Royal Barge Procession

Bangkok Travel Blog

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The Seahorse masthead of the King's Barge.
Once every decade or so, the beloved King of Thailand commands an armada of Royal Barges down the Chao Praya river.   This year we were priveledged to witness the procession as 54 royal barges rowed by more than 2000 Royal Thai Navy sailors paraded down the Chao Praya River.   Dressed in traditional Siamese uniforms, the Barges began at the Royal Dock and proceeded to the Grand Palace in front of royalty from 25 countries.

As with any big event, proper planning is critical.  Of course, we didn't do any planning, in fact, I was on Google Earth trying to find a good viewpoint minutes before we left for the event.  By random chance we ran into another American and the three of us proceeded down to the riverside.   There was no good way to get to the parade route, we ended up taking the Skytrain to Saphan Thaksin and then getting a cab as far north as we could go.
A full view of a war barge. Can you see the cannon in the front? every barge features a cannon
  The police had closed most of the roads, so we ended up on foot.  Let me assure you, being on foot in Bangkok in the summer is not the most pleasant experience.

Ultimately, we ended up at the S&P restuarant near at the northwest corner of the grand palace.  They were supposedly sold out of viewing seats, but 500 Baht per person and tickets magically appeared.  We were ushered through a series of gates until we arrived at a private dock, third row back from the river.

The view was great!  even better, the Thais at the event remained seated the whole time, while I acted as the obnoxious american, with my camera and tripod.  I was fairly careful to keep a low profile, and there weren't too many people behind me, and there was a wide viewing area.
The Naga Barge had this stuppa on it. I think it must be a religeous relic.
 

The procession began at 18:30 and it was magnificent.  The barges are ornately designed wooden craft with unique mastheads.  The Kings barge is the largest and the only one with a seahorse masthead, it was truely magnificent.  While the rowers row, they chanted a rowing chant that had been composed by a member of the Royal Thai Navy in honor of the King.  As the barges slid by and the chanting echoed off the water, it was easy to imagine yourself in ancient Siam, watching the king go by.

These pictures cannot do justice to the spectacle.  The barges were so long, and the chanting so rythmic that the scene cannot be conveyed easily.   The motion of boats and oars, unified with so many colors and rythmic beats of drums and chants was like watching a moving meditation.  To be a part a spectator of this kind of event is also to be a part of it, for you can't help feeling that the procession is as much about the viewer as it is about the majesty of this ritual.
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The Seahorse masthead of the King…
The Seahorse masthead of the King…
A full view of a war barge.  Can y…
A full view of a war barge. Can …
The Naga Barge had this stuppa on …
The Naga Barge had this stuppa on…
This Barge features the seven head…
This Barge features the seven hea…
This is the most common Barge.  Th…
This is the most common Barge. T…
The center of the barge is where t…
The center of the barge is where …
The Tillers steering the Royal Bar…
The Tillers steering the Royal Ba…
The barge in the cnter features Ha…
The barge in the cnter features H…
A close up view of the Thai Royalty
A close up view of the Thai Royalty
The Kings barge passes Wat Arun (…
The King's barge passes Wat Arun …
I dont know the masthead of this …
I don't know the masthead of this…
A view of the barges
A view of the barges
Another view of the Nage barge, wi…
Another view of the Nage barge, w…
A barge passes by Wat Arun.
A barge passes by Wat Arun.
Royalty
Royalty
Another royal barge with a Hanuman…
Another royal barge with a Hanuma…
The flag of the King of Thailand a…
The flag of the King of Thailand …
Bangkok
photo by: Deats