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The Royal Barge Museum, Bangkok
Located on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River up Bangkok's Noi Khlong (canal) almost opposite the Grand Palace is the Royal Barge Museum.
Admission charges apply: (30Bht per person 2007).
Usually Open 09.00 to 17.00 daily. The Royal Barge Museum is closed on 31 December, 1 January and Songkran (13 to 15 April).
If you want to take pictures a camera permit is required for an additional fee of 100Bht per camera.
The best way (the practical way!) to get to The Royal Barge Museum is by the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat that stops right at the museum jetty.
However, if the tourist boat is not running, or you prefer a cheaper route, you can take the regular Chao Phraya Express Boat service. The nearest stop to The Royal Barge Museum is at the Pinklao Bridge Pier (N12) but be aware this involves a long winding walk along a narrow concrete walkway over swampy land through a Thai ghetto. You could also take the Chao Phraya Express Boat service and get off at the Rod Fai Pier (N11). Walk down the street parallel to the railway line until you reach a bridge over the canal. Cross over the bridge and follow the concrete path through another Thai ghetto walkway to The Royal Barge Museum entrance. This is also a long and tiring walk on a hot day.
We visited The Royal Barge Museum, Bangkok in October 2007 (whilst closed to the public and without the four main boats).
On display are only eight of over 50 barges that make up the Royal flotilla, seen only in use on rare present day formal Royal processions. These fragile historic craft are a mere fraction of the numbers of barges that were present when the capital of Thailand (then Siam) was at Ayutthaya and seen by the French emissary the Abbé de Choisy in the mid 18th century when Royal barges numbered in their thousands. Those barges have been whittled down over the years by war, the result of coups and general decay. The heavily restored remaining barges are now rarely used, except for royal ceremonial use, especially the annual Royal 'Katin' ceremony that marks ok phansaa, the end of the Buddhist period of lent that lasts from around July to October or sometimes early November. During this ceremony the Monarch and Royal Family travel from the Royal Jetty on the Dusit bank of the Chao Phraya River downstream to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. This temple is over a kilometer away on the opposite bank and is where they ceremonially hand over new robes to the Buddhist monks.
We saw the Royal Barge Flotilla practicing for the Katin ceremony event on 12th October 2007 whilst at the Chao Phraya River ferry landing at Tha Chang (N9) on the east bank.
The eight barges, normally on display in the museum, vary in size and function. The most important of all is the King's personal barge of 15 ton displacement, The Royal Barge Suppanahong (Subanahongsa), golden hamsa (mythical steed of the Hindu god Brahma) or 'Golden Swan’ with a reflecting ball and tassel dangling from her mouth at the prow. The barge requires over 50 oarsmen and 2 steers men to propel it through the water. The Royal Barge Suppanahong is over 46m long and over 3m in the beam. Other crew consist of: a chanter, a drummer, 2 officers at the fore deck, 2 officers at the aft deck, 1 signalman, 1 standard bearer and 7 bearers of The Royal Insignia. The Royal Barge Suppanahong was built by King Rama I in 1782 and rebuilt by King Rama V in 1911. The Royal Barge Subanahongsa was made from the trunk of a single teak tree! The Royal Barge Suphannahongse has been listed as a World Maritime Heritage Vessel by the international community since 1992.
Next to the Royal Barge Suppanahong is the Royal Barge Narai Song Suban with King Narai riding a Garuda on its prow. Royal Barge Narai Song Suban built by His Majesty King Rama IX is over 44m long and a beam of over 3m, with a displacement of about 20 tons. This barge requires 50 oarsmen and 2 steersmen. The Royal Barge Narai Song Suban was built to commemorate the King Rama IX th's 50th anniversary on the throne.
Other Royal Barges in the museum have a variety of figureheads taken from Thai mythology and the Buddhist religion, Ramakian. One barge features Hanuman the monkey god and yet another possesses the seven heads of Naga, the mythical serpent with white fangs that is often portrayed giving shelter to the Lord Buddha. There aren't any vessels anything quite like these Royal Barges anywhere else in the world. The Royal Barges displayed show a remarkable degree of Thai craftsmanship.
Around the sides and at the rear of The Royal Barge Museum are display cases containing oars, flags, artifacts and other paraphernalia of the Royal Barge procession ceremonies.
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