Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Chulalongkorn Phra Chunla Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua, otherwise known as Rama V or Chulalongkorn, was Thailand’s fifth king under the House of Chakri.
His status in Thailand is legendary, and rightfully so.
Chulalongkorn Day, October 23, commemorates the death of one of Thailand’s favourite sons with a public holiday across the kingdom.
Rama V was crowned King of Siam on October 1, 1868 when he was aged only 15, and reigned until his death, at age 57, on October 23, 1910.
During his 42-year reign, he abolished slavery, he fended off the colonial masters of France and Great Britain, and he showed his great love for his people by dressing in peasant clothing and mixing with the poor to properly understand their problems.
Rama V was a truly amazing human being. During his early life as Prince, Chulalongkorn was educated by European tutors, and unlike previous Thai kings, Rama V visited other nations to learn from them.
He traveled to Singapore and British India between 1870 and 1872 to gain valuable insight from the British colonies, which he later used to modernize
He established the Auditory Office, which was set up to create a single agency to collect the people’s taxes, eradicating a system which was widely used by corrupt rogues who pilfered the taxes to line their own coffers.
King Rama V was always trying to protect his people, and Thailand was the only South East Asian nation to escape the
colonisation trend which swept through South East Asia.
Cambodia and Laos both fell to the French, and Malaysia and Burma came under British rule.
Rumor has it that Rama V struck deals with the colonisers to protect the sovereignty and independence of Siam.
He was a great diplomat of the highest order.
Today, the King of Thailand’s children are routinely sent to Europe to study, but Rama V was the first to ensure his heirs would benefit from the liberal and democratic ideals that were sweeping across Europe at the time.
He also gave the free speech movement a kick start by allowing writers with radical ideals to have their works
published, even if they criticized the old Siamese society.
But without doubt, King Rama V’s greatest achievement was to abolish slavery.
In 1867, almost a third of the Siamese population was registered as slaves, but in 1905, Rama V enacted the Slave
Abolition Act, freeing the slaves many of whom became merchants or farmers.
Thailand’s wealthiest families, who owned the most slaves, chastised him at the time, but Rama V firmly held to his belief and he had the nerve to do the right thing.
There are many great stories about Rama V, and probably none more inspiring than those that show the love he had for and from the Thai people.
He would don peasant clothing and walk the land visiting the ‘real’ people of Thailand incognito.
He would talk with the poor – who had no idea they were talking to their king – and find out what they really wanted and what troubled them, and then act on what he learned.
Rama V was a monarch with a human side who didn’t just talk about loving his people, he physically embraced their wants and needs.
He was a man of the people, and they loved him for it, and they still do today, a century after his death.
Rama V visited Europe twice, in 1897, and again in 1907 when he set out to find a cure his on-going kidney ailments.
But he was unsuccessful, and he died of his kidney disease on October 23, 1910.
He was aged 57.
The anniversary of his death is now known as Chulalongkorn Rama V Day, and is celebrated throughout Thailand with a
nationwide public holiday.
Rama V is still revered by the Thai people, and many proudly display his portrait on the walls of their homes and businesses.
The current King of Thailand, Rama IX Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is Rama V’s grandson, has also become an icon of love and peace in recent times and is also revered by the Thai people.