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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Happy Chulalongkorn Day!

Today memorializes the death of one of the greatest kings of Siam - Rama V, or Phra Chula Chomklao Chaoyuhua as his royal name is designated, or simply 'King Chulalongkorn'. The Western world knows him best from the movie 'The King and I'. Born in 1853, he died in 1910 and was the fifth king of the Chakri dynasty (the current king, Bhumipol, is the ninth). It is not without merit that the Thais also call him "The Great Beloved King"; he made many modern changes to government (such as establishing provinces and districts as are used today), abolished slavery, maintained independence despite regional colonization by Britain and France, was the first Thai ruler to travel to Europe (twice), and allowed religions other than Buddhism to be practiced. During his rule the first railroad was constructed (from Bangkok to Ayuthaya), the traditional lunar calendar was replaced with the Gregorian calendar, and the modern monetary system of banknotes was introduced. He was well-educated and well-traveled, with studies abroad in Singapore, Java and India, as well as the trips to Europe, and fittingly the best university in Thailand is named after him.

We in the north of Thailand also celebrate the link to King Chulalongkorn of the Lan Na Princess Jao Dara Rasami. As a favorite consort and the daughter of a Chiang Mai king, she was instrumental in joining the northern kingdom of Lan Na with that of Siam (for more about this please see the informative article in 'Welcome to Chiangmai & Chiangrai'). Her last home is located north of the city and is open to the public.