racing has a long history in Thailand as elsewhere in the world.
There was no historical evidence of its origin. The earliest
record shows that King Ekathotsarot (1605-1610) of the Ayutthaya
Period once held a boat race manned with soldiers in order to
train able oarsmen for use in war. His predecessor and brother
Naresuan the Great is known to have the strongest marines in
Thai history. He once used his speed rowing boats to chase a
rebel and succeeded in catching him.
Decades later in 1685 when Narai the Great reigned, King Louis
XIV of France dispatched his first embassy to Siam, as Thailand
was known at that time. Among the ambassador's suite was a Catholic
priest named Abbe de Choisy who wrote a series of newsletters
about his sojourn in this country. Two paragraphs of one letter
gave a vivid description of a boat race held by King Narai.
They are roughly translated as follows:
"The Royal Barge was so majestic and exquisite that I can
hardly describe it to you in detail. There were about 150 oarsmen
on the boat, each holding a gold-plated oar. The King of Siam
wore a ceremonial dress decorated with gems and diamonds. The
oarsmen were in golden uniform with golden headgear and gold-plated
"... The King then ordered the boats of the noblemen of
the same rank to stand side by side in pairs and race against
each other towards the Royal Water Pavilion in Ayutthaya. The
boat reaching there first would be handsomely awarded. The boat
race was a spectacular event. Every rower of every boat was
very strong and highly skilful with the oar. The race was against
the current of the main river and so was very strenuous. It
was the Royal Barge itself which won the race and each oarsman
was bestowed with a catty (equal to 600 grammes) of silver as
reward. The distance of the race was 2 leagues (6 miles)."
The above account serves to indicate the importance the ancient
famous king attached to boat racing.
Sometimes it appears that boat races were held as a means of
divination more than an entertainment. According to what King
Chulalongkorn (1868-1910) wrote in his Royal Ceremonies
of the Twelve Months about the boat racing ceremony
held in the 11th month as prescribed by the Palace Law, the
race was between the Samatthachai, the boat of the king, and
the Kraisonmuk, the boat of the queen. The race was held to
foretell the future.
According to the belief, if the Kraisonmuk won, there would
be abundant harvest of rice and the people would be happy and
content. However, if the Kraisonmuk was defeated, there would
But the race was not a real means of divination. Actually, the
boat of the queen ended up the winner every time. The result
was pre-arranged to please both the queen and the subjects.
mentioned above, royal boat races were held in ancient Thailand
in the 11th lunar month, i.e. about October. That was the month
when the rainy season came to an end and the Chao Phraya River
flooded annually in the Ayutthaya Region. After that the water
level would subside and the harvest would begin. If the water
level should remain high in the 12th month (November), the farmers
would not be able to gather their crops in. That would be a
big problem. To prevent this, the king in ancient times also
performed a Brahmanic rite in the 11th month to drive away the
floods in advance.
After the present Chakri Dynasty was established in Bangkok
in 1782, the Royal House ceased to perform the boat racing
ceremony regularly but only held it occasionally.
Later, boat racing gradually became a popular sports among
the people with riverside Buddhist temples serving as centres
of this activity. Now races are held annually in all parts
of the country.
Here are some major boat races in Thailand taking place annually
towards the end of the rainy season:
1. Phra Pradaeng
Long-Boat Races (April)
Venue: Chao Phraya River, in front
of Phra Pradaeng Town, Samut Prakan Province (29 km south
festival originated when Phra Pradaeng held the position of
a province. At that time, it was accessible only by waterways
and almost every family there had a boat. For the past few decades,
the long-boat races have been organized on the 4th day of the
11th waning moon of every year when the river level peaks.
The event highlights several types of boat races, Thai musical
performances, decorated boat processions, traditional merit-making
ceremonies and Takraw competitions.
For more information, please contact: The Education
Section, Phra Pradaeng Municipality Tel: 0 2463 4841
2. Ayutthaya Swan Boat Races and
Long-Boat Races (September)
Chao Phraya River, the Bangsai Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Centre,
Ayutthaya Province (76 km north of Bangkok)
The event features Thai traditional boat race, Thai traditional
long-boat race and international boat race with 16 international
teams participating in. Local entertainments are available throughout
For more information, please contact: TAT Central Office
Region 6 Tel: 0 3524 6076 to 7 / Fax: 0 3524 6078
3. Phichit Long-Boat Races (September)
Venue: Nan River in front of Tha Luang
Temple, Phichit (344 km north of Bangkok)
The Phichit Boat Races take place on the Nan River in Phichit,
one of the most scenic regions in Thailand. The event features
long boat competitions with great fervour amid enthusiastic
cheers from crowds of spectators.
Preceding the King's Cup Long-Boat Race are decorative boat
processions on the Nan River in front of the Tha Luang Pier.
The event is celebrated with various kinds of cultural shows,
music performances as well as OTOP Fair and local product
For more information, please contact: TAT Northern
Office Region 4 Tel: 0 5551 4341 to 3/ Fax: 0 5551 4344.
4. Phitsanulok Boat Races (September)
Venue: Nan River in front of Phra
Si Mahathat Woramahawihan Temple, Phitsanulok Province (377
km north of Bangkok)
Phitsanulok Boat Races are held on the Nan River following
an important religious ceremony of the province, the annual
offering of saffron robes to the highly revered Buddha image
Phra Phuttha Chinnarat. This tradition has been carried through
to the present day since ancient times. It is the biggest
and most beautiful event of its kinds that attracts people
from all over the country.
This annual event also features richly decorated boats and
cheer squad competitions.
For more information, please contact: TAT Northern
Office Region 3 Tel: 0 5525 2742 to 3/ Fax: 0 5525 2472
5. Narathiwat International
Ko-lae Boat Races (September)
Venue: Near the Tha Phraya Sai Dam,
Narathiwat Province (1149 km south of Bangkok)
The Ko-lae boats are traditional fishing vessels commonly found
in the Malay communities of southern Thailand. The Thai Ko-lae
Boat Race was first held in 1976 in honour of Their Majesties
the King and Queen, when the Royal Family travelled to Narathiwat
on a visit. Since then, Ko-lae and long-boat races have been
organised as an annual event and one of the main attractions
of the province.
of the festival are Ko-lae boat races, traditional long-boat
races, processions of decorated boats, cultural performances
and local products sales.
For more information, please
contact: TAT Southern Office Region 3 Tel: 0 7351 6144
/ Fax: 0 7352 2412
Other boat races take place in Nan(October), Nakhon Sawan (October),
Nakhon Ratchasima (November), Buriram (November), Chachoengsao
(November) and in other provinces where there is a river running
through. For more information, please contact: Tourism
Authority of Thailand on tel: 1672 (hotline) or 0 2250 5500