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Think Bangkok is all temples and night markets? Think again. Like any global city, the Thai capital also has its share of captivating and educational museums. And while the Thai museums of the past might have been somewhat stale and distinctly non-interactive, that’s changing thanks to more recent openings that have shaken up Bangkok’s museum scene. If you’re looking to squeeze some learning into your visit to Thailand, here are five of our favourite museums in Bangkok.
The Jim Thompson House is a popular attraction for first-time visitors to Bangkok, and it’s easy to see why. The gorgeous traditional Thai home of American Thompson, who fell in love with Thailand and is credited with re-establishing the country’s declining silk industry, was reconstructed under the architect’s watch from six teak buildings he had transported to Bangkok from elsewhere in the country.
These days it serves as an outdoor museum to Thai architecture and art, thanks to the enthralling collection of curio that Thompson amassed on his travels – and helped on by the man’s legacy after he mysteriously vanished in the jungles of Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands in 1967. The lavish house and its gardens, overlooking the Saen Saeb canal, are also an oasis of greenery and serenity in an otherwise bustling part of Bangkok that’s just a short walk from popular MBK shopping centre and the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Guided tours are compulsory (and included in the cost of admission).
Daily, 9am-6pm; adults, 150 baht, students under 22 years old, 100 baht; 6/1 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road (BTS National Stadium); www.jimthompsonhouse.com
This infamous yet seriously under-visited museum, part of Mahidol University’s Department of Forensic Medicine within Bangkok’s prestigious Siriraj Hospital, is divided into six separate museums. The shelves are stacked high with everything from the preserved corpses of babies affected by genetic disorders, and oversized 35kg-weight human testicles caused by elephantiasis, to the bodies of accident victims and serial killers.
Famous mass murderer Si Quey’s body is kept on display here, alongside post-mortem photos that seem primarily intended for the medical students who visit, but which will also appeal to those with merely a leisurely insist in the utterly gruesome. Also a bonus is that it’s another free Bangkok attraction, and located just a short hop across the river from the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
Monday-Saturday, 9am-4pm; adults, 40 baht, children under 120cm free; 2 Pranok Road (Pranok river ferry pier; take the ferry from Tha Chang river boat pier); http://www.sirirajmuseum.com
Set in the north of Bangkok, towards Don Muang airport, the world-class Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is home to the country’s biggest collection of modern art under one roof. It’s a privately run collection that aims to showcase the history of Thai fine art over the years.
And the museum itself – a five-storey purpose-built building that’s been designed to firmly put the focus on the artworks – is as modern as the pieces inside. MOCA exhibits the kind of pieces that you won’t always find in more typical Thai galleries, covering social issues that can be taboo elsewhere. Yet while the emphasis is on Thai artists, there’s also a collection of notable international works. MOCA might be a bit of a trek from downtown, but it’s one that it’s worth making.
Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-6pm; adults, 180 baht, students, 80 baht, under-15s and over-60s free; 3 Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road (BTS Mo Chit/MRT Chatuchak Park, then taxi); www.mocabangkok.com
One of our favourite spots in Bangkok for a dose of culture, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) is more than just an art gallery. It’s a community hub that has a refreshingly relaxed atmosphere, and which also does a commendable job of encouraging the public to showcase their own photography. Did we mention that it’s free to enter?
There’s also a comprehensive but under-publicised art gallery on the basement floor, frequent talks and film and theatre performances, and a number of great shops and cafés – including one of our favourite caffeine pitstops, Gallery Drip Coffee.
Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-9pm; free admission; 939 Rama 1 Road (BTS National Stadium); www.bacc.or.th
Museums in Thailand have long had a reputation (not always unfairly) as dusty, outdated affairs – but at Museum Siam nothing could be further from the truth. This is a thoroughly hands-on museum that’s designed firmly with kids in mind, yet the whole family will enjoy a visit.
Central to Museum Siam’s mission is explaining the concept of ‘Thainess’ and what it means to be Thai – the kind of topics we grapple with at our regular Random Thainess events. And it does so by taking a whirlwind tour through Thai history that’s thorough yet accessible. Covering everything from the disputed roots of modern-day Thailand to the Hindu and animist influences on Thai Buddhism – and not afraid to jest at times – the museum gives enough of an insight into Thai culture to satisfy most visitors’ curiosity, and plenty to keep a younger audience entertained. It’s close proximity to old-town Bangkok attractions like the Grand Palace and Wat Pho only adds to the attraction.
Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm; adults, 200 baht (100 baht for Thai nationals and residents), students over 15 years old, 50 baht, often free for all on public holidays; Sanamchai Road (Tha Tien boat pier); www.museumsiam.org
Run by a Bangkok-based legal firm as a way to raise awareness of the issues surrounding intellectual property and copyright infringement, the excellent and long-running Museum of Counterfeit Goods is unlike most others – and yet, again, one that many visitors to the Thai capital don’t ever see.
The museum centres around a large collection of fake goods seized in raids – including the opportunity to spot the difference been the phoney and the genuine article. In addition, there are studies, tours and talks that all seek to expose the scale of and the story behind Thailand’s infamous trade in counterfeit goods that keeps many of the country’s markets buzzing – and which continues seemingly unabated despite politicians’ repeated insistence on a desire to crack down on it – and its impact not only on huge, wealthy manufacturers, but also on those selling and indeed buying the goods.
Open by appointment, Mondays at 2pm and Thursdays at 10am; free; Supalai Grand Tower, 1011 Rama 3 Road; take the BRT from Sathorn (BTS Chong Nonsi) to Wat Dan, and then either walk the remaining 15 minutes or catch a taxi; www.tilleke.com/firm/community/museum
Set not in Bangkok at all but rather in neighbouring Samut Prakan province (also home to the city’s main Suvarnabhumi international airport) – and yet within easy reach by Skytrain followed by a taxi ride – Ancient City is not an attraction you should expect to be done with in just one visit.
Sprawling Ancient City – known in Thai as Muang Boran, and claiming to be the world’s largest outdoor museum – is an impressive recreation of the whole of Thailand and its historical attractions in the space of 240 acres. You’ll find a huge variety of well-known Thai sights here, from Buddhist temples to other buildings of national significance – plenty of them are intricately modelled replicas, but some are actually the real thing, deconstructed at their original upcountry locations and then reassembled at Ancient City. There’s enough to see that many locals and expats return time and again in an effort to get around the whole place – fortunately, you can take in the sights not just on foot, but also by bicycle or golf caddy.
Daily, 9am-7pm; adults, 700 baht, children, 350 baht (half price for Thai nationals and residents, and a further 50% reduction after 4pm); free shuttle bus from BTS Bearing on selected days, otherwise take the BTS to Bearing and then catch a taxi the rest of the way; www.ancientcitygroup.net
Which are your favourite museums in Bangkok? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by Twang_Duna; Franklin Heijnen; m-louis; Chris Wotton; Muang Boran.