The history of the royal barges dates back to the Sukhothai era
in the 13th century when the first royal barges were reportedly
seen. The barges were originally troop carriers at a time when
it was more expedient to transport troops into battle along
As life in Thailand then was so intimately linked to the river,
these barges were also used for religious and ceremonial
During the Ayutthaya era between the 14th - 18th centuries, the
Royal Barge Ceremonies flourished, particularly during the
reigns of King Naresuan and King Narai.
King Naresuan (1590 ? 1605 AD) named his personal barge
Suphannahongsa and so started the first generation of this
famous royal barge. Since then this has been the name of the
King's personal barge. Two more versions have been built
In the reign of King Narai, the Royal Barge Processions
became more elaborate and one such procession had more than
Unfortunately all this came to an abrupt end in 1767 when the
Burmese sacked Ayutthaya and destroyed all the barges. It was
a sad period in the history of the royal barges.
The Thonburi era (1767 ? 1782) under King Taksin saw a
reemergence of royal barge activity. During his reign the
Emerald Buddha was brought from Vientiane to Ayutthaya.
A hundred and fifteen barges went to Ayutthaya to receive this
holy statue and bring it back to Bangkok. Another 131 vessels
went up river to welcome the Emerald Buddha.
The Bangkok era, which commenced in 1782, saw a new dawn
in the history of the royal barges. King Rama I revived the
tradition of the royal barges. Sixty were built and modeled on
designs in the early Bangkok era. A new Suphannahongsa was
built to serve as the King's personal barge.
Royal barge construction continued under the reign of the
Chari kings. King Rama IV ordered the construction of the
Anantanakkharat with the seven-headed serpent Naga on the
During the reign of King Rama V, a new Suphannahongsa was
built. It was completed during the reign of King Rama VI in
1911. This version of Suphannahongsa is being used to this day
as the King's personal barge.
The coup in 1932, when Thailand changed from an absolute
monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, brought about another
abrupt halt to royal barge activity. Subsequent governments
ceased the Royal Barge Ceremonies for the next 25 years.
The royal barges suffered a further setback when they were
damaged by Japanese bombs during World War II. Damaged
sections of these barges are still preserved at the Royal Barge
In 1957 the history of the royal barges took a turn for the
better when King Rama IX had the barges restored to their
On 19 May 1957, the first Royal Barge Procession in 25 years
sailed down the Chao Phraya River to commemorate the 25th
century of the Buddhist Era. Since then, the tradition and
grandeur of the royal barges have continued to this day.
The history of the royal barges reflects an enduring tradition
that flows on timelessly like the Chao Phraya River.
For details on the royal barges, please see Types of Royal Barges.
This article by Eric Lim first appeared in Tour Bangkok
Legacies, a historical travel site on people, places and events
that shaped the landscape of Bangkok. Lim, a free-lance
writer, lives in Bangkok, Thailand.