Aphakorn Kiantiwong – the Father of Thai navy

Let me make some things clear first: the name is pronounced Apakon. He is also known as Prince of Chumphon. Wrong transliteration of admiral’s name that you may find: Aphakon Kiattiwong, Abhakara Kiartivongse.

(19.12.1880 – 19.05.1923)

Prince Aphakorn Kiantiwong was the 28th child of Rama V Chulalongkorn. Due to it and the fact that his mother wasn’t noble, he had no chance to become the king. He got the title Krom Luang and became the prince of Chumphon province.

Traveling with the son, Rama V had noticed that his boy was good in navigation. So the king decided to send the prince to England to study naval science. Upon his return to Siam in 1900 the prince began to work with a lot of enthusiasm – he was appointed commander of the ship and his mind was busy with ideas how to develop Royal Siamese navy in order to achieve the highest level, at least the level of western navies.

Aphakorn Kiantiwong was the first prince in Thailand to serve in navy. And he was the first Thai officer to take part in its development (previously it was prerogative of hired professionals from West that was making Thai navy dependent).

It’s hard to overestimate the contribution of the Prince of Chumphon to evolution of Thai navy. In first decade along with career he:

  • Founded naval school and the school of marine engineering.
  • Founded Royal Naval academy on 20.11.1906 (nowadays 20th of November is celebrated as the Day of Thai navy).
  • Added useful for marine navigation sciences to the program of naval studies (like astronomy, trigonometry, hydrography etc). And he also taught students himself.

The break: medicine, mystic & other skills

The prince was versatile person, besides naval science Apakon Kiantivong had interest to medicine. In 1911, after his father had died, he made a break with naval career and began to study medicine, especially herbal medicine. He took nickname “Dr. Phon” and started to cure people of any class and nationality for free. Later he persuaded the new king (Rama VI Vajiravudh) to open the first free hospitals in Siam. Also the prince is the author of several medical books.

Aphakorn Kiantivong was well-known for his interest to supernatural arts. Many worshippers proclaim him to be one of 108 deities (of Shiva) – today they believe that if one makes a prayer to the prince, one’s wish will come true. Because the prince is still around, like any god – listening and helping. That’s why next to his numerous monuments-sanctuaries (they are more than 200) you will see Thais lighting up incense sticks and respectfully bowing their heads in hope that their wishes will be fulfilled.

Monument of Aphakorn Kiantiwong
Admiral’s monument on the viewpoint in Pattaya

Other sides of prince’s personality:

  • He was a skilled Muay Thai fighter and during these years he studied with the best Thai boxers.
  • The prince was skilled in painting (he even painted a part of a wall of Buddhist temple in traditional Thai manner).
  • He composed songs and poems (f.e. hymn of the navy).

Back to the navy

In 1917 Rama VI asked the prince of Chumphon to return to Royal Siamese navy – on 22d of July Thailand joined the First World War. In 1918 Aphakorn Kiantiwong became admiral and in 1920 – the commander of Royal Siamese navy and continued its modernization.

The place for today’s major naval base of Thailand was selected by the admiral – he had chosen Sattahip bay in 40 km. to the south of Pattaya: it was deep enough for military ships and there was an island opposite the bay to hide it from passing-by ships.

In April of 1923 congenital chronic disease made Aphakorn Kiantiwong leave the office. He had returned back to Chumphon, where he soon caught a flu that worsened his health and died on 19th of May. Today this is the day of memory, celebrated by Thai navy.

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