But the Royal Family did not do all of its travelling by boat. There was also a Ratcharot, or royal vehicle, for use on land.
The oldest surviving accounts tell of a vehicle of this kind being used during the Ayutthaya Period for royal ceremonies when the monarch travelled on land. In 1458, during the reign of Somdet Phra Borom Trilokanat, for example, there was a ceremony called Phrarachaphithee Intharaphisek, which celebrated a victory over another nation. It lasted 21 days, during which the King travelled around the city of Ayutthaya in a Ratcharot.
This royal vehicle was also used in other ways, such as the transporting of letters or official documents. In 1686, during the reign of King Narai the Great, when Thailand was cultivating friendly relations with France, the Chevalier de Chaumont was sent on a mission to the Kingdom by King Louis XIV of France. King Narai ordered that the documents be brought from the dock to the Royal Palace by Ratcharot.
The Ratcharot has also traditionally been used for royal cremations. It is claimed that such a vehicle was used during the funeral of King Naresuan the Great, although at that time it was apparently not yet referred to by an official name. But by the time of the Royal Cremations of King Narai the Great, of Somdet Phra Phetaracha and of Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua Thai Sra, the vehicle was called Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot.
By the end of the Ayutthaya Period, with the destruction of the capital in a Thai-Burmese war, the temples, palaces and works of traditional Thai art were lost. Then, at the beginning of the Rattanakosin Period, Phra Phuttha Yod Fah Chulalok the Great, King Rama I, ordered the construction of a new city modelled in every respect on the capital at Ayutthaya.
The most skilled artists and artisans surviving from the Ayutthaya Period created structures that included the Phra Maha Prasat Racha Monthien, Phra Rachawang (the complex that includes the Royal Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and Wat Bodi). In addition, he ordered the construction of a royal throne barge and a processional fleet of other royal barges. Another project undertaken at the time was the creation of a Ratcharot to convey the remains of Kings and Queens for royal cremation.
Construction of the Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot was decreed in 1795. It was to be 11.2 metres high and 15.3 metres long. When it was completed, in 1796, it was used in a ceremony to convey the remains of the King's father, Somdet Phra Borom Chanok, to be cremated on a Phra Merumas on the Phra Mane Ground.
Subsequently, in 1799, there was the construction of another royal vehicle, called the Wechayant Ratcharot, measuring 11.7 metres high and 17.5 metres long, to carry the remains of the King's closest relatives (a sister or brother, for example) to their cremation ceremonies. This vehicle was used for the funeral ceremony at which two of the King's older sisters were cremated at the same time. The remains of Princess Krom Phraya Thepsuphawadee were carried by the Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot and those of Princess Krom Phrasrisudarak by the Wechayant Ratcharot.
According to Thai tradition, when a royal cremation ceremony is held, monks and close royal relatives must travel in front of the remains in the Funeral Procession. As a result, there must also be smaller royal vehicles, called Ratcharot Noi, in which His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch and relatives ride in front of the Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot carrying the royal remains.
King Rama I ordered the construction of three Ratcharot Noi at the same time that the Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot was being built. They were used at the cremation of his father, Somdet Phra Borom Chanok. The first of them (immediately in front of the Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot) was for King Rama I, who held the Phra Busaayong, a length of fabric that extended back from the bier set atop the Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot, as if the king were leading the deceased monarch to the funeral pyre at the Phra Mane Ground.
The second of the Ratcharot Noi was occupied by the King's younger brother, Somdet Krom Phra Rachawang Bovorn Maha Surasingnaat, who carried flowers, and the third by the Supreme Patriarch and by close royal relatives, all of whom also proceeded in front of the remains.
On the occasion of the double cremation of two princesses, a total of five Ratcharot were used at the same time, a unique occurrence in the history of royal cremation ceremonies.
An important feature in the ornamentation of all Ratcharot and in the artwork associated with all items to be intended for use in ceremonies at this high level is the prominent use of Naga heads as a design motif. The many sharp points on the front part of the Ratcharot are carved in the shape of Naga heads, as this is a traditional form in Thai art and harmonises well with the overall structure of the vehicles. The Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharotnf, the ifWechayant Ratcharotnf and the ifRatcharot Noi , for use by His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch, all have Naga heads as ornaments on their sharp, pointed fronts.
The front of the two Ratcharot Noi that were occupied by King Rama I and his younger brother at the cremation ceremony for their father were ornamented with carved Garudas instead of Naga heads. This was due to the belief that vehicles to be used by the monarch must represent the Garuda, because the King (King Narai the Great, for example; Narai = Vishnu) is an incarnation of one of the highest gods, who can only ride on the back of a Garuda. This difference between the two types of Ratcharot Noi, identical in all other respects, is an interesting fact that is not widely known.
The cremation for HRH the late Princess Galyani Vadhana will make use of the Phra Maha Phichai Ratcharot and one Ratcharot Noiz for the Supreme Patriarch or his representative.