The Grand Palace, Jim Thompson House, Dusit Palace – Bangkok’s most beloved attractions and museums are undeniably a day well spent, but there’s a whole lot more culture in the city if you fancy exploring Bangkok’s more unusual side.
Although less well known, and consequently less well attended by tourists, Bangkok is home to numerous museums catering to specific niches – some a little kooky, some definitely quite weird, all fascinating.
While these museums won’t appeal to everyone, for those with specific interests, they’re world class. Even those who visit with just a mild interest in the topics on display will go home having learned and explored something new.
Here are 11 of the most weird and wonderful museums in Bangkok, perfect for opening your eyes to interests and subjects you may not otherwise have explored…
Batcat focuses on – you guessed it – Batman, in all of his incarnations since 1960, and a host of other comic book superhero characters from the Marvel and DC universes. Pixar characters, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Masked Rider figures also make an appearance, and you’ll be unsurprised that the guys behind Batcat hit Thailand Comic Con hard every year.
Although purportedly Bangkok’s largest toy museum, Batcat is not terribly large and composed of just two large rooms and the Bat Barang Cafe for refreshments. Having said that, for comic book aficionados, it’s a must-see Bangkok museum just outside of the city in Bang Kapi.
Where: Near 3701 Thanon Sri Nagarindra, Hua Mak, Bang Kapi
How much: ฿250 (adults)
2. Siriraj Medical Museum
Forensic medicine museum
Otherwise known as the Museum of Death, Siriraj is one of the bastions of weird Bangkok and is treasured by morbid tourists, interested locals and those from within the medical profession.
The museum is actually comprised of five smaller museums which focus on anatomy, prehistory, pathology, parasitology and forensics respectively. Some of the exhibits are particularly gruesome, ranging from a mummified serial killer to preserved, dead foetuses and the body parts of murder victims.
Where: 2 Prannok Road, Bangkok Noi
How much: ฿40 (adults)
Fake goods museum
A quick trip to MBK or Khao San Road can quickly educate you that Thailand has a bit of a problem with forgery and cheap imitations – whether it’s DVDs, handbags or, er, identity documents. The Museum of Counterfeit Goods goes behind the black market trade for fakes in Thailand and reveals exactly who suffers when you pick up that cheap ‘Mulberry’ purse for a discount at the market.
The museum also teaches you how to discern whether a product is genuine or counterfeit so you can avoid being scammed, and the wider problem of intellectual property infringement as fakes flood Asia from China.
Where: 26th Floor Supalai Grand Tower, 1011 Rama III, Chong Nonsi
Open by appointment only
Admittedly a little niche even for us, the Philatelic Museum offers an indepth look at the history of the Thai stamp and the country’s postal system, going as far back as the mid-19th century to the reign of Rama IV. Although narrow in its view, the museum allows a fascinating glance into Thai society and progressiveness in communications, and will of course also appeal to avid stamp enthusiasts.
The museum is quite small but the collection itself impressively large, with a number of rare and exclusive stamps on display too. They also display a swathe of international stamps although the jewels in the crown are the Thai products and the post office memorabilia.
Where: Samsen Post Office, Thanon Phahonyothin
How much: Free!
5. National Museum of Royal Barges
Royal maritime museum
Thailand’s royal barges are objects of splendour and wonder across the world, and this museum in Bangkok Noi houses a special collection of some of the most beautiful that have been deployed through the years in the Royal Barge Procession. Some of the exhibits date back to Rama I’s reign over 200 years ago.
Although on the surface a maritime museum, the royal barges also offer a fascinating historic glimpse at the traditions of the royal family since the dissolution of the Ayutthaya kingdom. They also show the intersection between Thai royalty, Hindu culture and even animism – with each barge adorned with different animals each representing different points of Thai culture.
Where: 80/1 Thanon Arun Amarin, Bangkok Noi, Bangkok
Flower arranging museum
Exquisite floristry is a highlight of Thai culture and one routinely overlooked by those not immediately fascinated by Thai flowers and floral arrangements. This relatively new museum hopes to educate and shine a light on Thai floral culture by delving into both the history and traditions of the practice and exploring the role of flowers in important official occasions and religious ceremonies.
You can explore the museum on a guided tour, which details not only Thai floral culture, but that of other Asian countries too. Live creations of museum director Sakul Intakul, drawings and photos of floral artistry abound within the beautiful traditional teak house. There’s also a tea salon in the grounds for some refreshment post-tour.
Where: 315 Samsen Soi 28, Yaek Ongkarak 13, Dusit
How much: ฿150 (adults)
Here’s another entirely unique museum in the Bangkok roster, although the wonders of its 3,000-strong collection attract and satisfy even the initially only moderately interested crowd, thanks to exhibits like the huge, 300kg conch of the giant clam, for instance, and the mother of pearl on display.
The museum can be found in Silom, nearby Sirocco and other such attractions, so do drop in if you have a spare hour or so and fancy viewing a huge number of seashells collected from all over the world and from over 600 different species. There’s also a handful of rare shells, as well as those armed with poisonous darts potent enough to kill a human. Sea urchins, land snails and freshwater molluscs are also on display.
Where: 1043/1 Silom Road, next to Silom 23
How much: ฿200 (adults)
Wax figure museum
Although less well known than the global operation Madame Tussauds, the Human Imagery Museum is full of delicately crafted human figures from the realms of religion, royalty and politics. Most of the images are in fact made of fibreglass (thanks to Thailand’s climate, which is feared to melt waxworks), which ensures incredibly lifelike results and remarkably realistic textures.
While you won’t find the Hollywood celebrities of Madame Tussauds here, you will learn a great deal about Thai history and the country’s most important people. There are also sections dedicated to the family, the abolition of slavery by Rama V, and chess.
Where: 1 Boromratchanchonni Road, Nakhon Pathom
How much: ฿300 (adults)
9. The Royal Elephant National Museum
History of the white elephant museum
Located in Dusit Palace, the Royal Elephant Museum is a must-see to learn about that most regal and sacred of creatures – the white elephant, long appointed the official elephants of the Thai royal family. The museum details the heritage and traditions of the elephant and its place in Thai culture throughout history and today.
On display are elephant skins, figurines, accessories, images and tools used by mahouts in training, as well as exhibitions detailing the history of the beast and stories such as death by elephant. Although it’s a small museum, there’s plenty more to see within the Dusit Palace complex.
Where: 16 Uthong Nai Alley, Dusit, Bangkok
How much: Free!
Handcrafted Thai dolls museum
The Dolls Museum was established almost 60 years ago by Khunying Thongkorn Chanthawimol, a famous doll-maker trained in Tokyo. It’s now home to over 400 handcrafted Thai dolls, which are intricately researched so as to be faithful reproductions of the eras and people they are working to represent.
The dolls are split thematically between country people, classical dancers and dramatists, cuddly dolls, historic figures, hilltribe peoples and the Thai nativity. They are based on originals, murals and antique illustrations and are renowned throughout the world for their master craftsmanship. Many of the dolls are available for purchase.
Where: 85 Soi Ratchataphan, Bangkok
How much: Free!
Part of Chulalongkorn University and located in Siam Square, the Human Body Museum is a fascinating journey through the complexities of the human body. The centrepiece of this small museum are 14 bodies in various states of dissection that put on display everything in the body from your vital organs to your circulatory system, right down to the skeleton.
Compared to the Siriraj Medical Museum, you’re able to get pretty up close and personal with the bodies and you can even feel the weight of a real human brain in your hands thanks to the plastination process the dissected bodies have been through. Although this museum may be a little morbid for some tastes, there’s some cracking learning experiences to be had here.
Where: 9th Floor, Dentistry Faculty, Chulalongkorn University, Siam Square, Bangkok
How much: ฿300 (adults)
What’s your favourite unique museum in Bangkok?
Featured image is via Chulalongkorn University