Royal Barge Museum



Royal Barge Museum

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Housed within a huge warehouse-like structure is a collection of Thailand’s most ostentatious boats, the royal barges. Paintings of fabulous Ayutthayan barges engaged in battles and stately processions, together with archive photographs of royal barge ceremonies in Bangkok over the last 150 years, have provided some of the most splendid visions of Thailand presented to the world via postcards and tourist brochures. Nowadays, though, the vessels are rarely seen cruising the Chao Phraya River, since they have been housed at the museum since 1967. The barges are reproductions of some built 200 years ago by Rama I, who had copied Ayutthayan originals.

In 1981 most of the royal barges underwent an expensive face-lift. They came out in all their gilded glory during the 1982 Bangkok Bicentennial celebrations, for the King’s 60th birthday in 1987, and for the Golden Jubilee of his reign on November 7, 1996. For such auspicious occasions more than 50 barges sail in a lengthy procession down the Chao Phraya. Most of the 2,000 oarsmen – dressed in traditional uniforms – are sea cadets, a fitting crew for boats that were once the naval fleet.

The vessel in the center of the museum, Supphanahongsa (“golden swan”), is the most important royal barge. Made from a single piece of teak, it is over 165 ft (50 m) long and weighs 15 tons. In action it requires a highly trained crew of 64. The mythical, swanlike bird Hongsa rears up from its prow. Anantanagaraj, a barge bearing a multiheaded naga and a Buddha image, is reserved for conveying monks’ robes. Narai Song Suban Rama IX is the first barge to be built during the present king’s reign. It is 145 ft (44 m) long and can carry 50 people.

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