Been there? Done that? Thailand’s tourism officials say Australian travellers are often on return visits and have previously explored many of the Southeast Asian holiday destination’s main sights.
They’ve wandered through the Grand Palace complex, toured the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, visited Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) and marvelled at other attractions.
But, as they search for something different, more are discovering the Southeast Asian nation’s more offbeat museums.
Quirky delights sounding distinctly kooky prove decidedly interesting – showcasing everything from obscure cooking to crime to kites and even highlighting an era when elephants inflicted the death penalty on humans. Here are a few examples of the weird-but-wonderful:
– Cabbage Patch:
An oasis amid Bangkok’s bustle and a short walk from Victory Monument, Suan Pakkad (meaning “cabbage patch”, the site’s former role) was the palace of a now-deceased prince. This complex of modern buildings and relocated teak dwellings houses an archaeological museum and a repository for old musical instruments. A traditional-style house in the gardens has walls of gold and lacquer depicting Thai history.
– Congdon Anatomical Museum:
In the Siriraj Hospital’s grounds, it won’t enthrall sensitive visitors. Originally just for medical students, it displays oddities including stillborn conjoined twins (the term “Siamese twins” originated here when Thailand was called Siam) and donated skeletons of former medical professors, director Dr Sanjai Sangvichien tells me. Different floors in the building house other museums – including one on crime and punishment depicting an ancient death penalty method: an enormous rattan ball given to elephants as a toy; inside it, a convicted murder is impaled on sharp spikes whenever the animals kick or roll the ball.
– Amulet Market:
Bangkok’s biggest amulet market is alongside a famous temple called Wat Mahathat. Open daily but busiest on Sundays, it’s not strictly a museum – even if most visitors treat it as such. Saffron-robed monks are major customers, wandering between dozens of stalls displaying amulets (commonly worn by Thai Buddhists and believed to be protective) costing between $A2 and $A10,000 in the case of charms made of gold.
– Royal Barges:
A 10-minute walk from the Amulet Market, through a riverside residential area, ends at the National Museum of Royal Barges. Vessels are displayed when they’re not cruising on the Chao Phraya during festivals. Longest of the elaborately decorated collection, with distinctively carved prows, is the monarch’s personal barge – the 46-metre Suphanahong, needing 54 oarsmen.
– Hall of Opium:
In Thailand’s far-northern “golden triangle”, the government-funded Hall of Opium has dioramas and other displays depicting opium’s history, cultivation and use. There’s even a full-size replica of an opium den. The museum is on the outskirts of Chiang Rai (though also visited from larger-but-further Chiang Mai). Some guides save time by taking visitors to a smaller House of Opium in the nearby village of Chiang Saen – so it’s worth checking that you’re at the Hall of Opium and not its similarly named and privately run competitor.
– Thailand In Miniature:
Muang Boran Ancient City, an 80-hectare park in Bangkok’s Samut Prakan district, has Thailand’s leading attractions replicated in miniature. Visitors stroll between the country’s different geographical areas to see copies of famous ruins and temples – or watch handicraft-making and traditional dancing. Wooden footbridges cross expanses of water and restaurants serve dishes from different regions.
– Hospital Mansion:
Take a day or overnight trip from Bangkok through towns and farmland (tip: take the bus) to Prachinburi, 130km from the capital. I stroll through the grounds of this provincial city’s main hospital to view a 105 year-old French-colonial style mansion called Chao Phraya Abhabhubate Building, constructed for a royal visit. An identical building stands in the Cambodian city of Battambang. Though it’s Thailand’s biggest museum of traditional medicines, foreigners seem more interested in the immaculate building itself.
IF YOU GO
Thai Airways International (1300 651 960, thaiairways广西桑拿,广西桑拿网,) flies to Thailand, as do Qantas (13 13 13, 南宁夜网.qantas广西桑拿,广西桑拿网,) and Jetstar (13 15 38, jetstar广西桑拿,). All Asian airlines flying to Australia connect through home hubs. Low-cost carrier Air Asia X (1300 760 330, airasia广西桑拿,) serves Thailand from Australia, via neighbouring Malaysia.
In Bangkok and provincial cities options range from basic backpacker dormitories to high-rise five-stars (including links in global and Thai chains, as well as independents) and opulent resorts. One of Bangkok’s hippest properties is the centrally-located Metropolitan (+ 66 2 635 3333, comohotels/metropolitanbangkok) which has garnered publicity aplenty because of its Nahm Restaurant (see below).
A worthwhile splurge is lunch or dinner at Nahm, considered Bangkok’s best eatery. A Thai restaurant, it’s run by an Australian. Owner-chef David Thompson, a former Sydneysider, serves exquisitely presented Thai delicacies. Nahm recently topped a list of Asia’s 50 best restaurants. Reservations are essential – even for Metropolitan house guests. There’s a choice between a la carte or set menus. The latter is memorably inexpensive (though high-priced for Bangkok): 2000 baht ($A69) per person.
Useful website: thailand南宁桑拿网,广西桑拿网,
* The writer was a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.