Royal Barges Museum
On the banks of the Bangkok Noi Canal off the Chao Phraya River near Phra Pin Klao Bridge, is a huge boathouse that displays eight of the over 50 barges that make up formal precessions. Those are the product of the finest Thai craftsmanship.
That may seem like a lot, but during the Ayutthaya period, when the river was the main means of transport, royal barges apparently numbered in the thousands. The Abb? de Choisy, in his account of the first French embassy to Siam in 1685, writes of the embassy traveling upriver in hundreds of barges, some of which were the King’s own.
That was then. When the Burmese sacked Ayutthaya, all the barges were burned. Rama I, who established the new capital in Bangkok, had new barges built in the image of the old ones. By this time, the barges were reserved largely for ceremonial use, most especially the annual Kathin ceremony at the end of Phansa in October or November. The king and royal family would travel down-river in a precession of barges nearly a kilometer long to Wat Arun, where they would give new robes to the monks
The barges on display vary in size and function. The most important of all is the Supannahong or ‘Golden Swan’, the king’s personal barge, with its figurehead prow in the shape of a huge golden swan. The barge was built by King Rama I, but then had to be rebuilt by King Rama V. Next to it is the Narai Song Suban with King Narai riding a Garuda on its prow. This barge was built to commemorate the king’s 50th anniversary on the throne.
Royal Barges are fantastically ornamented boats used in ceremonial processions on the river. The largest is fifty meters long and required a rowing crew of fifty, plus seven men, tow navigators, a flagman, a rhythm-keeper and chanter. Each barge has a unique design with its special decorative details should be of great interest to all visitors.