King Chulalongkorn Day

Chualalongkorn Day commemorated on the reverse of 100 Baht note

King Chulalongkorn Day

A National Holiday celebrating one of the greatest Kings Thailand has ever had.

Chulalongkorn Day

October 23rd is a National holiday commemorating the death of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). He was one of the greatest and most revered Kings the country has ever had. His largest achievements being the abolishment of slavery and saving Siam from Western colonisation. His lasting impact is easily visible on the reverse of 100 Baht note. On the right you can see him fully dressed in his Navy Uniform. On the left, a depiction of him abolishing slavery in all forms.  Known as the Royal Buddha, King Chulalongkorn was truly a King of the people.

Chualalongkorn Day commemorated on the reverse of 100 Baht note Photo By: Miran Rijavek License: CC BY 2.0

Abolition of Slavery

Chulalongkorn is most widely known for the abolishment of slavery. He knew the plight of the common man and was famous for disguising himself and walking the streets to see what life was like for the less fortunate. In 1867 over one Third of Siam’s population were essentially slaves. He saw the violence of the American civil war and believed it to be caused by the almost instant transition of slaves to free men. So through a slower process of social and political reforms, from 1864-1905, Chulalongkorn peacefully eradicated slavery in all its forms. For most Thai people today, this was his defining act. Below you can see a large memorial of King Chulalongkorn in Bangkok.King Chulalongkorn Memorial in bangkok Photo by: dsin travel License: CC BY 2.0

Thailand as we know it

Although Siam didn’t officially become the Kingdom of Thailand until 1939, the borders of the country were very much shaped by King Chulalongkorn. Siam was a much larger area than Thailand and encompassed much of Laos, Cambodia and even parts of Myanmar. As Western Colonisation began to encroach on all fronts, the King saw he needed to take drastic actions to prevent his country being lost to the West. He need to unite the people and play the West at their own game; politics.

Here come the French!

The first territorial cession of Siam came in 1863, when the King of Cambodia put his country under French protectorate. However, the French took a little bit more than they should. Some areas, including Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) were actually part of Siam. But the French refused to leave.

In 1888 the French invaded Laos. Then in 1893 they requested the cession of all land east of the Mekong river. When the King refused, this led to France invading the Chao Praya river with huge gunboats. Siam were forced to agree to the cession of Laos. But France kept on encroaching and had occupied as far Chantaburi and Trat. King Chulalongkorn needed to act quickly before all was lost.Map of Siam 1950 Photo by: David License: CC BY 2.0

Modernisation of Siam

In order to prevent the West from controlling his country, King Chulalongkorn knew he needed to embrace certain elements of the West. He was the first king to send his Princes to a Western education. He himself travelled much of Europe to learn the ways of the West. After the clear defeat from French Gunboats, he reformed the Navy by hiring the Danish Naval Officer Andreas Richelieu. Incidentally, This is where the name Richelieu Rock comes from. Richelieu Rock is a Mecca of a dive site known to Scuba Divers worldwide.

Chulalongkorn split his country into official provinces which were all overseen and ultimately run by a central authority. This essentially removed local dynasties and united the country in a way more recognisable and acceptable to Western ideals. He modernised the army by introducing military conscriptions and established a defence ministry. he started to build the railways so he could easily keep eyes everywhere. He built Siam’s first Power plants.

He started Siam on the path to becoming a democracy. All the reforms he made lead to Siam becoming officially recognised as a country on an international scale. The French agreed to recede from Chantaburi & Trat and so the borders of Modern day Thailand had been set. There have only been small changes in Thailand’s boundaries since King Chulalonkorn’s death in 1910.Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok Photo by: Chris Brown License: CC BY 2.0

King Chulalongkorn’s Legacy

King Chulalongkorn was one of the greatest Kings Thailand has ever had. Around the country you can see statues and images of him. Just take a peek at the back of the 100 Baht note. There is a University (pictured above) and a large pavilion name after him. Then of course, October 23rd, is a national Thai holiday. This seems fair when you consider the massive positive impact he had on the country. It is fascinating to contemplate how different Thailand could have been if France had been allowed to move in.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.