t rule.”

How Sihanouk would have viewed his public send-off is anyone’s guess. In his younger years he was something of a playboy marrying six times and fathering 14 children – five of whom died during the Khmer Rouge era. But in 2009 he published a letter on his website pleading for people not to keep wishing him “Long Live the King” as he had no desire to live for ever.

He returned to Beijing for more medical treatment as his health faded, but sadly never made it back home again.

An era has ended in Cambodia.