History at home

The Fine Arts Department's new virtual learning centre brings Thailand's bounty and splendour to your fingertips

From north and south to east and west, the Fine Arts Department is promoting its website http://www.virtualmuseum.finearts.go.th/index.php/en as a fun virtual learning centre, where future generations can explore more than 40 national museums around the country and trace their origins from home.

Phimanrattaya Palace.

Jaturamuk Pavilion.

The Phisai Salaluck Tower.

This pilot project aims to teach Thailand's history and cultural heritage while developing a learning ecosystem that utilises advanced technology to connect people of all ages, with a focus on sustainable, lifelong learning.

Drawing almost 2 million viewers, the website provides an audio guide in Thai and English, video clips, photographs, diagrams and e-books as well as online exhibitions that showcase a wide collection of rare artefacts that celebrate local wisdom and the magnificence of Thai arts.

Among the attractions are the National Museum Gallery; the National Archives; Silpa Bhirasri National Museum; Bangkok National Museum; Chao Sam Phraya National Museum; King Narai National Museum; and Nakhon Si Thammarat National Museum.

Our tour begins at the mouth of the Bangkok Noi Canal. It is home to the old Royal Barge Procession Dockyard, which became the Royal Barges National Museum in 1974 and currently houses eight of the 52 royal barges that have conveyed all the Chakri monarchs and royal families.

Showcasing first-class craftsmanship, the royal barge Suphannahong was reconstructed during the reign of King Vajiravudh and its name was taken from King Maha Chakkaphat's Sri Suphannahong royal barge, which was crafted in 1548.

Its gold prow is shaped to resemble a legendary swan and embellished with gilded lacquer and mirrored glass, while the hull is black on the outside and red on the inside. A pavilion sits in the middle of the barge to house the Ratcha Banlang Kanya throne for the monarch and his royal family. In 1992, Suphannahong received the World Ship Trust Maritime Heritage Award.

The Sua Pa Club Building.

Songkhla National Museum.

A miniature city depicts how Songkhla converted itself into a major trading hub on the Malay Peninsula.

Moored alongside, the royal barge Anantanakkharat was first built during the reign of King Rama III and recreated by King Vajiravudh. Its name refers to god Vishnu's chariot, the king of the serpents.

The gold gilded bow looks like a seven-headed naga and is decorated with mirrored glass. Its hull comes in green on the outside and red on the inside. The barge also has a tiered-roof shrine of a Buddha image and robes for religious ceremonies.

The newest to the fleet is the Narai Song Suban HM King Rama IX Royal Barge. It was constructed in 1996 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's accession to the throne. Coated with gold lacquer, the prow was carved into a form of the four-headed god Vishnu riding the Garuda.

Also on view is a pair of Phali Rang Thawip and Sukhrip Krong Muang barges with a cannon porthole. They were originally built during the reign of King Rama I as a reminiscence of the Ramakien epic.

A green figurehead of a crowned monkey, who crossed the sea to pay homage to Surya, the solar deity, is installed on the Phali Rang Thawip barge. Alongside, the Sukhrip Krong Muang barge boasts a red figurehead of a crowned monkey, Phali's younger brother, who ascended to the throne of the Khitkhin kingdom after him.

Visiting the old capital of the Ayutthaya kingdom, Chankasem Palace will transport visitors back to when eight monarchs and princes such as King Naresuan, King Ekathotsarot, Prince Suthat, King Narai and King Borommakot once resided here.

Located on the bank of Pasak River, it was erected during the reign of King Mahathammarachathirat and abandoned after the second fall of Ayutthaya. The compound was revamped by King Rama IV and was converted into a museum during the reign of King Chulalongkorn.

The Royal Barges National Museum showcases eight of the 52 royal barges.

Browsing around, visitors can explore the wood Jaturamuk Pavilion, which has an expansive brick and concrete terrace with sculptures of mythical creatures like the Garuda, Phiman swan, a dragon and 33-head elephants serving as guardians.

Just a stone's throw away, Phimanrattaya Palace was built during the reign of King Rama VI and features two European and Thai-style buildings in parallel, which once served as the Ayutthaya Office in 1896.

The four-storey Phisai Salaluck building was believed to be constructed by King Narai, and King Chulalongkorn restored it as an observatory tower on the same foundation. Next door, the Sua Pa Club building with Panya-style architecture was built for civil boy scouts' meetings during the reign of King Mongkut before being transformed into the Office of National Library.

Visitors also can admire a wide selection of artefacts and personal objects from King Mongkut's chamber, such as water filters, ceramic wares, sacred Buddha statues in the style of Lopburi and Ayutthaya, bronze ware created between the 15th and 18th centuries, and pottery from the Ayutthaya period.

The virtual journey continues to Suphanburi National Museum, which has integrated multimedia technology and antiques to educate people about history, anthropology, local literature and popular folk songs.

This two-storey museum was set up in 1995 and is divided into 10 zones. The Muang Suphan room demonstrates Suphanbuti's evolution from prehistoric times to current days through a collection of artefacts discovered in various archaeological sites across the city.

Dated to 1592, the Muang Yutthahatthi Elephant War room is designed to resemble a battlefield in Don Chedi and offers visitors a front row seat to witness the historical fight on elephants between King Naresuan and Myanmar's Mingyi Swa, which is projected on the wall.

Suphanburi National Museum offers a multimedia exhibition to take visitors back to the region’s origins.

The Khon Suphan zone presents a multimedia exhibition on the prehistoric period before this city became a multicultural land, in which descendants of Thai, Chinese, Lawa and Lao Krang have coexisted peacefully.

The Suphanburi Sasanasilp Religious Art zone showcases a rare collection of artworks and artefacts, including an 800-year stone statue of a seated Buddha protected by by the seven-headed naga as well as the highly revered votive tablets from Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, Wat Phra Rub, Wat Ban Krang and Wat Chummum.

At the same time, the Muang Suphan Wannakam Literature room is designed to resemble a mini theatre in which some talented artists will perform two classic Thai poems -- Khun Chang Khun Phaen and Nirat Suphan to represent Thai customs and the way of local life.

At the Folk Song corner, there's also a line of jukeboxes, and visitors can enjoy hit songs by renowned Thai singers from the 1960s to 1980s such as Kan Kaewsuphan, Surapon Sombatcharoen, Waipot Petsuphan, Sayan Sanya, Sornpet Sornsuphan and Phumphuang Duangchan.

Heading south to Songkhla National Museum, here visitors can learn about the ancient city of Langkasuka, unique multicultural charms and marine trade on the Malay Peninsula through an interesting exhibition of artefacts and old photographs in 14 different themes.

The Muang Yutthahatthi Elephant War room recounts the historic battle between King Naresuan and Mingyi Swa.

Chankasem Palace.

Behind the entrance, visitors will be greeted with the first open-air chamber, which is devoted to the "Songkhla Way Of Life". Formerly known as Singora, this southern town of Songkhla is bordered by the Andaman Sea and Songkhla Lake, making it an ideal location for settlement. To depict the lifestyle of seaside communities and fishermen, this room is lined with an old wood paddle boat and earthenware.

Scrolling into the Prehistoric Songkhla room, you will find a collection of stone tools, bronze drums and human burials in the Neolithic period, implying that humans settled in Songkhla over 6,000 years ago.

There's a room of a miniature city illustrating how Songkhla had adopted modern technology from China, Hong Kong, Penang and Singapore to develop its infrastructure systems and turn itself into a thriving trading hub for marine merchants from China, Malaysia, Singapore and Europe.

A tour can end up at a sacred chamber, home to timeworn statues of Avalokitasavara Bhodisatava, god Shiva, god Vishnu, Patthamapani Bhodisatava, Sompol Bhodisatava and Lord Buddha from the 8th to 15th centuries as Hindu and Buddhist beliefs had extended their influence from India to Siam.


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