Quick trip overseas in the region? Add these museums in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and more to your plans.
If you’re an arty vacationer, a weekend getaway from Singapore wouldn’t be complete without checking out these museums in Southeast Asia. Whether you’re a self-proclaimed aesthete, a lover of fine art or an absolute culture vulture, here are some of the best museums in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and more that showcase the best of Southeast Asia.
Keeping modern art fresh in Jakarta
About time a modern city like Jakarta deserves a centre for modern art. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN) is the first institution of its kind in Indonesia, providing public access to a significant and growing collection of modern and contemporary art from Indonesia and around the world. The Museum has an active program of exhibitions and events in a 4,000 square meter facility including onsite education and conservation spaces. The immensely popular Yayoi Kusama’s exhibit, Life is the Heart of the Rainbow also made a stop in Jakarta at MACAN.
Museum MACAN, AKR Tower Level MM, Jalan Perjuangan No. 5, Kebon Jeruk, RT.11/RW.10, Kb. Jeruk, Kota Jakarta Barat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 11530, Indonesia
Skip the malls and check out some contemporary art in Bangkok
Set in the busy shopping area across the road from mega malls like Siam Square and MBK, the city’s foremost art centre hosts temporary contemporary art exhibitions across its nine floors, as opposed to permanent collections you are accustomed to in most museums. From student art to eclectic mixed media work, the exhibit roster switches up from time to time so there’s always something fresh to see.
BACC, 939 Rama I Rd, Khwaeng Wang Mai, Khet Pathum Wan, กรุงเทพมหานคร 10330, Thailand
For a glimpse of Javanese culture in the past
Ullen Sentalu museum in Yogyakarta showcases many aspects of Javanese culture. Considered one of the best museums in the country, the place is sprawled over four main areas, browse through old photographs, paintings, fabrics, old letters and statues. One of the highlights of the place is the batik exhibition from Solo and Yogyakarta where you can learn about the different styles from around the country, what the motifs mean and more.
Ullen Sentalu Museum, Jalan Boyong KM 25, Kaliurang Barat, Hargobinangun, Sleman, Kabupaten Sleman, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55582, Indonesia
Be inspired by Indonesia’s traditional art
Nothing represents Indonesia better than the wayang. The three-dimensional wooden puppets (Wayang Golek) and two-dimensional leather shadow puppets (Wayang Kulit) are one of the best preserved and longest-cherished art forms in the country. The puppeteer re-enacts stories dating back to Hindu times, but many of the themes remain relevant to modern Indonesian life. Did we mention? The collection here is extensive.
Museum Wayang Jl. Pintu Besar Utara No.27, Jakarta Barat
Take a look at Cambodia’s largest prison
Due to the graphic nature of the museum’s history, you may want to leave the kids (and the squeamish) out of this experience. When in Phnom Penh, head to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the learn more about the country’s turbulent past, chronicling the Cambodian genocide in the late ’70s. Previously a school, the site was then converted into a prison and interrogation centre by the Khmer Rouge regime, before it was transformed into a museum showcasing displays of photographs and more to remind visitors of the dark and painful events that transpired during those years.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, St 113, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Understand the Vietnam War
One for modern history buffs – the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City discloses the brutal effects of the Vietnam War. Expect disturbing posters and photographs from My Lai Massacre, displays of US armoured vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs, infantry weapons, as well as replicas of torture devices such as the guillotine and the ‘tiger cages’ that were used to lock up Viet Cong prisoners. Prepare to get major goosebumps.
The War Remnants Museum, 28 Võ Văn Tần, Phường 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Admire Islamic arts in Malaysia
Instead of travelling all the way to the Middle East, why not check out the Islamic Arts Museum right in the heart of our neighbouring city – Kuala Lumpur? Housing decorative arts from one of the world’s largest religions – which also happens to be Malaysia’s major faith – this adorned domed museum is packed with captivating displays of intricately-designed carpets, stunning jewellery, beautiful calligraphies, traditional interiors and more from around the world. Feast your eyes on a part of the cloth that covers the Kaaba in Mecca (aka the Kiswah), the Quran, and scaled models of Islamic buildings such as the Great Mosque in Mecca and the Taj Mahal in India.
Islamic Arts Museum, Jalan Lembah Perdana, Tasik Perdana, Wilayah Persekutuan, 50480, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Visit Southeast Asia’s biggest museum in Bangkok
Visiting Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace? Add this to your Bangkok to-do list and pop by the National Museum next door! Built in 1782, the site that was once the palace of Rama I’s viceroy, Wang Na, is now a museum showcasing three permanent exhibitions that display a plethora of impressive Thai art, artifacts, well-preserved murals and one of the most revered images of Buddha, Phra Phuttha Sihing. You’ll also find relics of the country’s rich history, including key events and figures from the eras of Sukhothai and Ayuthaya.
Bangkok National Museum, 4 Th Na Phra That, Bangkok, Thailand
Dig deeper into the Philippine’s culture and history
Smack in the heart of Manila’s business district, Makati City, is the must-visit Ayala Museum. Witness the country’s largest collection of rare and priceless cultural and historical treasures, including paintings by artists such as Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo and Fernando Zobel. You’ll also spot artifacts like tools, weapons, musical instruments, clothes, body ornaments and objects used in rituals by the Filipino minority communities.
Ayala Museum, Greenbelt 4, Ayala Centre, Manila, Philippines