The Royal Barges Museum is located on the banks of the Bangkok Noi Canal on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River, and offers a fascinating insight into Thai history and culture.
It houses eight of Thailand’s finest and most beautiful barges which are carved out from huge pieces of teak with magnificent carved prows.
Each prow represents a mythical creature and is intricately decorated with gold and small pieces of shimmering glass. These uniquely designed and decorative barges were originally used as troop carriers at a time when Thailand was an agricultural society with settled communities growing along the waterways; and also for religious and ceremonial purposes.
The last Royal Barge Procession of an absolute monarch of Siam was on April 1932, when King Rama VII embarked on the Suphanahong barge to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Chakri Dynasty and Bangkok as the capital city.
The following June a Coup d’état changed the government from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.
The barges were then stored at the dry-dock known today as the National Museum of the Royal Barges. Today, the barges are limited to use in state ceremonies and celebrations only.
To see the fascinating Royal Barges floating along the Chao Phraya River you will have plan well in advance or be lucky enough to catch them, as they are only used during certain times of the year.
One of the best times to see them is usually during October and November, when the barges will be used for the Royal River Procession of Buddhist tradition the Kathin ceremony. The King will then embark from his palace on the “Narayana Song Suban Rama IX” to offer robes to the monks.
The different magnificent barges
The Royal Barge Museum has eight magnificent barges on display of various different types – four royal barges and four escort barges. The designs depend on the function of the vessel, but the actual royal barges were uniquely used by the monarchs.
The Suphanahong Royal Barge, or golden swan, is the personal barge of the King and is by far the most majestic and well-known. The 46 meter long barge was carved out of a single teak tree trunk and is covered with cravings and shimmering pieces of glass, making it a fascinating mosaic.
The prow was sculpted into a swan figure taken from the Thai mythology, Ramakian. On board, there is a golden pavilion to house the King and his Royal family.
The vessel was completed under the reign of King Rama VI in 1911. This is the highest class of Royal barge, and was awarded the Sea Heritage Medal from the World Ships Organization of Great Britain in 1981.
The remaining barges in museum are all as beautiful and unique as the Suphanahong.
On their bows sit a variety of figureheads taken from Thai mythology, Ramakian.
One barge features a sacred Garuda; another Hanuman the monkey and yet another possesses the seven heads of Naga, the mythical serpent with white fangs that is often portrayed giving shelter to Buddha.
The latest addition to the Royal Fleet is the “Narayana Song Suban Rama IX” built in honor of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 50th year on the throne. Its prow has the head of the Hindu god Narayana mounted on a Garuda.
Photographing is allowed at an additional fee of 100 baht per camera, and 300 baht per video camera.
Opening Time: 9.00am – 5.00pm
Entrance Fee: 30 Baht per person
Location: Klong Bangkok Noi
Phone Number: 02-424-0004
How to get to Royal Barges National Museum
The Royal Barges National Museum is located on Klong Bangkok Noi off the Chao Phraya River, and not far from Phra Pin Klao Bridge. It is opposite to Thonburi Railway Station.
Most of the tourists go by boat with the conducted tour or by special escorted tour. However, it is possible to go by car, and park the car under the Arun Amarin Bridge before crossing Klong Bangkok Noi. Then follow the sign, walking through narrow lane of the housing community of Wat Dusita Ram till the Royal Barges National Museum.