The Grand Gilded Gondolas of Thailand
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The Grand Gilded Gondolas of Thailand

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.

Anantanagaraj_Lerdsuwa royal barges
The Anantakkharat royal barge at the dress rehearsal in 2007. CC BY-SA 3.0 Lerdsuwa
The pavilion on the Anantakkharat royal barges
The pavilion on the Anantakkharat where the Royal Kathin (monk robes) are placed during the royal barge procession. The robes are then presented by the king to the monks at Wat Arun.

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 Aaura Vayuphak, Anantakkharat, Anekkachatphuchong,Garuda Hern Het, Suphannahong, and Narai Song Suban HM Rama IX royal barges.
The Aaura Vayuphak, Anantakkharat, Anekkachatphuchong,Garuda Hern Het, Suphannahong, and Narai Song Suban HM Rama IX barges.

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 year of reconstruction of the Aaura Vayuphak is unknown. royal barges
The Aaura Vayuphak royal barge was restored in between 1981 and 1982.
golden pavilions royal barges
The golden pavilions are reserved for the royal family.
Up close, you will see the details in the gilded lacquer, as well as the mirrored glass ornaments on the royal barges.
Up close, you will see the details in the gilded lacquer, as well as the mirrored glass ornaments on the royal barges.

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 signs
Keep an eye out for signs.

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.

GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Bangkok from various destinations. For lowest fares and flight info, airasia.com.

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