Perhaps the last country in the world that continues its tradition of royal processions on water, Thailand has had royal barges as early as the 12th century in northeast Thailand and there have been accounts of the processions over the centuries.
Most royal barges suffered damage during World War II, but the reigning monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) had the royal barges restored and revived the processions. Since 1957, there have been 16 royal barge processions, the latest one in 2012.
The Royal Barges National Museum in Bangkok houses eight royal barges, four of which are considered major barges: Anekkachatphutchong Royal Barge, the only one built in the reign of King Chulalongkorn the Great (1868-1891); the 46.5-metre Suphannahongse Royal Barge, cut from a single tree and completed in 1911; Anantanakkharat Royal Barge, which has a seven-headed Naga on its prow and requires 54 oarsmen and a crew of 18; and the Narai Song Suban H.M. King Rama IX, built in 1996 with the figure of Vishnu mounted on Garuda on its bow. All these were meticulously crafted and show off the best of Thai artistry.
The majority of visitors arrive at the museum by boat as part of a group tour, but public transport is possible, though tricky because it is well-hidden. Take a Chao Phraya express boat to Phra Pinklao Bridge, then take a left turn at Wat Dusitaram Road. Turn right into a narrow lane and follow the signs through the village. It is about 500 metres to the Royal Barges National Museum from the main road.
Royal Barges National Museum
Open daily, 9am to 5pm. Closed on 1 January, 13-15 April and 31 December. Admission 100 THB. An additional 100 THB is charged for the use of a camera, camera phone or tablet; 200 THB for video camera.