With the majestic gold and glittering glass temples and structures of Wat Pho, the Grand Palace, and other Old Town main points of interest nearby, the Museum of Siam is not an obvious tourist destination but as far as museums go can be considered as a bit of gem. Located on the 2.8 acre ground of the former Ministry of Commerce compound, the premises consists of three main buildings including an impressive neo-colonial yellow antique house which forms the central hub of interest and thereby is where the main permanent exhibition, entitled “The Account of Thailand”, is located along with a museum shop and cafe. It is a short 5-10 minute walk from Yodpiman River Walk lifestyle mall, pier, and Pak Klong Talad (flower market) and is open every Tuesday to Sunday and public holidays with an admission fee of 200 baht for foreigners and 100 baht for Thais, though it is free entry for all after 4pm.
The Museum creates a modern approach to exhibition spaces by blending ‘old’ and ‘new’ with the regeneration of an architecturally rich heritage building for public use. Its primary function as a ‘plearning’ (play + learn) centre within a museum environment aims to foster an appreciation and understanding of Thai history and culture amongst locals and foreigners alike through an interactive and multi-disciplinary approach that extends beyond the standard displays of ancient artifacts behind glass boxes and lengthy descriptions on the walls of lifeless rooms. The contemporary ribbon-like sculpture that protrudes from the lawn at the entrance provides a hint of what to expect inside: classical with a twist.
Visitors are introduced to the concept of a ‘rainbow’, weaving its way through the interior spaces as it leads from one ‘play-learning’ experience to the next in themed rooms, each with its own decorative stylings and character. The journey starts off with a five minute presentation on a panoramic screen resembling an elongated ribbon which postulates the meaning of “Thainess” and who the Thai people are. The past to the present, the “Golden Land” of Suvarnabhumi 3,000 years ago to the founding of Ayutthaya, mapping out Siam, and of course the current capital Bangkok are examined and presented in an almost ‘classic’ style of exhibiting combined with the latest technology such as touch screens alongside beautifully presented infographics, scale models, and props. Other subjects include the role of Buddhism, an insight to rural village life, and the introduction of Western influences which opened up Siam to globalisation before touching upon politics and communications, Thailand today and in the future.
Interspersed throughout the more formal offerings are visually striking displays set up in a creative way that provides a refreshing approach to the museum experience as one wonders what surprises the next part has in store whilst also admiring the charming postcard-picturesque building itself when ascending and descending the glossy teak wood staircases to the various levels. A som tam (spicy papaya salad) vendor cart with Muay Thai kick boxers occupies one space whereas the War Room contains abstract sculptural figures of a life-sized elephant and warriors alongside a video-game screen played with a cannon to fire at oncoming enemies with the press of a button. The golden hued Siam room features elegantly suspended model boats of the Royal Barge Procession and foreign junks as a traditional/modern contrast to the retro space fitted out with a sixties style neon-lit cafe being the most popular for photographs as patrons playfully pose with the funky furnishings and novelty automobile.
The grounds of the Museum also hosts the trendy weekend Noise Market festival on almost a bi-yearly basis, promoting the local indie music and creative arts scene with live performances, cassette and vinyl stores, arts and crafts vendors, pop up book shops, and food entrepreneurs surrounding the main stage area. Attracting a predominantly youthful crowd of both Thais and expats in the know, it is a laid back way to spend a cultural day-to-evening out in a vibrant yet chilled bohemian setting. Handmade jewellery, clothing, accessories, and beauty products can be found alongside one-of-a-kind decorative interior items and vintage goods to browse through, or snack on a selection of local and international bites from grilled and fried Thai favourites to scones and stroopwafels. Even when the market is not on for the rest of the year the Museum itself is a family-friendly destination that appeals to all ages to while away a few hours in regardless of the amount of time one has spent in Thailand.