Normally a choppy, dirty, transportation waterway, Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River came to a complete halt.
Garbage and vegetation were thoroughly cleared and beams of sunshine shimmered off the glassy top of the river.
Armies of catfish, which normally cluster along the banks of the river fighting for food, evenly spread throughout the river, breaking the surface occasionally like miniature humpback whales.
The peacefulness in Bangkok was unbelievable.
Lunch is of course an essential part of any event in Thailand, and prior to the Royal Barge Procession, we were treated to a wonderful feast.
The crunchy deep fried ivy gourd leaves below a succulent breast of duck, which was generously topped with crispy fried shallots and drizzled in sweet tamarind dressing, was absolutely delicious.
Another favorite from the meal was the deep fried soft shell crab placed over a bed of sliced jicama. The crab melted in my mouth and chewing was hardly necessary.
But before I get too carried away with the glorious Thai food, let’s proceed to some of the spectacular scenery from the rehearsal.
We were positioned on the Bangkok grounds of the Thai Royal Navy, opposite the river from the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, along with a host of media photographers and videographers.
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At the entrance of the Navy compound there were a few models of the Royal Barges set up on display.
Police and military slowly patrolled the Chao Phraya River, monitoring to confirm everything was in order.
After patiently waiting for the ceremony, and after seeing the procession in the distance slowly winding its way down the river, the boats were finally right before us.
The procession consisted of 52 boats operated by a total of 2,311 oarsmen provided by the Royal Thai Navy.
Each vessel was strategically arranged in a formation of 5 columns across the river while spanning 1,200 meters down the river. It was indeed a magical sight as the calm parade floated down the river in perfect composition.
Our position, directly across the river from the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, made the scenery even more spectacular – the mid -afternoon sun glistening off the gold and red rooftops.
And like I mentioned above, the catfish spread throughout the entire river, occasionally bubbling on the glassy surface.
Although the fleet consisted of 52 separate barges, there are just four main Royal Golden Barges, which can be seen on display throughout the year at the Royal Barges Museum in Bangkok.
Each and every barge is unique, ornately decorated, and a masterpiece of craftsmanship.
The most spectacular barge in the fleet in my opinion, was the Royal Barge Suphannahong. This enchanting golden boat was formed in the shape of a mythical swan and includes a crystal ball hanging from its teeth.
Carved from a single trunk of teakwood, the Golden Swan measures 44.9 meters in length and employs 50 oarsmen.
The oarsmen rowed in rhythmic patterns, strictly obeying the command of their leader.
But the rowing and display of barges were only half the experience. The other essential component of the Thai Royal Barge Procession was the Royal chanting (don’t miss the Thai Royal Barge Procession video at the bottom of this article to get the full effect).
The chant, which was composed solely for the procession, was a soothing tune that paired remarkably well with the entire ceremony and coordinated to the smooth rowing technique.
The music, the precise choreography, and the elaborate fleet of vessels, made the rehearsal of the Thai Royal Barge Procession a truly grand spectacle to witness in Bangkok.
While the water procession is only held on rare occasion, attending the magical ceremony is certainly one of the top things to do in Bangkok.
I thought the Thai Royal Barge Procession was a priceless glimpse into the traditional culture of Thailand and a remarkable preservation of craftsmanship and heritage.
Now, press play on the video!
(If you can’t see the video, you can watch it here on YouTube.)
Thank you for watching. Wasn’t that amazing?
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