You may not associate museums in Bangkok with a good day out, but there are actually a surprising number of quality institutions scattered across the city that will appeal to culture vultures.
Tourists and locals alike hoping to find out more about what makes Thailand tick can find a wealth of fascinating art and history in Bangkok’s museums — from ancient to modern — to give them true insight into this magnificent country.
Here’s our pick of the best of them…
The Best Museums in Bangkok
Bangkok National Museum
Just a short stroll away from Bangkok’s majestic Grand Palace, the Bangkok National Museum is sadly often overlooked by tourists in the city.
Situated right next door to Thammasat University in a former royal palace, the museum was founded in 1887 by King Rama V. Since that time the museum has been expanded and renovated, and a rich collection of historical artefacts and important treasures has been amassed by the museum’s curators.
There are three permanent exhibitions in place, with three separate wings of the building dedicated to Thai history, decorative arts and ethnology, and archaeology and art history respectively. These exhibits give a comprehensive view of the prehistory of Thailand right up to the modern day.
They include a fine selection of the most sacred Buddha images in the country, as well as ancient handicrafts, ceramics, antique instruments, weaponry and textiles.
Bangkok National Museum is open from 09:00 – 16:00 Wednesday to Sunday and can be found on Na Phrothat Road, near the Grand Palace. The museum also offers excellent guided tours twice a week.
A popular museum in central Bangkok, Jim Thompson House is not just one house, but is in fact composed of six authentic traditional Thai teak houses which were moved to their current location from various places in Thailand.
The mastermind of this construction project was Jim Thompson, an American ex secret service agent who found himself stranded in Bangkok after the war and who became profoundly captivated by the city’s charms. He revived the silk industry there and made Bangkok his home.
Thompson used his architectural expertise to create this elegant house design, and filled it with a carefully selected collection of beautiful Thai antiques and art.
After his mysterious sudden disappearance in 1967, his house became the museum that it is today. Set in fabulous landscaped gardens on the banks of the Saen Saeb Canal, the building is arguably even more enthralling than its contents.
You can visit Jim Thompson House by taking the BTS (Skytrain) to the National Stadium Station. It’s just a short walk from there up Soi Kaseman 2. Opening hours are 09:00-18:00 and you will be treated to a guided tour during your visit.
Here’s a little video tour around the Bangkok museum:
For the best showcase of contemporary Thai art and design, the futuristic Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) is where you need to be.
This huge, gleaming building is a buzzing hive of expansive galleries, chic cafes and eateries, boutiques and art libraries, and exhibitions are regularly changing to keep the works on show fresh and exciting. An impressive central spiral staircase twists upwards through the interior, allowing visitors to explore nine storeys of paintings, sculptures and installations.
Many of the local artists are on hand in their gallery spaces to discuss their processes and ideas, and often have original artworks for sale.
Situated opposite the famous MBK shopping centre, the BACC offers a hip, happening and quirky place for artistic exchange. Whilst it may not be ‘fine’ art, it is nevertheless an excellent platform for up and coming Bangkok artists and is well worth visiting.
To explore this creative space, catch the BTS to National Stadium stop where you’ll find the BACC a stroll away at 939 Rama I Road opposite the MBK centre. Opening hours are 10:00-21:00 daily except Mondays.
Bangkok Folk Museum
This little known, living museum is the former home of the Surawadee family, the last remaining member of which sadly passed away at the beginning of 2017.
Built in 1937, this tiny museum is a hidden gem of award-winning classical Thai architecture which presents a slice of Thai life and style from decades ago. Frozen in time, everything in the house looks as if someone just walked out and left it minutes earlier.
The museum is made up of three separate houses filled with high quality traditional furniture, decorative items and artefacts, cooking utensils, dinner services and other objects that a privileged family of the times owned and used. It also clearly shows the western influences of the period, with an early western style toilet and dressing room.
The rooms inside the traditional teak structures are painted in beautiful colours, and the whole ensemble is surrounded by lush tropical gardens.
The Bangkok Folk Museum is located on Soi Charon Krung 43, and is easiest to get to by boat, stopping off at Si Phraya Pier or by Skytrain at Taksin Bridge station. It’s open from 10:00- 16:00 Wednesdays through Sundays.
There’s no admission fee but donations are welcome.
Right in the beating heart of Sukhumvit is the Kamthieng House Museum, but this Bangkok museum is a far cry from the throbbing concrete jungle just outside its doors.
Run by the Siam Society and sponsored by the Thai royal family, Kamthieng is a remarkable little preserved traditional village designed to show how rural Lanna communities lived 700 years ago in the Chiang Mai area. The timber houses that are home to the museum’s artefacts are themselves relics of a bygone era.
They were originally built in Chiang Mai in 1848, but were relocated to Bangkok at a later date to better preserve them and their contents.
There are displays of indigenous crafts such as weaving and woodcarving, as well as ritual curios that give insight to the Lanna peoples’ spiritual beliefs. There is also an emphasis on agricultural methods with traditional tools on display as well as cooking apparatus.
There’s also a more hi-tech exhibit of a 3D animation short-film that takes viewers on a journey through Lanna culture, including demonstrating traditional ceremonies and rituals, house building, and construction of weirs and irrigation systems.
If you’d like to visit Kamthieng House Museum it’s open Tuesday to Saturday from 09:00 – 17:00. It’s situated not far from Terminal 21 shopping mall on Sukhumvit Soi 21, a five minute walk from Sukhumvit MRT and Asoke BTS stations.
Old and new worlds blend harmoniously at the Museum of Siam. A stunning neoclassical mansion plays host to a marvelously modern museum with fun and innovative interactive exhibits to capture the imagination, which take you on a voyage through time to explore the origins of the Thai people and their culture.
This ‘hands on’ museum is very family friendly, with enough videos and games to keep the kids entertained and educated, as well as the adults.
The essence of the Museum of Siam is to attempt to answer the question ‘What does it mean to be Thai?’
The museum’s different rooms cover various different aspects of Thai history, from Buddhism and the foundations of the ancient kingdom of Ayutthaya, to contemporary Thailand and the lifestyle Thais are living today. Exhibits are geared up for foreigners, with comprehensive English subtitles or voiceovers.
The museum is open 10:00 to 18:00 Tuesday to Sunday and is situated between Maharat Road, Sanamchai Road and Soi Setthakan, just south of Wat Pho and only a couple of hundred metres walk from Tha Tien express boat pier.
In the 1950s Thai royalty Prince and Princess Chumbhot made this attractive collection of traditional Thai buildings their private Bangkok residence, which was soon after converted to a museum by the couple.
The lush landscaped gardens provide a pretty place to cool down away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok’s busy streets.
Four houses which date back to the 1800s form this attractive mini palace, and are connected by stylish walkways. One of the four is a fully restored Lacquer Pavilion decorated with gorgeous gold and black lacquer murals portraying Bhuddist and Indian stories and legends.
Within each building is displayed the prince and princess’s own collection of tasteful works of art, royal family heirlooms, furniture and other decorative items. There is also an impressive antique royal barge on show, and the Chumbot-Pantip Centre of Arts which houses an assortment of prehistoric artefacts and pottery, shares the same site.
Phaya Thai is the nearest BTS station, and a ten minute stroll along along Sri Ayudhaya Road will bring you to the museum. Suan Pakkad Palace is open daily from 09:00 – 16:00.
Which are your favourite Bangkok museums?