Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Road to discovery

The Road to discovery

Bangkok's newest museum will encourage visitors to 'plearn'

Published on January 6, 2008

Why was Siam renamed Thailand? Why is the frog considered a sacred animal? What is sold in Ayutthaya's fresh market?

Thailand's brand new National Discovery Museum, which is scheduled is open in April, is designed to provoke questions just like these, as well as prompt visitors to delve deeper into the past, examine the present and explore the future.

Located in the former Commerce Ministry on Bangkok's Sanam Chai Road, the museum is conveniently located a stone's throw from the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

There's plenty to challenge the mind, starting from the first exhibition room, which offers an interactive introduction to ancient Suvarnabhumi. Many Thais will be delighted to trace their history back to this period, having failed to learn anything prior to the Sukhothai era from school textbooks.

And, best of all, the entire museum visit from Suvarnabhumi, Ayutthaya, Siam Prathet, Thailand in the 1960s, Thailand Today and Thailand Tomorrow, is a sensory feast.

Touch an old bangle and journey back in time as a screen reveals an old woman rising from an ancient tomb to tell her story and explain the burial rites that date back some 3,000 years.

In the Buddhism Room, listen to the preachings of the late Venerable Buddhadasa Bhikkhu and learn how animism has seamlessly fused with Brahmanism and Buddhism.

In the Founding of Ayutthaya room, admire and touch the colourful replicas of the magnificent royal barges before moving on to the War Room to learn ancient army ploys through interactive games. Youngsters will also be encouraged to write their thoughts on how they would like to see Thailand develop in the future.

The new museum, the prototype of Thailand's modern museums, aims to provide a learner-centred environment with the focus on "plearning" - a concept that has its roots in play and learning. The homonym in Thai also means to happily engross, or enjoy.

"It's a new approach to learning outside schools, which Thailand has been sadly lacking," says Apinand Poshyananda, chairman of the Office of Knowledge Management and Development.

The National Discovery Museum of the Institute of Discovery and Creative Learning is under the umbrella of the Knowledge Management and Development Office, which was established three years ago. Its sister units include Thailand Knowledge Park (TK Park), and the Thailand Creative and Design Centre.

The newly renovated three-storey building was built in 1922 during the reign of King Mongkut in simplified Italian Renaissance style by Italian architect MarioTamagno.

Nirut Loharangsi, a museum ambassador and four times winner of TV contest "Fan Pan Tae" on the history of Ayutthaya, is enthusiastic about the new museum.

"I love history but I've never been one for visiting museums in this country. But this one is intriguing. It offers a fresh image of how new generations can enjoy learning our history."

"I would rather call it a historical theme park than a museum," says Professor Surapone Wirulrak, acting director, Institute of Discovery & Creative Learning (IDCL), who envisages enlivening the museum even further with an array of art, cultural and historical activities plus temporary exhibitions with participants from alliances across the country.

"Our ancestors were involved in many things, which merit acknowledgement and celebration," continues Surapone, adding that we are Thai not because of race or religion but because of a culture of living together while accepting one another's differences. Surapone is proud of his mixed German, Scot, Mon, Chinese and Thai heritage.

More exhibition buildings as well as cafe and souvenir shop should be fully operational in the near future.

"I hope that visiting the museum will soon be a part of people's lifestyle," says Professor Chai-Anand Samudavanija, IDCL chairman.

Until April 2, as part of an introductory survey for readiness, groups of students are invited to visit the museum by appointment.

The museum is open Tuesday to Thursday from 9.30am to 6pm, on Friday to 9pm and on weekends to 7pm on weekends. Closed on Mondays. Admission is free. Call (02) 357 3999 extension 141/3, e-mail or visit

Aree Chaisatien

The Nation

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