National Museum

Museum in Ko Ratanakosin & Thonburi

Image by Tuayai Getty Images

Often touted as Southeast Asia's biggest museum, Thailand's National Museum is home to an impressive, albeit occasionally dusty, collection of items, best appreciated on one of the museum's free twice-weekly guided tours.

Most of the museum's structures were built in 1782 as the palace of Rama I's viceroy, Prince Wang Na. Rama V turned it into a museum in 1874, and today there are three permanent exhibitions spread out over several buildings. When we stopped by, several of the exhibition halls were being renovated.

The recently renovated Gallery of Thai History is home to some of the country's most beautiful Buddha images.

The history wing has made impressive bounds towards contemporary curatorial aesthetics with a succinct chronology of prehistoric, Sukhothai-, Ayuthaya- and Bangkok-era events and figures. Gems include King Ramkhamhaeng’s inscribed stone pillar, said to be the oldest record of Thai writing (although this has been contested); King Taksin’s throne; the Rama V section; and the screening of a movie about Rama VII, The Magic Ring.

The decorative arts and ethnology exhibit covers seemingly every possible handicraft including traditional musical instruments, ceramics, clothing and textiles, woodcarving, regalia and weaponry. The archaeology and art history wing has exhibits ranging from prehistory to the Bangkok period.

In addition to the main exhibition halls, the Bhuddhaisawan (Phutthaisawan) Chapel includes some well-preserved murals and one of the country’s most revered Buddha images, Phra Phuttha Sihing. Legend claims the image came from Sri Lanka, but art historians attribute it to the 13th-century Sukhothai period.