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Festival of Ko Lae Boat Races in Narathiwat

April 24, 2014 Destination Thailand No Comments Email Email

The southernmost province of Narathiwat is located at the point where the Bang Nara River flows into the Gulf of Thailand. The province holds Ko Lae boat races on this river as an annual cultural event.
Distinctively decorated with fine designs, the Ko Lae is a traditional fishing boat used in the lower southern provinces of Thailand, especially in Narathiwat.

Ko Lae boats have been used in boat races since ancient times, but the boat races were later suspended for a long period. The festival of Ko Lae boat races was revived after the construction of Daksin Palace, the royal residence of Their Majesties the King and Queen in Narathiwat. Local residents presented a plot of land on the eastern foothills of Khao Tanyong to His Majesty the King in 1972 to build this palace. Construction of the first building of the palace complex was completed in 1973, when Their Majesties the King and Queen resided in Daksin Palace for the first time.

In 1975, officials, business people, and members of the public in Narathiwat deemed it appropriate to revive the festival of Ko Lae boat races in honor of Their Majesties the King and Queen, who visited Narathiwat each year. His Majesty the King granted permission for the organizing of this festival again in 1976, when he donated trophies for winning teams. Since then, the Ko Lae boat race festival has been held in September each year. It has also been attracting a high number of tourists and promoting good relations among people in the community.

Local residents are closely related to rivers and the sea, and they are also engaged in fishing. Apart from Bang Nara, other major rivers in this province are Kolok and Sai Buri. In the past, Narathiwat was an autonomous state on the southern coast and served as a marine trade center. Arab culture and wisdom were brought in by the Moorish and Arab merchants.

Narathiwat came under the control of the Ayutthaya Kingdom around the 14th and 15th centuries. The Ayutthaya kings developed the Ko Lae form of boat from the Moorish ship with a raised prow and thus devised the royal barge, as can be seen from the craft in the Royal Barge Procession during the reign of King Narai the Great.

Narathiwat fishermen are famous for their expertise in building this kind of boat. Although many fishermen have replaced the Ko Lae’s sails with engines, the taste for exquisitely decorative patterns painted on the boats continues to prevail.

As the Ko Lae is one of the most beautiful boats in the country, miniature Ko Lae boats and other products have become sought-after items among Thai and foreign visitors. They are sold in souvenir shops all over Narathiwat. If customers want a Ko Lae boat in a particular design, they may hire craftsmen to make and paint the boats in whatever design suits their fancy.

Making a beautiful Ko Lae boat requires a meticulous touch and fine workmanship. With its decorative designs, the Ko Lae boat, when it travels out to sea, is seen as a work of art floating on the endless waves.

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