“Decoding Thainess” at Museum Siam

27 December 2017, Voralak Suwanvanichkij

Housed in a 19th century European-style building, Museum Siam employs a variety of media to explore Thai history and culture through a unique lens. Having been closed for around 18 months, the museum recently re-opened, launching “Decoding Thainess” as its new permanent exhibition.

In 14 rooms spread over two floors, Decoding Thainess explores what it means to be Thai in the broad context of history, politics, pop culture, food, popular beliefs, and more. Using a variety of sensory approaches, each room features its own theme in no fixed sequence; visitors are free to browse any room in any order they please.

Some rooms present metaphorical concepts, especially on the third floor, starting with the “Is this Thai?” room. Here, a Lady Gaga mannequin in a skimpy costume wearing the traditional Thai chada headdress greets visitors. Referring to the singer’s controversial act from her 2012 Bangkok concert, such imagery questions what Thainess means in this changing world. What is acceptable and what isn’t? And why? Other highlights include an interactive puzzle room that introduces the three pillars of Thai society, and an account of how Thainess was influenced and shaped by modern political history using iconic imagery and objects cased in hydraulic modules, choreographed to lighting, music, and sound.

Other rooms are more straightforward (and fun for children). Dress up in costumes and take photos, delight in quirky kitsch items, check out animist and religious objects of worship, play a variety of board games about Thai traditions, sit in classrooms (and see how nationalism has been integrated in the education system), learn about famous Thai dishes, and more.

From solemn royal artistry and temple architecture based on Buddhist cosmology, to tuk tuks, lottery tickets, blue-white flip flops, and drinks served in plastic bags, “Decoding Thainess” imparts a sense of the diversity behind the spirit of things classified as Thai. The hands-on displays are both entertaining and educational, using unconventional and creative ways to tell the stories.

For a more in-depth experience, visitors can rent free headsets (with Thai, English, German, Chinese or Japanese commentary) to guide them through the rooms. Bring an ID card to exchange for a headset.

Museum Siam is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am to 6pm daily (last admission is around 4pm).  The admission fee is 100 baht per adult (resident of Thailand), 200 baht per foreign visitor, and 50 baht per student.

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