Thai Royal Barge Processional History

Timeline of the Royal Water Processions in Thailand

Sepia tone photo from 1865 showing Thai royal barge processional on river
Anant Nakkhara Royal Barge in 1865 during the Ayutthayan era. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

The history of the Thai Royal Barge Processional dates back over 700 years. Here is a brief timeline of the Royal Water Processions in Thailand. Click here for The Ultimate Guide for Viewing the Thai Royal Barge Processional.

700 years ago: Kingdom of Sukhothai

Nicolas Eynaud - Own work; based on David K. Wyatt (2004), Thailand: A Short History, 2nd ed. Silkworm Books, Chiang Mai, p. 32 and Cornell Southeast Asia Program map 13th century Thailand. Creative Commons.

The history of the Royal Barge Processional dates back over 700 years to the Sukhothai period in Thai history (1238-1438.) At that time, royal barges took part in ceremonies, including lantern processionals, on rivers in the Kingdom of Sukhothai.

300 years ago: the Ayutthayan Era and Royal Water Processions

Etching that depicts French envoy dressed in long embroidered coat of the Louis XIV era lifts a letter to King Narai who reaches down from an open window.
Chevalier de Chaumont presents a letter from Louis XIV to King Narai. By Jean-Baptiste Nolin, National Library of France. Public Domain. Wikipedia.

The barges, sailing in formation were used in battle as well as in religious ceremonies during the Ayutthayan era (1350 – 1767.) One of the oldest patterns of boat formation, the Phet Puang, dates back to this ancient time and is still used today.

The formations also were used to welcome and impress foreign dignitaries. When Louis XIV sent his ambassador, Chevalier de Chaumont, to Ayutthaya in 1685, a Royal Barge Processional welcomed him in a show of the Kingdom’s strength and power.

>250 years ago: Capital City and Royal Barges burn

An Ayutthaya-era Thai Royal Barge with oarsmen dressed in bright red regalia, a red pagoda in the center of the boat and a rifleman firing at a sailing ship.
An Ayutthaya-era Siamese (Thai) war boat. Painting by Chan Chittrakon. Photo of painting taken by ludexvivorum via Wikimedia.

In 1767, over 200 royal barges were wiped out when Burma, now Myanmar, captured and burned the capital city of Ayutthaya. That battle ended the 400-year reign of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya.

>230 years ago: Center of Power moves to Bangkok - Rama I rebuilds fleet

During the Bangkok Period (1782-present) Rama I, the first king of the dynasty, wants to rebuild the fleet in order to float the Royal Water Processions once again. By then, the center of power had moved from Ayutthaya to the Bangkok area on the Chao Phraya River.

75 years ago: Royal Barges Bombed in WWII

1945 black and white aerial photo of Japanese-occupied Bangkok and bombs hitting bridge over the Chao Phraya River where the Royal Barge Processionals take place.
B-29 gives demonstration of accurate high altitude precision bombing by destroying one of the center spans of the Rama VI Bridge at Bangkok, Japanese-occupied Thailand. https://www.fold3.com/image/29021487

In World War II, the Thai Royal Barge Processional boats – stored in the Thonburi train station – were destroyed again. The railroad was used by the Japanese to supply their armies in Burma. Some of the Thai ships survived, including the oldest surviving boat built 150 years ago during the reign of Rama IV. The Royal Water Processions did not resume until 1957.

See a modern version of Bangkok and the Chao Phraya River by going to The Ultimate Guide for Viewing the Thai Royal Barge Processional and scrolling down to the interactive map.

60 years ago: Royal Barge Procession revived

1958 black and white photo of King Rama IX in walking processional with attendants dressed in traditional Thai regalia.
King Rama IX, fourth from left, walks in processional in 1958.

King Rama IX revives the Royal Barge Procession to preserve Thai cultural heritage in 1959.

The Royal Barge Procession Today

5 long boats cruise the Chao Phraya River for the Thai Royal Barge Processional
Chao Phraya River and rehearsal of the Thai Royal Barge Processional last month. Photo by Unstoppable Stacey Wittig

Before the Royal Barge Procession on 12 December, minor rehearsals will be held on November 19, and 26 and December 3, 2019. One full dress rehearsal is scheduled for December 9.  Read the full report here.

The Royal Water Processions begin at the Wasukri Pier and end at the Ratchaworadit Pier, about 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometers.)

Won’t be in Bangkok on any of these dates? Then make sure to visit the Royal Barges Museum when you are in town. 

Thai Royal Barge Processional Facts

Gold lacquered wooden long boat with tall bow in the shape of a swan is paddled by dozens of red-clad oarsmen.
Royal Water Procession photo courtesy of Fine Art Department of Culture Ministry.

FACTS:

Who: His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun (King Rama X) accompanied by Queen Suthida Bajrasudhabimalalakshana

What: Royal Barge Processional for the Coronation of King Rama X

Where: Chao Phraya River from the Wasukri Pier to the Ratchaworadit Pier, Bangkok, Thailand.

When: December 12, 2019, at 15.30 hour

Distance: 3.5 kilometers

Number of vessels: 52

Number of oarsmen: 2300

What to wear: Yellow shirt, dark pants or over-the-knee skirt.

RELATED STORIES:

The Ultimate Guide for Viewing the Thai Royal Barge Processional

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As is common in the travel industry, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

In addition, this blog, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel, contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, she will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the ever-increasing costs of keeping this travel blog active. Thanks for reading.

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