Oft up the stream of time I turn my sail,
To view the fairy-haunts of long lost hours,
Blest with far greener shades, far fresher flowers.
Junks bound for East Asia usually left Ayutthaya in June or July, to catch the winds that carried them to Chinese ports, the Ryukyu Islands or Japan. The return voyage was timed so that the junks reached Ayutthaya again in January or February, and the same return winds carried ships south across the Gulf of Java and other islands. From mid- or late-February, the changing winds in the Gulf made it difficult to sail west toward Ayutthaya while in sight of the southeast coast, and a longer voyage then became necessary. During this season, late arrivals from East Asia sailed across the Gulf, setting their sights on the high peaks behind Pranburi, and then proceeded north along the coast of the Peninsula to the mouth of the Chao Phraya River.
Between these two seasons of northeasterly and northwesterly winds, conditions were best for communications with the Philippines. A voyage from Ayutthaya to Manila and back could be made during the period from about April to June. Similarly, during the reversal of the winds from about October to December, the same voyage could be made again. None of Ayutthaya’s other trading partners had the advantage of two sailing seasons a year.
The prevailing winds to the west of the Malay peninsula likewise constrained the sailing times between that coast and India. Ships left Mergui by February or March each year to go to Indian ports, making the return voyage by August or September. If the winds changed early or if a ship sailed too late in September, the Andaman Sea turned into a formidable barrier—as a powerful French fleet discovered during two months of futile attempts to reach Mergui. The Gujarati ships that sailed from India by way of the Maldive Islands arrived in Mergui in June and July. If a ship left India early enough, it could pass through the straits, around the Malay peninsula and sail all the way to Ayutthaya in a single season, reaching the Thai capital during July, August or September.
Overland between Mergui and Petchburi, Gulf of Siam.
These sailing patterns and weather conditions were beneficial for the trade across the northern part of the Malay peninsula, between Mergui and Petchburi. During the rainy season, from about June to September, overland travel was very difficult. But merchants who left India by early September could reach Mergui late in the rainy season and could then set out for Petchburi by oxcart or with pack cattle, thus reaching Ayutthaya or other ports on the Gulf during October or November. That gave them three months or longer to conduct their business in Ayutthaya and set out again for the west coast, in order to sail from Mergui by mid-March. The same limitations applied to South Asian ships that went directly to the Gulf, unless they remained in Gulf waters for more than a year and waited for the next westward sailing season.
The dilemma for South Asian merchants who carried goods destined for East Asia was the very short period in which the Chinese and Indian merchants were both present in Thai territory at the same time, assuming the South Asians had to make their voyages within a single year for financial reasons. Under these conditions, a merchant from India was in Ayutthaya or elsewhere along the Gulf coast from about November until early March at the latest, whereas the Chinese traders were in the same places from about January to June. Sailing times thus restricted the overlap roughly to January and February, which must have been the months of the most intensive negotiations between traders from these two regions. The South Asian merchants, moreover, were at a disadvantage, because they had to leave within a short time after the Chinese junks arrived, and thus had no choice but to purchase their East Asian goods quickly. The Chinese, on the other hand, had three or four additional months ahead of them to seek customers and could hold out for higher prices in their early sales. The same pattern of interchange with South Asians applied to the Japanese junks that came to the Gulf ports for four or five decades until the 1630s. In the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, however, the development of direct India-China shipping undermined the profits from these exchanges in Thai ports and made them less important than they had been in previous centuries.
For voyages between Thai ports on the Gulf coast and Vietnamese ports along the coast of the South China Sea, the inland waterways across the Mekong delta provided more sheltered passage than the longer and sometimes stormy route around the tip of the peninsula. From the Gulf side, junks entered the canal at the Cambodian port of Banteay Meas, later called Ha Tien by the Vietnamese. They followed the canal to the western branch of the Mekong and continued along various river channels that connect to the eastern part of the delta, ultimately emerging at one of the mouths of the Mekong. In the early Ayutthaya period these inland waterways were all Cambodian territory. Ships going to and from Ayutthaya could pass through this area without much hindrance until the seventeenth century, when the Vietnamese began to extend their control over the area around Saigon and to establish settlements in parts of the delta. Even as late as the Bangkok period, however, the canal from the Gulf to the Mekong continued to provide Thai vessels with access from the Gulf into Cambodia.
Vessels of all types and designs, from every part of coastal Asia, moved into and out of Thai ports in annual cycle of ordered complexity. As Charnvit argues in his chapter, the rulers of Ayutthaya joined this seafaring world from the very beginning. Maritime trade brought increased prosperity to the Thai court, and a new branch of administration evolved to tap this source of wealth effectively. (From Japan to Arabia: Ayutthaya's Maritime Relations with Asia, edited by Kennon Breazeale.)
Ministry Structure and Responsibilities.
The maritime relations of Ayutthaya were invested in the minister popularly known as the Pra Klang in Thai. There is no generally accepted translation for this term in English. This ministry is often imagined to be a treasury, because that is the present-day sense of the term and because his officials collected all the taxes on imports and exports. But this translation is not appropriate for the Ayutthaya period, when another minister was the chief treasurer. The hypothetical name Ministry of External Relations and Maritime Trading Affairs perhaps best conveys the idea of this ministry’s functions. This name, shortened to External Relations, will be used in this chapter.
The External Relations minister was responsible for all affairs concerning foreigners. Disputes and litigation between foreign residents were generally settled by their respective community heads in Ayutthaya, but the minister and his deputies served as appeal judges and as judges in cases between foreigners and Thai subjects. Ministry officials were also intermediaries in any matter concerning foreigners that required the attention of other ministries or the king.
All the affairs discussed in the chapters of this book came under the purview of this ministry. It therefore seems useful to begin with an examination of the ministry’s structure and how it functioned. The basic structure of the ministry is outlined in the Civil Hierarchy Law of the Three-Seals Law Code. This law may have been first promulgated in 1466, although it is obvious from the content of the extant text (which was recompiled in 1805) that it was revised in later centuries.
The ministry was divided into four departments. The text of the law does not indicate what they were called in Thai, but the following hypothetical names convey a sense of their respective functions:
Department of General Administration, Appeals and Records.
Department of Western Maritime Affairs.
Department of Eastern Maritime Affairs and Crown Junks.
Department of Royal Warehouses.
The text of the law consists of nothing more than a list of titles of the officials of the ministry and an indication in most cases of their duties. Charnvit, in his chapter, calls for future comparative research on the ministry and its counterparts in other ports of Southeast Asia. To facilitate such research, a tentative translation of the law is provided below.
The Department of Royal Warehouses is the best place to begin an exploration of the ministry, because it was the link between domestic trade-related administration and the maritime affairs managed by the ministry. This department tapped the internal movements of the domestic products within the kingdom to secure supplies for the international markets. Governors and other officials in various parts of the kingdom were required to gather exportable local products and transport them to the royal warehouses in the capital, thus providing these goods to the state under the system of taxation-in-kind. Imported cargoes arriving on the king’s vessels were likewise deposited in these storage facilities. The royal warehouses were thus “treasuries” in a broad sense, filled not solely with money but with the most valuable trade goods.
Although the warehouses are placed last in the list of departments, and are therefore ranked lowest in the hierarchy, they may have been the first functional department to emerge within the ministry. As discussed by Charnvit, the state monopoly system for exports and imports of high-value goods was created about 1419 or shortly before. From that time onward, local products that were in great demand for export (such as sapan wood) could be bought only from the warehouses, and certain imported goods (such as Chinese porcelain) had to be sold to the warehouse authorities. Thus, by this date, some of the operations of this department were already in motion, even though the formal structure may not have been established.
The royal warehouse authorities were thus wholesalers in international trade. They purchased all the imported goods on the monopoly list, at prices fixed by the government, and sold them to merchants in the kingdom. They acquired domestic monopoly products of high value and either exported them as crown cargoes or sold them to merchants for domestic resale or private export.(From Japan to Arabia: Ayutthaya's Maritime Relations with Asia, edited by Kennon Breazeale.)
Appendix: A Translation from the Civil Hierarchy Law.
The following is a translation of article 11 of the Civil Hierarchy Law (pra aiyakan tamnaeng na ponlaruan) in the Three Seals Law Code (Kotmai tra sam duang). It provides an outline of the structure of the Ministry of External Relations and Maritime Trading Affairs at the time the law code was revised in 1805. No ministry name appears in the text of the law, nor does the popular title for the minister: the Pra Klang. His long formal title (the first entry in the law) was often shortened to Ok Paya (later Chao Praya) Kosa Tibodi (or shortened further to Ok Paya Kosa).
As a guide to reading the text, annotations have been added below in square brackets by the translator. They do not appear in the original. For research purposes, these annotations should be used with caution, because they are the translator’s interpretation of the arrangement of the names in the law. The divisions added below are based on the sakdina-ranks (or simply na), which are quantitative measures of official status. These are listed in descending order within each division in the hierarchy.
Ok paya si tamma ratcha decha chat ammattayanuchit pipit ratana ratcha kosa tibodi apai piriya bara krama pahu [who uses] the Lotus Seal [and] has the sakdina-rank of 10,000.
[First Department. The Text does not indicate a department title. The titles of officials indicate that it was a Department of General Administration, Legal Appeals and Records.]
Pra Pipat Kosa, the senior deputy minister, 1000 na.
Kun Pinit Chai, the deputy minister who sits as judge, 800 na.
Kun Raksa Sombat, who affixes seals to petitions for distribution, 800 n.
Kun Ratcha Akon, in charge [?] of the central registers [i.e. ministry bookkeeping], 800 na.
Kun Tep, head of royal taxes, 600 na.
Kun Yisan Sappayakon, chief record keeper, 600 na.
Kun Tip Kosa, 800 na.
Kun Tanarat, who distributed the king’s remunerations [bia wat, annual or occasional grants of funds to individuals], 600 na.
Eight kun mun [petty officials] who come under Kun Si Ratcha Akon, each having 300 na.
Thirteen kun mun who come under Kun Tep Ratcha, each having 300 na.
Kun Sombat Bodi, drum unit [?]: four kun mun each having 600 na.
Kun Kaeo Ayat, maritime legal clerk, 600 na.
Kun Akson, scribe, 600 na.
[Second Department. No department name is given in the text. This department was known popularly as the Krom Ta Kwa (literally the Ports Department of the Right) and was responsible for maritime affairs to the west (India and the rest of South Asia) and south (the Indonesian archipelago.)]
Pra Chula Ratcha Montri [department head], 1400 na.
Kun Ratcha Setti, the deputy head in charge of South Asians, Javanese, Malay, English [and so on?], 800 na.
Luang Ratcha Montri, harbor master, in charge of South Asians, English, Vietnamese and Portuguese (kaek pratet angkrit yuan farang), 800 na.
 Mun Pinit Wati,  Mun Si Song Pasa,  Mun Satcha Wati and  Mun Samret Wati, four interpreters, 300 na each.
 Mun Tip Wacha and  Mun Tep Wacha, two English interpreters, 300 na each.
Luang Nontaket, harbor master, in charge of Muslim [?] South Asians, 800 na.
 Mun Satcha Wacha and  Mun Satcha Wati, two interpreters, 300 na.
[Third Department. No department name is given in the text. This department was known popularly as the Krom Ta Sai (Ports Department of the Left) and was responsible for maritime affairs to the east (China, the Ryukyu kingdom and Japan) and the Chinese trade network in general (including its ties with the archipelago). It also operated the crown junks.
Luang Choduk Ratcha Setti, department head, 1400 na.
Luang Tep Pakdi, harbor master, in charge of the Dutch, 600 na.
 Kun Tong Su and  Kun Tong Samut, two Chinese interpreters and area officers (nai amphoe), 600 na [each].
 Kun Racha Wadi and  Kun Raksa Samut, captains’ interpreters, 300 na.
Kun Wisut Sakon, interpreter for translating for the [Chinese] junk captains at Paknam, 400 na.
Chinese, South Asian, Portuguese (farang) and English captains of large vessels of 4 wa or more [decks at least 8 meters wide], 300 na [each].
Captains of vessels of more than 6 meters [deck] width, 200 na [each].
Chun Chu, junk captain, 400 na.
Ton Hon, navigator, and La Ta, chief records keeper, 200 na [each] for a large junk and 100 na [each] for a small junk.
Pan Chu, who repair and refurbish junks, and Tai Kong of the Left and Tai Kong of the Right, two helmsmen, 80 na each.
[The next six crewmen, all of the same rank, are grouped together, perhaps to show the structure of this part of the crew.]
Sin Teng Tao of the Left and Sin Teng Tao of the Right, 2 middle-ranking record keepers, 50 na each.
A Pan, [responsible for the] main mast, 50 na.
Chong Kwa, who oversees all the men [?], 50 na.
Tek Ko, who guards the cargo, 50 na.
A Kung, junk’s carpenter, 50 na.
[The next six crewmen are likewise grouped together.]
Iao Kong, who performs worship [bucha pra, also meaning paying homage to images or other sacred objects], 30 na.
Tua Lia, in charge of the riggings of the rear mast, 30 na.
Sam Pan, in charge of the riggings of the forward mast, 30 na.
Chom Pu, 30 na. [There is no indication of his duties in the text.]
Tao Teng, in charge of the anchor, 30 na.
Hu Tiao, who sounds the water’s depth, 30 na.
[The next twenty-two crewmen are likewise grouped together.]
It [number 1] Sian, Yi [number 2] Sian and Sam [number 3] Sian, who lower, 25 na [each]. [These may be the men who raise and lower the sails.]
Chap Ka Tao, who swabs the junk, 25 na.
Eighteen Boei Pan [term not identified], retainers of the Chun Chu, La Ta and Pan Chu, 25 na [each].
Seven lesser crewmen, who stand on guard, 16 na each.
[Fourth Department. Royal Warehouses Department].
Pra Si Pipat Ratana Kosa [department head], 3000 na.
Luang Ratana Kosa, 800 na.
Kun Pibun Sombat, 600 na.
Kun Sawatdi Kosa, 600 na.
Mun Sombat Bodi, 300 na.
Mun Tanarat, 300 na.
(From Japan to Arabia: Ayutthaya's Maritime Relations with Asia, edited by Kennon Breazeale.)