Queen Elizabeth
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Queen Elizabeth rides an elephant during an official visit to India in 1961. Photo: AFP

Queen Elizabeth’s moments in Asia: dinner with Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, being ‘chased’ in Malaysia, meeting ‘royal friend’ Thai King Bhumibol

  • The late queen made several trips to Commonwealth states, including former colonies like Singapore, Malaysia and India, and was also the first royal to visit China
  • In Bangkok, she shared that Queen Victoria had been pen pals with Thailand’s King Rama IV, Mongkut; while her 1975 trip to Hong Kong was so successful that it later inspired the building of a sports stadium
Queen Elizabeth was the oldest British monarch in history and also the nation’s longest-reigning one, on the throne for 70 years and 214 days before her death on Thursday at 96.

The richest queen in the world, she was also the second-longest reigning monarch, after French King Louis XIV; he ruled for more than 72 years before he died in 1715.

As head of the Commonwealth – a bloc of 56 states mostly made up of former colonies including Singapore, Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka – Elizabeth’s face, from child to woman, mother to great-grandmother, is familiar to billions. She is also “seen” daily on the coinage of more than 30 different countries.

While her time as monarch took in the decolonisation of many societies, Elizabeth often charmed local residents during her visits, clocking up more than 260 official trips to some 117 countries.

Some governments went to the extent of renaming places and streets to commemorate her visits. Here are some highlights of her visits to Asia.

The queen at a state banquet in Singapore in 1989, with then-PM Lee Kuan Yew on her right. Photo: via Getty Images

‘I’ve watched Singapore with admiration’

Britain’s rule of Singapore ended in 1963 when the island entered into a union with neighbouring Malaysia before becoming independent two years later. But some locals retained a special affection for Queen Elizabeth and other royals.

The monarch visited Singapore three times, in 1972, 1989 and 2006. She met the city state’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew on the second trip, while the third visit – also her last to the region – saw her attend a state banquet held in her honour by S R Nathan, president at the time.

“I have watched Singapore’s development with admiration,” the queen said during the feast at the Istana, the presidential palace. “Although only 40 years old, your country already has a deserved reputation as a centre of excellence in Asia.

“Singapore has demonstrated an ability to develop and grow, while preserving the best of its traditions,” she added.

Queen Elizabeth meeting Malaysia’s Christian Church leaders in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. Photo: AFP

‘Chased’ in Malaysia

The queen visited Malaysia for the closing ceremony of the 1998 Commonwealth Games, the first time the sporting event was held in Asia.
Her visit came amid a period of political turmoil triggered by then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad firing his former heir-apparent, Anwar Ibrahim.

The queen was welcomed with a 21-gun salute over Kuala Lumpur’s Parliament Square, drowning out the whirr of a police helicopter hovering above the nearby courthouse where Anwar was expected to be arraigned.

Demonstrators briefly chased after the monarch’s motorcade, but apparently only to get a peek at her before resuming calls for political reform near the courthouse.

Royal guards shade Queen Elizabeth and Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej from the sun during a welcoming ceremony in Bangkok in 1996. Photo: Reuters

‘Royal friends’ – Britain and Thailand

In her second state visit to Thailand, in 1996, Queen Elizabeth was hosted by the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was 68 at the time. The trip included a state banquet at the Grand Palace in Bangkok to commemorate his golden jubilee.

The queen recalled long-standing ties between the two royal families, saying their ancestors were “royal friends by correspondence”.

She said that Queen Victoria, her great-great-grandmother, had been pen pals with Thailand’s King Rama IV, Mongkut, and that bond “has been carried forward to our generation”.

“Over the last quarter of a century, your country has become a sophisticated modern state with an increasingly confident democracy,” the queen said. “But your unique cultural heritage remains intact and your people’s capacity to extend the friendliest of welcomes to visitors is undiminished.”

Bhumibol, also known as King Rama IX, had visited Britain during his six-month European tour in 1960. The queen and her husband Prince Philip greeted the Thai monarch and his wife Queen Sirikit at Victoria Station in London.

The Thai king was the second-longest reigning monarch in world history until his death in 2016 at the age of 88, serving on the throne for 70 years and 126 days. The queen then took up the baton.


When Queen Elizabeth visited Hong Kong and mainland China

When Queen Elizabeth visited Hong Kong and mainland China

Visiting China and Hong Kong

In 1986, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited China, the first and only British state visit to the country.

They took in Xian’s terracotta warriors and visited the Great Wall, Shanghai, Kunming and Guangzhou. In Beijing, Elizabeth met leader Deng Xiaoping.

However, the trip was marred by controversy, with Prince Philip’s remark about British students in China turning “slitty-eyed” causing furore in Britain.
The queen then travelled to Hong Kong, her second visit, coming two years after the signing of the Joint Declaration between Britain and China.

Her first Hong Kong visit was in 1975, the first time a reigning British monarch had visited the city. The trip was so successful that it later inspired the building of a sports stadium.

The queen arrived with Prince Philip for a four-day visit to an enthusiastic welcome of Gurkha pipers, flag-waving crowds and gun salutes, as described by the Post at the time.

The Queen and Prince Philip at the Great Wall of China in 1986. Photo: via Getty Images

Family trips to Southeast Asia

The queen travelled to several Southeast Asian nations in 1972 with Prince Philip and their daughter Princess Anne. The tour marked the monarch’s first visits to Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Thailand, as well as the Seychelles and Mauritius.

Her first stop was Thailand, where she met King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit. She also headed to Singapore, where President Benjamin Sheares hosted a banquet for her and she visited one of the country’s first housing estates.

In Malaysia, the queen met Malaysian Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah and queen consort Sultanah Bahiyah.


Queen Elizabeth dies at the age of 96

Queen Elizabeth dies at the age of 96

An elephant ride in India

Queen Elizabeth’s trip to India and Pakistan in 1961 was the first by a reigning British monarch since India gained independence in 1947 and was partitioned into two.

Her parents, King George VI and the Queen Mother, were the last Emperor and Empress of India when the British Raj was dissolved.

Spectators gathered in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan ground to catch a glimpse of the queen and Prince Philip, waving Indian and British flags.

Archive footage shows the mayor of Delhi, Sham Nath, welcoming the British royals with garlands in the presence of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The queen visited several cities across India, including Mumbai, Jaipur, Chennai, and Kolkata. She also went to the city of Varanasi where she rode an elephant in a royal procession, as well as the city Agra, where she saw the Taj Mahal. Her trip across the vast subcontinent also took her to Pakistan.

Queen Elizabeth also travelled to India again in 1983 and in 1997, when the country marked 50 years of independence.