Although King Mongkut had no chance to travel beyond his kingdom’s borders and view modern progress in more developed countries as he had wished, he made great efforts to study various sciences on his own initiative. He also encouraged his sons, other young royals, and offspring of noblemen to learn English and modern disciplines such as shipbuilding and European military science. He also allowed foreign missionaries to freely disseminate Christianity. These missionaries also introduced in Siam new inventions and sciences, such as printing technology, medical science, and education systems. The King’s eldest son, Prince Chulalongkorn, who succeeded him to the throne as King Rama V, was afforded the rare opportunity to learn English with a British tutor, Mrs. Anna Leonowens.
Royal visit to Singapore and Batavia
Two years after his coronation, King Chulalongkorn realized his royal father’s aspirations by paying his first foreign visits to Singapore and Batavia in 1870. As Singapore was then included in the British protectorate known as the Strait Settlements, he had a telegram sent to Queen Victoria of Great Britain in compliance with the diplomatic etiquette, informing the Queen that he had been on a tour of his kingdom’s southern cities and had landed in Singapore, a land under British colonial rule. It was the first time for a king of Siam to be on British soil. He had been accorded a warm welcome with full honors by the Governor of Singapore, and was delighted to have found the land and the people under Queen Victoria’s rule in such a prosperous and progressive state.
Royal visit to India
After visiting Singapore in 1870, King Chulalongkorn intended to visit Europe in the following year. His idea was opposed by the Regent, Somdet Chao Phraya Borom Maha Srisuriyawong, who at that time was Chuang Bunnag. He therefore chose to visit India, then under the rule of Britain instead. Sachchidanand Sahai wrote in India in 1872: As Seen by the Siamese, “The visit is a diplomatic mission of great importance.”
In Calcutta, the Lord Mayor, the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, welcomed His Majesty with these generous words:
I trust that Your Majesty will find here, and during your tour through this Great Empire, much to interest you; and that your Majesty’s visit will improve and develop those friendly relations, which already exist between the subjects of the Queen, and the many millions of people over whom you exercise your Kingly rule.
Royal visits to Europe
King Chulalongkorn spent 47 days touring and strengthening friendly ties with Britain through India. Twenty-six years after this tour, he had the opportunity to make a more inclusive European trip and thus reinforce relations with various countries. Besides solving political problems from the Gunboat Crisis of the Rattanakosin Era, Year 112 (1894), when territorial integrity was threatened by Western powers, the King also fortified his bonds with monarchs of friendly countries at the same time.
The King was conscious that it was not possible always to rely on others for help with Siam’s predicament, as he stated in his letter to Queen Saovabha:
We can never hope for anyone to speak for us or think for us concerning our troubles. Who could bear the burden for us, even as they are willing to, since it would hurt us as a sovereign state? If I am to follow the most appropriate path, I must take these issues upon myself….
I always feel as if I am married to this land of Siam, having been together for up to 30 years.
After the first royal visit to Europe in 1897, the return of King Chulalongkorn brought several months of welcoming ceremonies in Siam.
The royal address delivered to government officials and the residents of Samut Prakan, in the old province of Nakhon Khueankhan, upon his arrival at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River, reflected the excellent results achieved in forging friendly ties with foreign countries:
During our voyage, taken over a great distance and a long time, we were most cordially welcomed by kings and leaders of various countries. This, in our view, is not our personal honor, but the honor accorded to all of you, all citizens of Siam. The benefits gained from the ties of friendship forged with all countries, and from what we experienced, are certain. But it is also our intention to bring the benefits to all our subjects.
The diplomacy pursued by King Chulalongkorn in forging close ties of friendship with foreign countries through exchanges of visits was continued in subsequent reigns, with national interest as the ultimate goal. A royal address by King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, delivered to the Association of Siamese Students in Europe, stated in part:
We are here studying in Europe to seek knowledge in disciplines that are not sufficiently taught in our country…. The administrators sent us out to seek additional knowledge and expertise, so that we could go back and work beneficially for the prosperity of our nation.
King Prajadhipok (Rama VII), in his brief reign, worked to promote ties of friendship with countries near and far, in Europe and America.
When he visited Indochina in 1930, he had a telegram sent to the President of France, which was then exerting its colonial rule over Indochina. He described his visit to Saigon, where he was accorded a warm welcome by the governor-general and local authorities, as well as the Indochinese population. He in turn offered his greetings to the French president. There was no doubt in his mind that the visit would reinforce the existing good relations Siam enjoyed with France and Indochina.
And on his European trip in 1934, King Prajadhipok chose to include Czechoslovakia in his itinerary, as described in an article entitled “The King of Siam in Czechoslovakia,” published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic in cooperation with the Institute for International Relations in Prague:
The visit to Czechoslovakia was a part of King Prajadhipok’s European journey, which also included visits to Germany, Austria, Denmark, and Hungary. Time schedules and diplomatic protocol had to be adjusted to this fact, and the King’s preferences met at the same time. From the diplomatic point of view, it was a delicate issue. On the one hand, it was highly desirable to emphasize the importance of the visit, and on the other hand, it was necessary to respect His Majesty’s wish to keep it as unofficial as possible.