In Thailand both the government and individuals often speak about “Thainess”, the essence of being Thai. It is often an easy way to justify acts — especially in politics — which would raise considerable questions in other countries. The term has been also widely used by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to promote traditional activities in the country, such as Muay Thai, mediation, and/or massage. However, what stands behind the term “Thainess”?
One museum has been trying now for a decade to define the quintessence of being Thai. The Museum Siam, which is located in a beautiful building constructed in Italian style (originally built to serve as a palace and then as the Ministry of Commerce), explains all about the creation of the Siamese nation and the development of the Kingdom. It looks also at the various ethnic and social groups shaping the Thai nation.
A special exhibition at the museum also takes a look at “Thainess” through objects, and via the ways Thais look at life. The exhibition, which has been closed for over a year, just reopened a couple of weeks ago with a new permanent display. “Decoding Thainess” now replaces the museum’s old permanent exhibition, and brings with it a different perspective; examining Thai society through time, and looking at the evolution of its identity up until the present day. In an interview with the Bangkok-based newspaper The Nation, Rames Promyen, the Director of Museum Siam, indicated that the exhibition has been carefully reassessed following more than five years of research and feedback from museum visitors.
The exhibition is divided into 14 themes and subjects, and for the first time in Thailand, “Decoding Thainess” is fully interactive.
“The exhibition will certainly be the first of its kind in Thailand, utilising advanced technology and interactive storytelling tools to inform visitors of how Thai society came to be,” said the director to the newspaper. Objects, toys, movies, newspapers, sounds, and pictures will be shown along the 14 rooms of what defines, today, Thailand’s identity.
The Museum Siam is a perfect place to visit for both foreign and local travellers. And it can be a good alternative to the nearby Grand Palace, which is today increasingly crowded by influx of Chinese tourist groups. In addition, a new MRT (subway) station set to open soon will give direct access to the museum.