Longtail Boats – an icon of Thai Culture
Strikingly beautiful, and much photographed, the traditional longtail boat (Reua Hang Yao) has become synonymous with Thailand. Adopted and built by locals from around 1937 these traditional and distinctive boats are made entirely by hand, with techniques handed down in person from father to son, or apprentice.
The longtail boat captains (incredibly strong-armed men) propel and steer the boat via a propeller fixed at the end of a distinctive 2 meter long pole, shaft or ”tail” for which the boats’name is derived. The diesel or gasoline engines at the back of the boats are converted car or truck engines making them relatively cheap and easy to maintain. The engine block and propeller shaft can be spun around 360 degrees to enable steering, making the boats incredibly maneuverable, with the bracket mount also allowing up and down movement.
Coloured garlands and flowers adorn the prows of these longtail boats. In Thailand a belief in spirits still permeates almost every aspect of life. It is believed that every tree has a guardian spirit, who when the tree is cut down and built into a longtail, stays and lives in the body of the boat to protect it. This Guardian spiritual goddess of boats is called “Mae Ya Nang”, or the ’Grandmother of Boats’, by many thai fishermen. The decorative sashes and flowers are gifts, intended to pay respect to, and honour the water spirits and Mae Ya Nang who then grants her protection, ensures safe passage, a propitious career, and a bountiful catch of fish.
This same area is also considered by many longtail owners to be the Buddha’s head and is blessed by Buddhist monks at the time of launch. Please be respectful of this belief system and aware that this area of the boat is considered sacred and is not to be touched by anyone.