Thailand’s history is long and complicated, consisting of multiple kingdoms, eras, and political powers. The country is sprinkled with museums that help visitors learn about the country’s past, present, and oftentimes hinting at what the future might hold. Full of the Kingdom’s most memorable religious traditions, culture, arts, and more, these are the top 7 museums in Thailand.
Jim Thompson House Museum
The Jim Thompson House Museum showcases the American's collection of Asian art and personal belongings
Jim Thompson was an American who worked and lived in Thailand until his sudden and mysterious disappearance in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, 25 years after moving to the Land of Smiles. His story continues to intrigue all those who hear it, which is why the Jim Thompson House Museum tops our list. The house was created by Thompson himself, though it was never intended to be a house of comfort. Instead, he focused on the art, filling the teak home with pieces he collected from around Thailand. Thompson made Thai silkfamous around the world, and the museum touches on his successful career. Whether visitors are interested in Thai architecture, silk, or the disappearance of Thompson, this is one of the best historical finds in Bangkok. Guided tours are provided to all visitors.
The National Museum Bangkok is not one but many different buildings filled with art, furniture, royal barges, and more, all originating from the many different kingdoms of Thailand’s history. From the Buddha footprint from the Sukhothai Period to King Pinklao’s bedroom furniture, this museum is full of Thai artifacts. The museum is divided into buildings according to the type of artifact, with specific buildings for Thai history, handicrafts, archaeology, and more. In 1934, it was officially proclaimed a museum and has been impressing visitors since. Visitors can take guided tours with English, French, Japanese, and German-speaking guides on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 am. There is a ฿200 (US$5.75) admission fee.
The city of Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom from 1296. The city is the largest in northern Thailand, and it flourished as the kingdom’s capital until it was invaded by the Burmese in 1557. Relics of this kingdom remain in the city today, including at the Chiang Mai National Museum. The museum itself is relatively small, but it is chock-full of Lanna-style artifacts, including art, handicrafts, ceramics, and more. It goes into detail about the educational and economic developments of the city. The Chiang Mai National Museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 9 am to 4 pm.
The Thai-Burma Railway was constructed during World War II by Allied prisoners of war and Asian laborers. It is also known as the Death Railway, and the building of these tracks resulted in the deaths of some 12,000 Allied prisoners and an estimated 75,000-100,000 Asian laborers. Prisoners faced hunger, disease, infection, and the harsh rule of their Japanese captors. The Thai-Burma Railway Centre Museum does an effective job of explaining the history of this railway in an interactive and thoughtful way. There are a number of historical sites and museums relating to this railway in and around Kanchanaburi, but it is best to visit this one first. The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. There is a ฿120 (US$3.45) entrance fee for adults and ฿60 (US$1.70) for children aged 7-12.
The JEATH War Museum has realistic displays of what life was like for those building the Thai-Burma railway, and is a bit more shocking than the previous museum on this list. There is less information here, but more visual exhibitions, with displays of the bamboo huts prisoners slept in and haunting letters from the prisoners. Admission is ฿40 (US$1.15), and it is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm.
Kanchanaburi’s haunting history means many museums can be found here. This next on the list actually takes visitors to one of the areas where prisoners were held and forced to build, the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum. The land is eerily quiet and beautiful, making it almost difficult to imagine the pain and suffering that occurred here. One of the most noteworthy sites is the Hellfire Pass. The area was given this depressing name because the work and the atmosphere resembled hell. Prisoners had to work 18 hours a day, cutting the tough stone by hand with a hammer and tap. The Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum provides visitors with an audio guide, which makes it easy to follow along without a tour guide. It is haunting yet moving, and one of the best museums in Thailand. It was opened in 1998 by the Australian Government, to commemorate those who suffered and lost their lives there. The museum is open every day from 9 am to 4 pm.
The Phuket Trick Eye Museum is on the island of Phuket, and is an odd and entertaining way to spend an afternoon on the island. It is full of art, both permanent and temporary, and makes for some mind-blowing and confusing photography. Why view two-dimensional art when you can view three? The Phuket Trick Eye Museum is open every day from 10 am to 7 pm, but the last guests are allowed in at 6 pm. There is a ฿500 (US$14.50) entrance fee for adults and ฿250 (US$7.20) fee for children.