The Royal Barges Museum houses eight of the 50 historic boats that form a procession on the water during very important official ceremonies. Their appearance on the water is now extremely rare, only 16 times in the last 65 years. They are all made of teak, beautifully carved and decorated. For lovers of Thai art and history, they are a must-see.
In addition to the royal boats, you can see historical artifacts such as flags and old uniforms worn by the rowers, models of boats, as well as information about the history of boats and processions on the water. The museum is practically a covered shipyard, where boats are kept out of the water to prevent deterioration.
In the past, the Chao Phraya River and related canals were the main communication route of Bangkok, including for the royal family, who had a large fleet of boats. During the Burmese attack on Ayutthaya, all the kingdom’s boats were destroyed in a fire. King Rama I had new boats built resembling those that had been lost, but this time he decided that they would be used only for ceremonial purposes, including the Katin ceremony, which was held in October or November of each year and in which the royal family would sail down the river followed by a procession of boats.
During the civil and military governments that followed the 1932 coup, many of the empire’s assets were confiscated, including the boats. In addition, many were destroyed during World War II, only to be restored when the imperial family returned to power.
The names of the four most important boats are: Suphannahongse, Anantanakaraj, Anekkachatphuchong and Narai Song Suban. The boats are made of teak wood, carved from a single log.
The Suphannahongse is named after the mythological swan Hamsa. Originally built in 1782 by King Rama I, the boat was replaced by another Suphannahongse, built by King Rama IV in 1911. The boat, which is still in use today, is 46 meters long and is manned by 64 crew members. At the bow is a beautifully carved figurehead in the shape of Hamsa. The king and queen travel aboard the Suphanahongse protected in a covered and gilded pavilion.
The Anantanakaraj takes its name from the mythological multi-headed serpent. The ship was built in 1914 during the reign of King Rama VI, is nearly 45 meters long and has a crew of 72. At the front is a figurehead in the form of a naga snake.
The Anehkachatphuchong is the oldest. It was built in the late 19th century, during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). The ship is nearly 46 meters long and is manned by 75 crew members. There is no figurehead on the bow. The boat is covered with finely carved naga snakes along its length.
Narai Song Suban is the most recent one. It is the only one built during the reign of the current king. It was launched in 1996 to mark the 50th anniversary of his accession to the throne. The ship, which is 44 meters long, is manned by 50 crew members. The figurehead depicts the deity Narayana riding a garuda.
How to get to the museum
The museum is located on Arun Amarin Rd, on the north bank of the Bangkok Noi Canal, which branches off from the Chao Phraya River, opposite the Grand Palace. The easiest way to get there is to rent a longtail boat from one of the piers along the river. You can also take a Chao Phraya express boat with an orange flag to Phra Pinklao pier. From the pier, it’s a one-kilometer walk through a maze of alleys to the museum, taking care to follow the signs.
Entrance to the museum costs 100 baht (less than €3) per person and can be visited daily from 9 am to 5 pm, except on December 31, January 1 and April 13-15. There is an additional charge of 100 baht for photos and 200 baht for videos.
80 1 Arun Amarin Rd, Arun Amarin, Bangkok Noi, Bangkok 10700, Thailand