The National museum of Royal barges

Thailand has a royal past which boasts of a rich culture, tradition and religious monuments. The national museum of royal barges in Bangkok is one of them.

The national museum of royal barges is located inside the rim of Noi canal across the Chao Phrayariver from the Grand Palace in the Noi district of Bangkok. It has a fleet of royal boats ( barges) on display which were once used by the royal family to go about their kingdom. It is now used only for grand ceremonies.

Royal Barges Museum in Bangkok

Image Courtesy: Mark Fischer used under the Creative Commons Licence

There are eight barges that are on display among the 50 barges that make up for formal processions.

The museum has images and illustrations of the processions, the techniques used to operate the barges and the remains of the old vessels that were used in the past. There were about thousand barges earlier but were damaged by the bombings and fire when the Burmese raided Ayutthaya in Thailand.

Each of the eight royal barges has a sign indicating the name, the year of construction or renovation and the number of crew it requires to operate it. One of the most important attraction is them assive vessel named ‘Suphannahong’ measuring 46 meters long and needs 50 oarsmen and 14 crew members to operate it.

These barges are slender and ornamented with religious symbolism. Suphannahong (Golden Swan) is the king’s personal barge. Built on the orders of Rama I after an earlier version that was destroyed in the sacking of Ayuthaya, Suphannahong is made from a single piece of timber, making it the largest barge in the world.

National museum of Royal barges

Image Courtesy: spotter_nl used under the Creative Commons Licence

A huge swan’s head is carved into the prow. More recent barges feature bows carved into other Hindu-Buddhist mythological shapes, such as the seven-headed naga (sea dragon) and garuda (Vishnu’s bird mount).

Most of the golden barges are stored under a huge roof and only leave their shelter for special occasions. The other boats are usually dark and made of wood with a colorful mythical dragon painted on the bow. They are visible in a separate warehouse near the bridge.

The warehouse that shelters the barges is quite sultry but you also have many juice bars that sell refreshing cool drinks on the way back. People there are friendly and speak good English, they’ll be happy to give you information about the area. You can also shop for souvenirs of the barges in the lanes across the museum.

Royal Barges Museum

Image Courtesy: Mark Fischer used under the Creative Commons Licence

To mark auspicious Buddhist calendar years, the royal barges in all their finery set sail during the royal gà·tĭn, the cloth-giving ceremony that falls in the month of October or November. During this ceremony, a barge procession travels to the temples to offer new robes to the monastic contingent witnessed by entire Bangkok that descend on the river to see this spectacular event.

The museum is open from9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day. Admission to the museum is 100 Baht per person. It is closed on New Year’s Eve (31 December) New Year’s Day (1 January) and Songkran (13 to 15 April).

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