© Mark Parren Taylor / Time Out
The Museum Siam doesn't mythologise 'Big Man' heroes or mould facts to the nation-building ideology. It presents in plain speaking, 'edutaining' displays, the hidden histories - social, economic, ethnic, cultural - of the Siamese peoples.
The biggest revelations concern the minority groups that together comprise the majority of what became touted in the early 20th century as a homogenous Thai race, as sung in the national anthem. Museum of Siam questions the very basis of 'Thainess' with signs like: 'Were the cavemen Thai?'
It is the first of several planned 'Discovery Museums' aimed at opening Thai minds to critical thinking. Through interactive displays - thin on artefacts, but high on dioramas - we encounter farmers, soldiers, Lao prisoners of war, Muslim settlers, Mon communities, Indian traders and, the most crucial of the various under-recognised groups, Chinese migrants.
Other sections explore the origins and mapping of this land, modernisation, Buddhism, street culture and foreign influences. The museum illustrates the coming of democracy by inviting visitors to read the news or to suggest policy or examine scenarios that some guardians of official Thainess would dread. Tellingly, it throngs with voluntary young visitors, unlike the old style museums.