26 August 2014

Bangkok - Erawan Museum at Samut Prakan Province

Date of Exploration : 8 August 2014

It is not unusual for people to pick their eyeballs up from the floor after visiting Erawan Museum.  The Bangkokian attraction has many eye-popping features that stretches not only the imagination, but one's ability to hold on to the jaw as well. Lest there be one more thing to pick off the ground.

An incredible manifestation of one man's ambition to preserve fragments of Thailand's cultural footprints and religious heritage, the museum is many things all at once - an unofficial shrine of Airavata, a depository for precious Buddhist artefacts, a celebration of religious plurality, a showroom of Thai ceramics and a dizzying canvas of artistic interior decorative styles. In my opinion, calling it a "museum" is a somewhat inadequate description of the sensory buffet that this lesser known attraction in Bangkok presents.

Almost a decade (1994 - 2003) in construction, Erawan Museum is an architectural feat conceived by Thai business tycoon Lek Viriyaphant (also referred to as Khun Lek) who found his wealth importing luxury cars before succeeding in the banking sector. Erawan Museum was constructed to house his vast collection of Thai antiques (consisting mostly of benjarong, the Thai version of multi-coloured porcelain wares) and religious artefacts from various time periods in the Kingdom.

Erawan Museum is one of 3 historical theme parks realised by Khun Lek to serve as walk-in cultural textbooks for Thais and visitors alike. The other 2 parks are the sprawling Muang Boran (Ancient City) which consists of a massive collection of scaled-down architectural gems found throughout Thailand and the Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya.

I visited Muang Boran a couple of years back and it is not too far from Erawan Museum so you may want to consider visiting both Bangkokian attractions as a day-trip.

Located within the Samut Prakan Province (home to Suvarnabhumi Airport), Erawan Museum is not to be mistaken with the popular Erawan Shrine near Grand Hyatt in downtown Bangkok. The park grounds are well-maintained with clean facilities and F&B options are available.

I decided fill up on lunch before starting my exploration with a soup of chicken, galanga root and coconut milk (80bht) and stir-fried greens with prawns (60bht). Stayed hydrated in the hot weather with a fresh coconut (40bht).

The entrance fee of 400bht (adult) includes rental of an audio guide that comes in 3 languages (Thai, English and Chinese). A refundable deposit of 1,000bht is required. The audio guide introduces the Erawan Museum through 14 narrative clips that covers an introduction to the conceptualisation and construction of the museum to the philosophy and stories behind each level of the museum.

Surrounding the museum is the enchanting Mythical Garden with a collection of celestial figurines and creatures. So don't miss checking out the garden after visiting the museum.

Sculpture of a dancing aspara at the Mythical Garden.

An imposing figure that no vehicles passing the Bang Phli-Suk Sawat expressway will miss is the iconic 3-headed elephant of Erawan Museum. The total height of the building and elephant measures 43.6m, or roughly 14 storeys high.

In front of where the middle elephant head is facing is a stairway leading to a vantage point for an unobstructed photo of the entire building. As the stairway is rather obscured against the wall running the perimeter of the park, remember to keep a look out and you can take a shot like this photo.

The best time to take a photo of the building is around 3pm as that's when the sun lights up the faces of the elephant. I arrived at around 12pm and took a shot but the sunlight was directly above the elephant, casting a shadow that made the facial features indiscernible.

The elephant stands at a height of 29m with the length of its body measuring 39m. This massive beast weighs 250 tons and is the largest copper statue in Thailand and quite possibly the world.
Erawan Museum consists of 3 sections, each representing a realm of existence according to Buddhism. Visiting the museum follows a specific sequence starting from the lower realm (underworld) to the middle section (the human realm) and finally to the top level (celestial realm).

Lower Realm (Underworld)

An allusion to the underworld or hell, the lower realm actually houses Khun Lek's massive personal collection of cultural artefacts which are dominated by Thai ceramics (benjarong) and pottery. This section of the museum also provides an insight into the life and times of its founder so it is a good place to start appreciating the history of Erawan Museum. This is the most 'museum' part of the whole experience.

It is very tempting to head straight for the middle section but pass through this door to the left of the shrine and the story of Erawan Museum is unfolded. The first narrative clip on the audio guide starts here.

Head bust of a religious figure. Photography is not allowed in the lower realm so I only sniped 2 shots without flash for memory. The ban on photography stems from the fear that flash photography may bleach the ceramics of their colours. I shot without flash.

A line up of Yaksha and Yakshi (male and female guardian spirits) faces composed by porcelain shards and clay.
Middle Realm (Human)

Emerging from the lower realm, I 'moved up' to the middle realm on the ground level where a stunning jigsaw of decorative styles with handiwork so intricate beckoned. This main section of Erawan Museum pays tribute to the sacred intentions of religions to create a better world and serves to remind that religious harmony is the pillar of peace amongst nations.

The pink walls used in its build is made from pounded lime stained with the colour of chewed betel nuts. The builders must have very chiselled  jawlines and sore gums!

One of the doorways leading to the artistry within. No shoes allowed in this section and visitors are required to dress modestly (no singlets, shorts and revealing clothes).

To take this shot with my mobile phone, I was practically lying on my back to fit as much elements in as possible!


Selfie to record myself in this gorgeous interior.

There are 4 structural pillars covered with metal embossing that depicted scenes from Hinduism, Buddhism (Theravada and Mahayana) and Christianity. This is the Christian pillar showing a scene of baptism. Harmony amongst religions in guiding the human existence is the theme here. I think more than the visual beauty of the decorative styles, the touching beauty is the message of diversity and acceptance.

Erawan Museum is really photogenic. Love it!

A closer look reveals what the colourful skin of the interior is made of... spoons, bowls, dishes and porcelain bits!

A pavilion altar of sorts houses a statue of Guanyin. The deity is the central figure here because of his compassionate link to humanity.

Close-ups of the patterns and design. The Chinese deity with his hands up in peace signs had me keeling over with laughter. See if you can spot him amongst the cacophony of decorations.

The belly of Erawan Museum's main hall is filled by 2 snaking staircases... one white, representing the silver way to nirvana, and one pink (representing the golden way).

They are known as The Ladder to Heaven. Glad to know there's more than one way to get to eternal paradise!

View of the interior from the top of the stairs.

A Baroque-ish lion head (singha) with a lotus tongue is found in the middle at the top of the stairs. At this height, you can have a closer examination of the dazzling stained glass ceiling designed in Germany.
Upper Realm (Paradise)

The journey continues upwards to the third section of Erawan Museum that tops off as the celestial dimension (representing the cosmos / enlightenment / paradise). There are 2 ways to get up - by a spiral staircase or the lift.

Taking the stairs is a scenic option as a swirl of asparas accompany the ascend. Its not a very long time and works to build up the anticipation of what's at the end of the spiral tunnel.

If the climb up the stairs didn't make you pant, the painted asparas might.

Mid-way through the climb is a small room where you can look out a window for a view of the surrounding. But if you carry on climbing, you will reach...

... nirvana! Or closer to it.

The upper realm is housed within the belly of the elephant sculpture and has a line up of ancient Buddha statues from different periods leading to a central altar with an imprint of Buddha's foot in front of it. Photography of the ancient statues along the perimeter is not allowed.

Honestly, the celestial realm caught me by surprise. I expected it to be a traditional Thai shrine filled with countless gold figurines of Buddhas and monks while coloured tiles and cut mirrors provided the decoration like most Thai wats. I wasn't prepared for this meeting of abstract art and religious relics.

The ceiling features a artistic interpretation of the cosmos with a band of comets, planets, milky way, the sun, moon and zodiac constellations. That forms a backdrop that the Buddha statues, hundreds of years old contrasted from. I thought the unlikely combination was bold and refreshing. It felt more like an art installation but devotees do come here to pray and even meditate like it is a functioning shrine so keep a code of silence and be respectful when visiting.

Having had my senses elevated through 3 different realms with their distinct decorative styles and purposes, I felt an appreciation of Erawan Museum that went beyond just the visual, but spiritual even though I am Christian. When it comes to off-the-beaten-track tourist gems in Bangkok, Erawan Museum has got to be the mothership!

Address : 99/9 Moo 1, Bangmuangmai, Samut Prakarn, Thailand 10270

Contacts : 0-2308-0305 (phone) info@ancientsiam.com (email)

Website : http://www.ancientcitygroup.net/erawan/en/home

Getting There : Take the BTS to Bearing Station and take a taxi there for under 100bht (15 minutes).

I took a taxi directly from Silom Road to Erawan Museum and it took me about 40 minutes (without traffic jam) and cost 237bht. Including 3 toll charges of 50bht, 20bht and 30bht, my total fare was 337bht.

However, on the return trip, my taxi fare was only 133bht. As the museum is quite out of the way, few cabs wait at its entrance for passengers. You can ask the security guard to point you in the direction of a main road (which is a short walk opposite the museum's entrance) where the chances of getting a taxi is higher.

13 August 2014

Alive Museum Singapore - A Twist at Every Turn

Date of Exploration : 5 Aug 2014

Featuring over 80 illusionary artworks and installations, Alive Museum is an optical playground that conceals and reveals one surprise after another! It's an action-packed gallery where you get to complete the art by being a part of it while adding your touch of creativity.

Before visiting the 'museum' (it is more of a fun-house really), I thought it was just about posing with 2D painted art that looks 3D on photo so I was pleasantly surprised by the number of actual 3D sets and props to complete the illusion that I am a mermaidman, a daredevil canoeist, a circus acrobat and lots more. The pieces fire the imagination and unleashes one's personality to create a truly unique masterpiece!

Take a moment to do some warm-up exercises to loosen those jaw muscles and stretch out the body because it's about to get physical inside Alive Museum.

A good place to start getting those vogue juices flowing is the entrance where you can come out of your shell and de-froze that inner child. What do you think of my Birth of Venus rendition? LOL.

One of my favourite pieces is this mesmerising portrait of Vincent Van Gogh with his gaze following you wherever you go! Play the video above and tell me you're not freaked out by it.

2D and 3D blending creates sensational works that offer numerous pose points. There are pictorial suggestions and indications on the best spot to pose as well as shoot a scene posted on the walls and floors so no worries about getting the best shot. But of course, don't be restricted by the suggestions and let your imagination run free!

In this ah-quatic scene from The Little Mermaid, I paid tribute to Ariel singing "Part of Your World"... but with more hiao-ness.

I probably won't survive this in real life. If I survived, my mum's unrelenting nagging for participating in extreme sports would do me in. She still wants to hold my hand while crossing the road. But that's just sweet :)

Do wear dark-coloured (preferably black) pants when visiting Alive Museum. In this photo, I'm actually sitting on the floor but my black pants merged with the dark vortex and the illusion of being sucked into an abyss is perfect. It is also a good idea for ladies to don pants for more freedom while posing.

In addition to this localised artwork depicting Marina Bay Sands, there are 8 other pieces specially customised for Singapore. See if you can identify them throughout the gallery.

Alive Museum has a stable of experimental artists and designers who constantly conceptualise new and novel exhibits such as this chamber of mirrors. Discovering this room was a surprise as throughout the gallery, there were no directional signs and we had to push camouflaged doors to exit from one exhibition space into another.

There's a twist at every turn and the mysterious journey was pretty thrilling as you never know what you will encounter next!

Shhh... Don't tell Mary Jane about this sticky affair.

Wanted to do splits but don't have the time to train? Alive Museum has an instant solution!

Believe it or not, the bench is actually painted on the wall and I'm half-squatting in mid-air but the illusion of me sitting on it is just unbelieveable!

Alive Museum has artworks with multiple themes that ranged from European art, popular culture icons, superheroes, sports, fantasy, doomsday, humour to animals.

It had been a magical ride at Alive Museum.

Because you need someone to take photos with the exhibits, Alive Museum should be visited with a friend/s, love one or family. Do note that there are no toilets withing the gallery and once you exit to use the washroom next to its entrance, you cannot re-enter again. We spent about 3 hours here so by the end of it, my bladder was almost bursting.

30% of the exhibits get refreshed every 12 - 18 months and festive works (eg. New Year, Christmas, etc) make it a good reason to come back again to create new personal illusions!

Address : Suntec City Mall #03-372 (between Towers 3 & 4), Singapore 038983

Opening Hours : 10am - 10pm daily (opening times may vary due to private events. Check http://alivemuseum.sg/information/opening-times/ for notices of early closure before visiting)

Entrance Fees : $25 (Adults), $20 (Children 3-12 yrs)

Getting There : Take the MRT (Circle Line) to Esplanade Station or Promenade Station. Or take the MRT to City Hall Station and walk to Suntec City
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