The Royal Barges are one of Bangkok's most fascinating sights. They are ornately decorated boats with magnificently carved prows that at one time served a military function, but today are limited to use in State ceremonies and celebrations.
The most impressive and important of the boats is Suphanahong, the King's personal barge. Built in 1911 to resemble a mythical swan, the 46 metre craft was hewn from a single tree and is covered with intricate gilt carvings and colourful pieces of glass, forming an eye-catching mosaic. There is a golden pavilion on board to house the King and his Royal family. It is not an easy task to get this vessel moving; it requires 54 oarsmen, who paddle in time to the rhythmic beat of a drummer following a melodic chant called a "bot heh rua.".
In addition to Suphanahong, there are several other barges. 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 most recently created barge is the royal barge Narai Song Suban H.M Rama IX built in honour of the current King's 50th year on the throne (Thats the first barge on this picture).
To see the barges gliding through the water is a spectacle but one must plan well in advance or just be lucky enough to catch them, for they are only used sparingly. Each year at the full moon marking songkran the Thai New Year, a grand procession of barges is formed to transport the King from his palace to the temple of the Emerald Buddha, for the ceremonial change of Buddha's clothes.
Four royal barges are at the centre of the flotilla, including the Anantanagaraj, carrying robes for the monks and Suphannahongse, carrying His Majesty the King and other members of the Royal Family. Lesser barges surround the royal ones in a protective frame as they flow upstream.