Thai's pride in history not extended to its museums

Thai's pride in history not extended to its museums
A Thai temple in Ayuthaya

When was the last time you visited a museum in Thailand? I am afraid that most Thais, with the exception of school students, would answer, "Years ago, when I was at school."

Few people take the time anymore, despite the fact that Thailand has, arguably, the highest number of museums in Southeast Asia.

The Kingdom boasts well over a thousand museums across the country. A study by the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre reveals that 26 per cent of these museums are temple museums, 4 per cent are community museums, and 14 per cent private museums. Of all the museums in Thailand, 25 per cent are educational-institute museums, 21 per cent are national museums or government agency-run museums, and the rest come under local administrative bodies.

These museums take on the daunting task of telling visitors about the history of Thailand and educating them about her local culture and traditions.

But how can these museums achieve their goals given the fact they attract so few visitors?

In fact, the museums' boring image is probably a reason why Thais in general know so little about their country's history.

Even the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has complained that Thais should learn more about the history so their pride in and their love for their roots can deepen.

Many Thai museums simply display exhibits in show cabinets with explanation boards posted alongside. Such presentation techniques diminish the appeal of Siamese antiques as well as precious and beautiful art objects.

So, despite the country's rich culture and long history, Thai museums in general have failed to impress.

Few Thais will eagerly visit museums in the hope of learning about their country's past.

Visiting students agree to jot down information from the museums' boards only because their teachers require them to compile a report.

Most visitors to Thai museums generally go from one exhibition room to the next quietly, without much enthusiasm. No one eagerly raises questions, even when a guide is present.

The atmosphere is not fun. Even though Museum Siam has a creative touch, it is far from impressive. Its exhibitions on what constitutes Thainess, often becomes just a photo corner. Visitors are unlikely to get a clear message if no one is around to provide further explanation. The presentation is still not effective. At other corners, games look interesting but visitors must spend a lot of time reading the instructions. That may prove too complicated.

As a result, neither the Bangkok National Museum - Phra Nakhon, which was established in the reign of King Rama V, nor the Museum Siam, a relatively new facility with a big budget, are on the must-see list for visitors to Bangkok.

Le Louvre, one of the most famous museums in the worl, by contrast, is a Paris landmark. Without a tour of Le Louvre, visitors would have difficulty boasting they'd seen Paris.

Some may argue that Le Louvre is one of the world's greatest museums and, thus, is beyond comparison. But to be honest, I have visited a museum in Vientiane and found that it was more interesting than most Thai museums because it has capable guides.

So, I believe both the government and the private sector must review their approach to developing and managing museums in Thailand.

When more than 10,000 people in Nakhon Pathom province gathered earlier this month to make clear that they would protect the only national museum in their hometown, one thing became clear: people care about their cultural and historical heritage. It's just that key policy makers must know how to engage them and turn museums into sources of knowledge, inspiration and love/pride for Thailand.

If the authorities adopt the right approach, we perhaps may see celebrations to mark International Museum Day next year. International Museum Day, which falls on May 18 every year, has passed silently in Thailand for too long.

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