Day 5. The National Museum

We got up a little early, since we wanted to get the the Bangkok branch of the Thailand National Museum by 9:30 so we can take the weekly free English tour. It was raining on the way to the museum, and for a time while we were on the skytrain it was pouring. No matter, though, museums are perfect for rain days.

We did have a minor setback on the way there; we took the river taxi to a dock a little north of the one we took the last day, and got off on N10, or Tha (pier, in Thai) Phran Nok (see map here), in the hopes that we could take a cross-river ferry and get to Tha Prachan, or at least Tha Makarat, both of which are a good bit closer to the museum. Unfortunately, the cross-river ferry took us back to N9, or Tha Chang, so we had a bit of a walk to the museum. No big deal, though, as we got to walk along the Sanam Luang, which is a big open area adjacent to the Grand Palace where various ceremonies take place. It's pretty much the only large open area in the part of Bangkok, which is the old city, so to speak.

In any case, although we were a few minutes late, we made it. Tickets were 50 baht, or about $1.60, each. A good deal any way you look at it. So we found the English tour, which had only just started. At that point, there was only one problem; the woman who was giving the tour was so quiet, I could barely make out what she was saying. The first part of the tour was outside, and she was completely drowned out by traffic on the road in front of the museum. Soon, we moved into the first building, which is called Buddhaisawan Chapel, and contains the second most sacred Buddha image in Thailand. Around the inside of the chapel was painted scenes from Buddha's life. The tour guide took us around to several of the more famous ones and explained them, although she was generally drowned out by a woman giving a tour in Japanese on the other side of the building.

Here's the exterior of Buddhaisawan Chapel.

We weren't allowed to take pictures of the interior, which is too bad, since it was very beautiful.

Afterwards, we moved on to some of the other buildings, and the guide explained a some of the other collections. At this point, we were in a somewhat quieter area, and I was able to hear more of what she said, although by no means all of it. Although quiet (and with a habit of looking away from us as she talked) she was very knowledgeable, and gave us an extensive lecture on the various styles of Buddha sculptures in the collection.

The tour lasted about two hours, and ended in a large structure that contained a huge collection of funeral chariots. These things are amazingly elaborate. One was so large that she said that it took 140 people to pull it, and I believe her. They are used to pull the remains of royal family members to the location of their cremation (which takes place on the aforementioned Sunam Luang. In fact, the king's sister had recently died, and she will be taken to the cremation location in a chariot like these.

After the tour was over, we had an excellent lunch at a restaurant on the grounds of the museum.
Like many buildings in Thailand, this one was open air. Not really a use to seal things up when it's 100 degrees in winter, I guess. Most of the older buildings at the museum we not air conditioned, either, but it wasn't that hot that day, so it wasn't a big deal. It was also, of course, very cheap. Two entrees, a large water, a soda and a beer was 230 baht, or about $7. And the food was really really good. I had one of my new favorites, which is Chicken with chilies and holy basil. Awesome. I had it for the first time at the place the day before, and started ordering it a lot.

After lunch we walked around the museum on our own for a while. While we were touring the newest building, something really funny happened. This building had a new, really nice state-of-the-art exhibit on the history of Thailand, and was very interesting. However, while we were there, there were also numerous school groups touring the building as well. While they were looking around, there was a school teacher that was blaring out a discussion into a microphone the entire time. It was so amazingly loud, and the kept it up almost the whole time we were there. It was kind of annoying, particularly since we couldn't understand her, but it was so funny it was hard to be annoyed. We were laughing about it the whole day. The best part was that the kids were running around, talking and playing, and couldn't have been paying less attention. It was hilarious.

One of the coolest things in this exhibit was a stone inscription (shown in the link above) that exhibits the oldest known example of the Thai script. Except for the screaming, it was very cool.

We looked around a lot more of the museum, and although there are no pictures of interiors, there was a lot of cool sculpture. With the assistance of the tour guide, we could really notice the difference between Buddha sculptures from the different areas and time periods. There was also an interesting (at least to me) exhibition on the prehistory of Thailand.

One funny thing. In the older buildings, the display cases did not have any locks. They had little pieces of string with wax seals, but anyone could have opened them and taken stuff. It was really funny. Based on what I saw (both this and other things), and everything I have read, the Thai people are very honest. Many times at markets I would see shopkeepers leave thier stalls unattended for a long time while making an offering at the shrine (there was one at every market, always with food and incense offerings) or to get food. No one ever seemed to be worried that anyone would steal anything. As an aside, there was never a time anywhere we were in Thailand where we felt anything less than totally safe.

Here are some other photos of things around the museum.

A fancy chariot or cart.

The place was well defended.
Another ceremonial structure.
This is called the Red House. It is a traditional Thai house, although one of an upper class person, as demonstrated by the large size and decoration.

Overall, we walked around the museum for about six hours. Afterwards, we were tired, and walked back to the pier to take a river taxi back to the skytrain, then back to the hotel.

I think I mentioned that the river taxis do not tarry at the docks. Here is a video of us coming into the dock. If you listen, you can hear the boatswain whistle the guy in the back uses to signal the pilot while docking. You can also hear the long whistle he gives when it is time to get going again. And yes, we unloaded passengers during this stop.

So, yeah, when it's time to get off the boat, you'd better be ready.

We were very tired that night, so we just had dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was actually quite good. We didn't want to wander too far, since we were leaving the next day for Chiang Mai.


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