If you are visiting the Grand Palace in Bangkok, make the short walk north along Sanam Luang to the excellent Bangkok National Museum. A wonderful collection of artefacts and treasures are housed in a former royal palace and the museum makes for a fascinating insight into Thai history.
History of the Bangkok National Museum
Constructed in 1782, Wang Na (‘The Front Palace’) was built at the same time as the Grand Palace. The original grounds that included Wang Na covered a much larger area and was surrounded by walls. Wang Na was once home to Viceroys; brothers of the ruling monarchs. The last Viceroy was during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and Wang Na was left empty for a number of years in the late 1800s before finding a new lease of life in 1887 when the Royal Museum, which had been housed within the Grand Palace complex, was moved to Wang Na.
In 1926, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) made the decision to convert all of the buildings at Wang Na into the new National Museum which he formally opened on November 10, 1926. New exhibition halls were added in the 1960s.
The Bangkok National Museum is home to a wide array of treasures and important artefacts. Some of the oldest items on display date back to prehistoric times with pottery from Ban Chiang (link to Udon Thani). Visitors will also see a vast array of religious items from across the eras, with statues of Buddha, Ganesh and Vishnu prominent. Highlights to look out at the National Museum include:
King Ramkhamhaeng’s first inscription
The famous stone obelisk was reportedly discovered in Sukhothai in the 1830s by the prince who would go on to be crowned King Mongkut (Rama IV). The stone features an inscription from King Ramkhamhaeng who ruled the ancient kingdom of Sukhothai during the 13th century. Regarded as a benevolent and wise ruler, King Ramkhamhaeng is sometimes referred to as the ‘Father of the Thai Language’ for his role in developing the Thai alphabet and system of writing.
Phra Buddha Singh image
For such a small statue, the story behind the Phra Singh statue is long and complicated. The original Phra Singh image is thought to have first appeared in Sri Lanka in the second century, but its precise age and origin remain unclear. To add to the mystery there are at least three Phra Singh statues in Thailand with each claiming to be the original. Besides the one in the National Museum in Bangkok there is a version in Nakhon Si Thammarat and one at Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai.
Royal funeral chariots
The Royal Chariot Garage at the National Museum is where the chariots used in royal funeral ceremonies are kept. More than 200 years old, the elaborate chariots have been used during royal cremation ceremonies since the start of the Chakri Dynasty.
Free information brochures available from the ticket office include a map with the layout of the museum. Rooms and exhibition halls are numbered to make the museum easier to navigate.
200 Baht for non-Thais (free for Thai people).
Wednesday to Sunday from 9am-4pm (closed on Monday, Tuesday and some national holidays).
English language tours (free to join) of the museum are run by the National Museum Volunteers and scheduled to begin at 9.30am on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
How to get to the Bangkok National Museum
The Bangkok National Museum is located just north of the Grand Palace complex in between the National Theatre and Thammasat University. The nearest Chao Phraya River boat piers are Tha Chang (N9) and Tha Phra Athit/Banglamphu (N13).