Housed in a former royal palace, the Bangkok National Museum is one of the largest and most impressive collections of art, history, and relics in Southeast Asia. Artifacts on display aren’t only of Thai origin—they come from all over Asia, and many once belonged in the private collection of King Rama IV.
Visiting the National Museum early in your trip to Thailand will provide a deeper understanding of the ruins and temples you see later in Sukothai, Ayutthaya, and elsewhere in the country. Even if you’re close to experiencing “wat burnout”—it happens in a place with as many temples as Thailand—some of the rare Buddha images on display are unlike any you’ve seen before.
The effort that would eventually grow into the Bangkok National Museum began on Sept. 19, 1874, by King Rama V. The objective was to provide public access to his father’s (King Rama IV) private collection of relics and antiquities.
To better protect and curate the extensive collection, the museum became managed by the Ministry of Culture’s Fine Arts Department in 1934.
The National Museum in Bangkok has experienced a lot of renovation in recent years. In 2018, displays and signboards were updated with better English descriptions, and improvements of the aging buildings are ongoing. Old online reviews about the museum may not take the improved effort into account. Some displays may be closed during your visit, though, so ask at the ticket counter if missing something specific is a concern.
- Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; closed Mondays and Tuesdays
- Phone: +66 2 224 1333
- Entrance Fee: 200 baht (around $6.50)
- Tours: English-speaking volunteers may offer free tours at the entrance but no guarantees.
You’ll need to walk outside between the scattered pavilions and buildings. Take an umbrella if visiting during Thailand’s rainy season.
How to Get to the Bangkok National Museum
The Bangkok National Museum is located on the northwest corner of Sanam Luang, the 30-acre field used for royal ceremonies. You’ll only have to walk about 10 minutes south (less than a kilometer) if coming from Khao San Road, but crossing some busy interchanges is necessary.
From elsewhere in Bangkok, taking a river taxi boat is an inexpensive, exciting way to get to the museum. Get off at the Maharaj pier. Walk east until you reach Sanam Luang, then turn left to skirt the grassy field. The Bangkok National Museum is about a 15-minute walk north.
Unfortunately, getting to the Bangkok National Museum using the BTS Skytrain or MRT isn’t very convenient. You could take the BTS to the Saphan Taksin station then transfer to a river taxi and go north on the Chao Phraya River. Taking a cab is probably less trouble; ensure the driver will use the meter!
Along with beautiful pavilions and spaces around the grounds, the Bangkok National Museum is home to three permanent galleries: Thai History, Archaeological, and Art History, and Decorative Arts and Ethnological Collection.
- Thai History Gallery: Housed in Siwamokhaphiman Hall, this gallery holds the Ram Khamhaeng Inscription. The stone pillar dates to 1292 and is considered by experts to be the earliest example of Thai script. The inscriptions tell of life in the ancient Sukothai Kingdom.
- Archaeological and Art History Gallery: In the back of Siwamokhaphiman Hall are the Prehistory Gallery and the Art History Gallery. Both cover centuries of Thai sculptures and artifacts. Some discoveries date back to the 6th century!
- Decorative Arts and Ethnological Collection: Although a mouthful to say, this gallery is often a favorite for visitors. You’ll see many precious stones, weapons that include samurai swords and rifles, traditional instruments, and ancient masks. The artifacts aren’t restricted to only Thai origin; they come from all over the world. Some items were gifts from world leaders to kings of Thailand.
Other Things to See at the Bangkok National Museum
The Buddhaisawan Chapel houses Phra Phutta Sihing, a sacred Buddha statue widely considered to be second in importance only to the Emerald Buddha housed at nearby Wat Phra Kaew. Colorful murals along the walls depict stories from the life of Buddha. English explanations are provided, so take advantage of an opportunity to learn! Proper dress is required.
The “Red House” is a visually stunning teak structure that was once the living quarters for a princess. Inside, you’ll get some idea of how royal family members lived at the time.
Golden, boat-shaped royal funerary chariots are an impressive part of the many displays.
What to See Nearby
The Bangkok National Museum is surrounded by interesting things to see. The nearest notable temple is Wat Mahathat, just a couple blocks to the south. This vipassana meditation center is also home to the largest amulet market in the city. Sundays are a real scene as people buy, sell, and swap magically blessed amulets.
A little farther to the south are the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (proper dress required), two of the busiest tourist attractions in Thailand. Across the grassy field from the National Museum is the Bangkok City Pillar (san lak muang). Nearly every major town and city in Thailand has an official pillar turned into a shrine. For obvious reasons, Bangkok’s is the most sacred.
Eating opportunities abound in the vicinity of the Bangkok National Museum. Enjoy something from one of the many street-food carts parked nearby.