Royal Barge Procession on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok


If you are already here or about to book a hotel in Bangkok, find a place down by the river, because there is something you should not miss this week. The upcoming Royal Barge Procession is an event that has occurred only 16 times since 1959.

For those of you who have been to Bangkok, try to imagine the Chao Phraya River completely void of boat traffic and even all the clumps of floating vegetation that typically follow its current. This past week I had the opportunity to see that and something far more amazing during the dress rehearsal for this week’s procession.

The purpose of this procession is to bring a Buddha image and the Royal Family down the river to the revered Wat Arun to make offerings and prayers in honor of the King’s impending birthday. This year His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn presides, rather than his father HM King Bhumibol (King Rama IX) who has reigned since 1946.

We watched the 52 traditional barges being towed up river to Vasukri Royal Landing Pier and then took our places in a viewing area at Tassana Pirom Yard at the Naval Assembly at the Royal Thai Navy on the west bank of the Chao Phraya facing the Grand Palace to the east and just north of Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn. The procession headed down river in 5 columns, a traditional formation for battle. Four of these are royal barges, and 10 others have figures mounted on the prow.

Much of our time was spent waiting and the actual procession took less than an hour, but it was quite spectacular. The colors of the rowers and the barges are brilliant and reflect in the unusually smooth river as they paddle south to Wat Arun.

The boat song sung by a leading male voice through amplification echoes across the waters and the rest of the men – 2,200 in total! – respond in unison making quite an impression. The larger craft have tall decorated poles which are pounded against the planks of the barges like drums.

We had worried that the cloudy day might ruin the photos but remarkably the sun came out just in time for the event catching all the colors, glinting off the paddles as they rose from the water, and reflecting off the golden temples around us and their gleaming roof tiles.

The actual event will take place on Friday, November 9 at 3 p.m. and ending about 5:30 p.m. Tickets are available for 1500 baht but you can also find some riverside viewing in public areas. Try to find a spot close to Wat Arun or the Grand Palace!

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