King Chulalongkorn (Phra Chulachom Klao Chaoyuhua or Rama V) suceeded to the throne at the death of his father, King Mongkut (or Phra Chom Klao). He was born on September 20, 1853 the first son of Queen Ramphai Pamarapirom (Thepsirindra) and the 9th surviving son of King Mongkut. King Rama V ascended the Throne in 1868 at the age of 15, with Chao Phraya Sri Suriyawongse as Regent.
King Rama V’s long reign of 42-years was a busy era of full-scale reform and the emergence of Thailand into the modern age. He learned the systems of Western Governments, made friends with major powers such as Britain, France, America and Russia and sent the royal children to be educated in the West. It seems he was prepared to learn from the West while at the same time, resisting domination by the major powers. Above all, he was the first Thai monarch who traveled widely:to neighbouring countries in Asia and to Europe twice. Wherever he went, he was impressed by the hospitality and respect shown him by the Royalty of the various countries.
The King‘s reforms, which involved almost every aspect of Thai life, included the abolition of slavery, the expansion of the communication system through the construction of railways, the establishment of post and telegraph services and the creation of a ministerial system in 1892. In addition, the King also established a variety of public utilities, particulary in the fields of health and education.
Unfortunately, world events at that time did not allow him to proceed smoothly with his administrative reform as it coincided with the age of colonialism. The King, therefore, had to adapt his foreign policy to maintain a balance between the contending powers. He fostered friendly relations with all powers and avoided confrontation. Thus, at the time of crisis, even though Thailand had to sacrifice some of her territories, she was able to keep her independence.
King Chulalongkorn wanted to make the people less subservient, thus, in 1873 after the coronation, he proclaimed that prostration in front of the king was to be abolished. Later, in 1905 he abolished slavery. The King traveled extensively throughout the kingdom to personally investigate and share his subjects’ conditions and aspirations, often known in Thai as “Prapasston” It is very difficult to mention all of his numerous reforms. All the present-day ministries and departments owe their origin of his far-sighted concepts.
His death on October 23, 1910 was a great loss to the entire nation as he was one of the most honored and beloved kings who was often called “Somdej Phra Piyamaharaj”. Moreover, Thai people also believed in the King’s miraculous power of bringing good luck and prosperity to the person who pays respect to him. Thus, the King’s picture is founded in almost every house. Thai people from all walks of life lay wreaths at his equestrain statue at the Royal Plaza in Bangkok and his statues in the provinces.