Many visitors to Bangkok pass Lumpini Park and see the large statue outside the main entrance. It is a statue of King Vajiravudh, Rama VI, the monarch who reigned from 1910 until his untimely death in 1926. There are several museums in Bangkok which commemorate this monarch, but we shall visit a little known one which is open to the public and is free!
On July 22nd 1917, King Vajirvudh declared war on the central powers, primarily the Empires of Germany and Austro -Hungary, and Thailand (Siam at the time) joined the allies by sending an expeditionary force to France in the hope that this would assist in global justice for Siam and that it would gain national and international benefits.
The outcome of hostilities was by no means certain at this time, but eventually an armistice was signed in November 1918, and Siam, as one of the victors, won plaudits and praise .
Siam successfully ends the unequal treaties
Additionally it gave Siam the chance to ask for a renegotiation of unequal treaties with many foreign powers, which included tax privileges and extra territoriality rights disadvantageous to Siam. By 1928 the last of these unequal treaties was ended.
The King Vajiravudh Museum was organised and located in the Territorial Defence Department Building (which is located at the rear of the Grand Palace opposite the east side of Wat Po) by two former directors of the department and opened in 1999.
The museum itself is located on the second floor of the gatehouse building. As stated earlier, entrance is free – don’t be frightened – approach the sentries – it is a military base – and ask to go the museum. The word for museum is “pi-pit-ta-pan”.
The museum, whilst small does commemorate some of important the contributions of the late king towards the development of the nation.
King Vajiravudh was not initially the designated heir of his father King Chulalongkorn. That honour was placed on a half brother, and at the age of twelve Vajirivudh was sent overseas to start his foreign education at Eton in England, like many of the other sons of King Chulalongkorn.
When the crown price died unexpectedly, Vajuravudh was chosen by the King as his replacement – he went to the Siamese legation in London for a ceremony of acceptance, and then returned to his school. On graduating from Eton he went to the Royal Military Academy in Sandhust, and later joined the Durham Light Infantry.
His love of acting, drama, play writing and poetry blossomed in England, and when is beloved father died in 1910 the new king introduced another concept he may have been introduced to in England – the idea of the Boy Scouts, which were founded by Robert Baden Powell after the Boer War.
The Sua Pa ( Wild Tigers)
However many think the King’s concept was different. He set up a para military organisation called the Sua Pa, which was composed initially of close aquaintences in the palace and gradually the membership was widened, and a branch for youngsters was created “The Tiger Cub”s.
Certainly not everyone looked on with pleasure – regular army officers were displeased that a rival military organization was given preference for arms and equipment, and the Sua Pa did not survive into the next reign, that of King Vajiravudh’s brother, Prajhadipok ( who was also schooled in Eton and saw military service at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, outside London). The country was having a financial crisis and all none essential projects were cancelled, including the opening of the Lumpini Park, which was much delayed from the intended date.
The Junior Soldiers
The Sua Pa were replaced by the Junior Soldiers organisation, whose dedicated action at Tha Nangsan Bridge in Chumporn fighting the Japanese invasion of Thailand in 1941, was is still commemorated today.
However the present Territorial Defence Forces see their origin as being the Sua Pa, and thus the museum was housed here, the Ratchanwonlop Building (Territorial Defence Building)
As you enter the gate you will see a statue of the King in the centre of the main square to commemorate that he commanded the building to be constructed.