The 23rd October of every year is a national holiday in Thailand as it marks
“King Chulalongkorn Day” or known in Thai as “Wan Piyamaharaj Day”.
This is the memorial day of the passing away of King Chulalongkorn, otherwise known as King Rama V. King Chulalongkorn led major reforms in Thailand, for example in the areas of Thai educational system, military affairs, State Railway and Slave Liberation Act without bloodshed. King Chulalongkorn was the fifth monarch of Siam under the House of Chakri. He was the son of King Mongkut and the grandfather of the current King of Thailand, His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He was born on September 20, 1853 and ascended the throne in 1868 at the age of 15. His Majesty then passed away on October 23rd 1910 at the age of 57. He had ruled what was then Siam, for 42 years.
He was ordained as Buddhist monk for a short time during September 15 to October 11 2516/1873 and then was coronated again on October 16 2416/1873 to announce absolute kingship to the people of Siam and the world. King Chulalongkorn is considered one of the greatest kings of Thailand. His reign from 1868 to 1910 was characterised by extensive social and economic development, including the abolition of slavery. He is also famed for his ardent Thai nationalism, and for his skill in fending off the threat of European colonialism, despite the fact that large tracts of Siam were ceded to the Europeans during the period. He managed to prevent Thailand from being colonised by extending friendship and travelling extensively to western countries including America, Great Britain, France and Russia. Because of this, Thailand remains as the only country in Southeast Asia to have never been colonised.
King Chulalongkorn was the first Thai King to be educated in Europe. Throughout Chulalongkorn’s reign, radical writers had their works published for the first time. Works that were previously banned were allowed to be read by the public once again. He also modernized government and streamlined the administration of the country by dividing it into provinces and districts. He replaced the traditional lunar calendar with the Western calendar. Siam was a Buddhist country but he made it clear that other religions (including Islam and Christianity) should have the freedom to practise without fear of persecution.
Communications in the country were improved greatly with the introduction of postal services, the telegraph and the construction of Thailand’s first railway (from Bangkok to Ayutthaya). Statues of King Chulalongkorn all around the Kingdom of Thailand will see ceremonies to honour his memory. Most businesses function as usual but Government organisations are closed on this day.