Beyond ubiquitous street food stalls and tuk tuk rides are opportunities to learn more about Bangkok’s fascinating cultural heritage. Here’s a list of 11 great museums that will help you discover a new side to the city. They’re air-conditioned, too.
Bangkok is home to rare Buddhist relics, an exciting contemporary art scene and a beautiful textile heritage – which you should get acquainted with via the local museum circuit. Rattanakosin, the seat of Bangkok royalty, is home to the city’s highest concentration of museums, most of which are housed in grand, palatial buildings. Venture beyond the island and you’ll find other more niche spots, such as the Museum of Floral Culture, the Serpentarium, or a medical museum containing real life specimens for medical students to examine. So whether your interests lie in art, archaeology or embalmed body parts, these 11 museums will help you appreciate a different side to Bangkok.
Housed in a striking granite building in the north of Bangkok, the Museum of Contemporary Art Bangkok (MOCA) is dedicated to the new era of non-traditional Thai art inspired by Buddhism. Spread out across five floors, the 20,000-square-metre exhibition space makes it the largest art museum in Bangkok. The museum exhibits paintings by national artists including Chalermchai Kositpipat, Panya Vijinthanasarn and the late Thawan Duchanee. The admission fee is 250 baht (£6.60) for adults and 100 baht (£2.65) for students with ID.
Museum Siam for an immersive experience of Thai history
Inside the colonial-looking building, Museum Siam’s exhibition space spans over 3,000 square metres, making it one of the largest museums in Bangkok. As its name suggests, the museum’s main focus is the history of Siam, the former name of Thailand. This educational experience is made accessible through a mix of interactive screens and audiovisual tricks rather than old artefacts. Kids will love the main permanent exhibition, Essays from Thailand, which transports them back in time by a few thousand years. Get here by the MRT underground train, as the Sanam Chai station itself is also a great spot for photographs.
Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles to see royal attire up close
Located in Wat Phra Kaew, the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles traces the history of Thai clothing, fabrics and royal garments. Learn about how these precious textiles are made, what their patterns represent and the influences of other cultures. The highlights of the collection are the special occasion outfits designed by Pierre Balmain, which Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sirikit wore in the ’60s. The museum’s building also once served as the Ministry of Finance and the Office of Royal Ceremony. As it is located inside the Grand Palace, no shorts or flip flops are allowed (there’s a trouser rental service if needed).
The global popularity of Thai silk today is arguably due to the efforts of one man – James H Thompson, an American who helped the local weaver community introduce their craft to the world before mysteriously disappearing in 1967. The museum occupies Thompson’s former home and showcases his collection of Asian art and personal belongings from the post-World War II era. Although it’s just a short walk away from the busy Siam Square, the grounds offer a peaceful respite from the chaos of Bangkok. Make sure to try the traditional Thai desserts while you’re there, some of which are hard to find elsewhere.
The Museum of Floral Culture for artisanal and contemporary floral designs
All the flowers used in traditional Thai ceremonies possess different meanings, which you can learn about at the Museum of Floral Culture on Samsen Road. Founded by engineer-turned-artist Sakul Intakul, this compact museum turns a century-old colonial house into a six-room exhibition space that showcases the development of floral arrangements used throughout the history of Thailand. Wind down at the museum’s café, Dok Mai Thai Salon du Thé, where you can try flower-inspired tea sets. The museum also hosts a number of workshops, the details of which can be found on their Facebook page.
Meet Bangkok's reptilian residents at the Siam Serpentarium
The marshy banks of the Chao Phraya River were once a snake paradise – a fact that Bangkok’s reptilian residents like to remind its bipedal inhabitants of every now and again. In the past few years, the number of snake-related calls to the Fire and Rescue Department has roughly tripled, and you can learn more about why at the Siam Serpentarium. Located further out of town in Lat Krabang, the museum is divided into three zones. Start with the immersive exhibition explaining the snake’s life cycle, then see over 70 species of them at Snake Planet, including the rare Golden Cobra, before concluding your trip with a visit to the snake show at the museum’s 400-seat Naka Theatre. The ticket is priced at 550 baht (£14.50) for adults, and 250 baht (£6.60) for kids.
Find rare pieces of early Buddhist art at the Bangkok National Museum
The Bangkok National Museum was built in 1782 and turned into a palace in 1874 to display relics from the rule of King Rama IV. It is now home to a rare collection of early Buddhist artworks that can only be seen in Thailand (due to strict rules on exhibiting these relics). The exhibition in the front hall showcases Buddhist, Hindu and Khmer sculptures and totems from as far back as the Dvaravati Period (6th-11th centuries), while a huge Buddha head surveys the scene from the back of the room. Not only are the artefacts historic, but the building itself also tells its own story – once known as the Front Palace, the property used to be a royal residence for the vice king. Entry costs 200 baht (£5.30).
Situated closer to the city centre, the Science Centre for Education is a place that all Bangkok students must have visited at one point on a school trip. It’s a great spot to bring the kids for the afternoon, since they will enjoy the life-sized dinosaurs, interactive games and the natural science zone. The main attraction is the dome-shaped planetarium, where you can kick back and stargaze at the HD projection of the galaxy. For the English-language session, visit on Tuesday at 10am.
Coin Museum to dive into the history of the world's money
Situated in the Old Town between Khaosan Road and Sanam Luang, the Coin Museum is a great place to visit for history buffs. The development of Thai coins is not the only theme, though, as the exhibition also traces the origins of currencies in different continents. Besides the collection of coins from around the world, kids will enjoy walking inside the simulated cave showing 3D visuals of how people used to do transactions before coins existed. Admission is free, as are the guided tours.
The Bangkokian Museum is more of a home than a museum. Built in 1937 as a residence, comprising three houses in one compound, it provides a glimpse of what life was like for an upper middle-class family in Bangkok during the World War II era. Reflecting the era’s Western influence, the museum displays Thai takes on Western appliances, from toilet seats to transistor TV sets. As a lesser known museum, it’s also a good spot to find some peace in the home’s verdant garden. Visitors are not allowed to wear shoes inside the houses, so socks are recommended.
Siriraj Medical Museum for embalmed organs and body parts
Located inside Siriraj Hospital, the Siriraj Medical Museum was originally designed as a learning site for medical students. As such, visitors may find a lot of the specimens somewhat disturbing. Expect to see a lot of human organs, including babies, in glass containers. Another part of the museum is dedicated to the bodies of those whose lives were taken by different causes of death, such as a car accident or a gunshot wound. For those looking for a unique museum experience, the entry fee is 200 baht (£5.30).