Thais are well-known for being proud of their nation. And with good reason. Thailand has an interesting history that is replete with immigration and changing powers. Many different races of people have traveled to Thailand throughout its history. From the southern Chinese, who pushed down into Thailand to find new opportunities, to the Indians who brought with them Buddhism and Hinduism. Thai people are made up of an estimated 57 ethnic groups. Nowadays, all those different influences have been mixed together to create what Thai people call Thainess. In an exhibition at the Museum of Siam, the people behind it are asking What is Thainess?
Through a series of interactive and compelling exhibits, you are guided from Suvarnabhumi (The Land of Gold) to modern-day Thailand. The museum designers used the ever-changing face of Thailand as an inspiration for the layout of the exhibits and compare its progression to the flow of a river or rainbow (roong in Thai). The “roong” begins in the immersive theatre with a short movie that feeds your imagination and leaves you with many unanswered questions to whet your appetite.
After the immersive theatre, you are guided to the next room which features a street stall complete with pestle and mortar and artificial chicken wings, where you can get an amusing photo of you and your friends making som tum. There is also half a tuk tuk built into the wall, which is about the closest you’ll ever get to sitting in the driving seat of one of these freaks of automobilia.
Bangkok used to be under sea?!
Once you arrive breathless on the third floor, you will find the section entitled Suvarnabhumi. This part of the exhibition attempts to unravel some of Thailand’s ancient history and give you a clearer picture of how the land mass we now know as Thailand first came to be inhabited. One of the more extraordinary claims in this section of the museum is that Bangkok and the central plains (Thailand’s rice bowl) were under sea as recently as 5,000 years ago. However, I have not found any other sources that clearly state this as of yet and so I encourage the reader to look further into this, or perhaps shed some light on it.
The tour then guides you through Thailand’s rich and colourful history, from the Ayutthaya period to the beginning of the current Rattanakosin era and on to modern influences and possible future outcomes. Many of the exhibits are interactive and allow you the opportunity to use your hands or input ideas. As you follow the roong, you will learn about Thai Buddhism, warfare, trading, crafts, culture and modern Thailand. At the end of the tour you are encouraged to write messages in the “Thailand Tomorrow” room, which will be saved in a database and used for research in the future.
The Museum of Siam is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday and costs 100 baht for Thais and 300 baht for foreigners, though if you work in Thailand they will allow you in for the same price as Thais. A Black Canyon coffee shop is located within the museum grounds and the facilities are clean and well-maintained. To get to there, take a ferry to Memorial Bridge (N6) then walk through the flower market for about 10 minutes. The museum is on Sanamchai Road, not far from Wat Pho and other popular attractions. See a map of how to get to the museum here.