One of the latest major tourist attractions to open in Thailand is the “Dragon Descendants Museum” in Suphanburi Province. Like the Erawan Museum in Samut Prakan that is shaped like a three-headed elephant, this museum is also a “Wonder of Thailand”. One of those rare places where perhaps the building itself is more interesting and beautiful than the artifacts it holds within. In the case of this museum, the building is in the shape of a giant dragon. It dominates the landscape as you drive towards the city pillar shrine. The brightly coloured dragon, which is made of fiberglass, is 135 meters long and 35 meters high. It is 18 meters wide.
The museum had it official opening on December 24th 2008. However, we were invited up there the day before for a special tour led by Khun Weerasak Kowsurat, the ex-minister of tourism and sports. This has been a special project that he has personally helped with since the initial concept ten years ago. The museum was the brainchild of Banharn Silpa-archa when he was the prime minister of Thailand back in 1996. He decided that he would build a unique museum that would celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between the People’s Republic of China and Thailand. The museum took ten years to plan and 600 days to build.
Khun Banharn Silpa-archa is a native of Suphanburi. The story goes that he left the city for Bangkok as a youth with only 15 baht in his pocket. Before he left, he stopped at the city pillar shrine to make a wish that he would have a successful life. He also promised that if he became rich that he would come back to Suphanburi and donate money to both beautify the shrine and the city too. As it turned out, Khun Banharn did become a successful businessman and also the 21st prime minister of Thailand. He also kept his promise and did a lot of work in developing Suphanburi as a model city that would be the envy of all Thai citizens. The “Dragon Descendants Museum” is undoubtedly his jewel in the crown.
The museum was designed to showcase the unique history of the Chinese people together with their culture and wisdom. Khun Weerasak told me that they decided to build the museum in the shape of a dragon as it is a symbol of China and recognizable around the world. It is also not the normal kind of museum where you wander around by yourself. You have to join tours that leave on the hour and every hour between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The multimedia experience is unique as it takes you through the history of the Chinese civilization though the use of light and sound shows. We started at the cradle of the creation of the world and then as we walked from room to room, we passed through various dynasties covering a period of 5,000 years. The final room told us of the origins of the Thai-Chinese people and how they have integrated with the people of Thailand. Chatting afterwards, Khun Weerasak told me that he hoped that the museum would inspire people to try and learn a bit more about the Chinese culture.
There is no doubt that the outside of the building is very impressive. It is certainly an important attraction for Suphanburi if not the whole nation. It also serves well the purpose of strengthening ties between the Thai and Chinese nations. The presentation of information in the museum was done in a unique and fascinating way. I was impressed with this though I did have some misgivings. Each round can cater for only about 20-25 people at a time. With seven rounds in one day, then that means it can only cater for a maximum of 175 people per day. Not really a realistic number considering other museums can cope with thousands of people per day. I did bring this point up with Khun Weerasak afterwards. He told me that in theory they could have rounds setting off every ten minutes. But the system hadn’t been tested for that yet.
I think a museum of this kind would be of great interest to young students as the information is presented in a lively and interesting way. However, you cannot really have more than 25 people in one group which is not really practical for school parties. In total there are twenty rooms that we passed through and we had to keep to a strict schedule. We had a tour guide that ushered us through from room to room. She introduced each exhibit and then let the multimedia presentation explain in more detail. Some rooms were quite dark and only lit up certain places as the story progressed. For most of the time I had a good view. However, there were a few times when I wanted to pause to take a picture of an exhibit and I was handicapped either by the tour guide rushing us along or the lights being switched off automatically. The doors behind us were also automatic and we had to be careful not to be left behind!
The whole tour was just under 90 minutes which was surprising. The time flew by quite quickly. Even if you have just a passing interest in Chinese history and culture you will find the museum worthwhile. The presentations were impressive and even interactive at times. At one time we were standing on the deck of a Chinese junk and the floor beneath us swayed with the waves of the sea. My only complaint was the lack of information in English, and surprisingly, Chinese. The tour guide only spoke Thai and all of the video presentations were in Thai too. Unlike the excellent Museum of Siam in Bangkok, there were no subtitles on the video. A missed opportunity. There were a few rooms that had signs in English however I didn’t always get time to read them before the lights were switched off. I brought this point up with Khun Weerasak. He said that foreign visitors would be given audio devices to help them follow the story. They would also train Chinese speaking guides if there were large groups of Chinese people. I am afraid I am a little skeptical on how well this would work.
The “Dragon Descendants Museum” is one of those rare places in Suphanburi that has a two price system. I thought that was a bit of a cheek considering that Thai people would get far more out of the experience than foreigners. I know the building was largely funded by donations from local Thai people. But, when I was in Suphanburi about two years ago, I too made a donation at the city pillar shrine towards the building of the dragon museum. So, I feel a bit of it also belongs to me. The admission price for adults is 299 baht for Thai and 499 baht for foreigners (including Chinese people). For children it is 299 baht for Thai and 149 baht for children. The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday and also on public holidays. As it is in a public area, you can view the outside of the dragon and also take pictures for free.
I think Suphan Buri is starting to have enough tourist attractions now to warrant a visit. Maybe even an overnight stay. You can find out more information over at our website www.ThailandGuidebook.com where we have a large section on Suphan Buri. If you have any questions about how to visit or where to stay, then please post them in our ThailandQA Forums where we have people waiting to answer your questions 24/7. Many thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for organizing and sponsoring this trip. Click here for more information and pictures.