Thailand, the world’s number one orchid exporter, the birthplace of the popular drink Red Bull, Thai art comprising of beautifully decorated Buddhist wats, and most importantly the only nation in South East Asia that was never colonized under any European regime.
It’s known throughout the world for its grand limestone cliffs, picture-perfect beaches curious customs, and serene sceneries. The nation of smiles offers so many awesome places to see that you will never run out of things to do in Thailand.
Let’s take a small dive into the history of Thai art, which has been primarily known throughout the world for its Buddhist sculptures.
It is a known fact around the globe, in art communities that Thai art has been centered around Buddhist sculptures, scriptures, and paintings. However, modern Thai art culture has wholeheartedly accepted contemporary art as well. Before getting to know about the modern art scene of Thailand, let me tell you about ancient Thai art.
Art has always been a constant part of the Thailand lifestyle, ever since the prehistoric period, dating back to tens of thousands of years ago.
In Tham Lod rock shelter in Mai Hong Son and from Lang Rongrien Rockshelter in Krabi, ancient artifacts made of stone were discovered. These artifacts were later identified by archaeologists to be from around 40,000 years ago.
Originating from the Sukothai Kingdom back in the 14th century, the Sukhothai era features primarily the artifacts related to Buddha.
Unlike the modern images and statues of the laughing Buddha, these artifacts show a younger version of him. The statues originating in the Sukothai era feature more the athletic, elegant, and effeminate image of Buddha.
Stone carvings were the predominant statue art of the era around the globe. However, Thai art in Sukhothai differs from that in the basic fact that most of the statues of Buddha were cast into the metal rather than being carved from stone.
One of the popular Buddha statues poses “walking Buddha” pose originated in this era.
While Buddha statues are without doubt the dominant features of art history in this era, the Sukhothai period is known for the production and trade of glazed ceramics across Southeast Asia as well.
Places to see- The ruins of Wat Mahthat, Sukhothai historical park, Phra Achana, Wat Si Chum, Big Buddha, Sukhothai
The middle Ayutthaya Era features mostly the Art form of the Sukhothai Era, known for stucco brick or bronze figures of Buddha, with decorations and exquisite background. However, the early and later period of this era showcased a different character overall.
If you take a closer look at the figures of the Buddha, originating from the earlier Ayutthaya era, that survive to this date, you will find extraordinary stone carvings of Buddha.
Later periods featured mostly the Buddha carvings in royal apparel.
The Bangkok era features predominantly further growth in the former Ayutthaya art techniques and designs.
The innovative approach to art composition originated in the Ayutthaya era, known as “Organization of the Ten Crafts” (Krom Chang Sip Mu), is given the primary credit for the skill growth of craftsmen of Thailand from that era onwards.
The later period of this era followed the modernization attitude of the Thailand governance, showcasing western art influence in the art pieces crafted in that time.
Contemporary Thai Art:
For a long bath time stone carvings metal castings utensils and artifacts were the predominant art forms seen in Thai art history however in the modern. Contemporary art forms started dominating the art arena.
The modern art revolution in Thai culture is believed to have begun with the Silpakron University by its founding professor.
The contemporary art culture picked up speed from then on, with Chiang Mai Social Installation being launched by a bunch of Thai artists in the 1990s. Which brought the traditional art displays onto the Chiang Mai streets.
Nowadays, Thai art form shows myriad varieties from traditional performance arts to print, photo, and video arts.
Traditional Paintings of Thai Art:
2-dimensional perspective art forms in traditional Thai paintings used to be dominant among Thai artist communities. The bigger the size of an element in the painting the more its value denoted as the subject, the smaller the size of an element in the painting the lesser its value in the art piece itself.
Around mid 19th century, an artist became popular for accepting the western perspective art form. He put linear perspective into Thai traditional paintings. He was called Khrua in Kong and was a monk artist.
Some of the more frequent subjects for traditional Thai paintings used to be scenes from Buddha’s life, the Jataka stories, hell, and heaven in Buddhist culture.
Many paintings were also designed after scenes taken from Mahabharata and Ramayana which were converted into their own Thai versions. Life and times of common Thai people were also found to be recorded in some art pieces.
The exemplary Sculptures of Thai Art:
Like most of the art pieces in Thai traditions, the sculptures of Thai artists mostly show different figures of Buddha in different poses.
Some of the exceptions of this norm but the Guardian figure is known as Dvarapala sculpted during 15 century which is right now displayed in the Han Museum of arts in Florida, USA.
Another exception is a beautiful sculpture of Hindu God Narayana or Vishnu resting atop the serpent Sesha Naga submerged in the Milky Ocean. It was crafted around the 12th century.
It’s currently displayed in Bangkok National Museum and it was acquired from Ku Suan Taeng temple.
Thai Art showcased in national Architecture:
In Thai culture, architecture can be said to be the primary medium of artistic expression since ancient times.
In all of the architectural magnificence spread around Thailand, you can see a sense of national pride, depicting a sense of unity and promoting harmony among the citizens.
The artistic expression through an architectural medium is a novel way of showcasing their religious beliefs and traditional sentiments passed down generation after generation.
Thai Art depicting Buddhist temples:
There is a different name for Buddhist temples preferred by Thai people, “Wats”, that originated from Pãli vãta which implies encloser.
It’s less for the literal meaning of enclosure rather than the deeper, more spiritual hint that it implies. A Buddhist temple is usually enclosed by a wall the surrounds said entirety the word “Wat” suggests the separation of the earthly and sacred world.
Some of the most popular Buddhist temples in Thailand are; Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Benchamabophit, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Ratchabophit
The architecture of traditional Thai Art houses
During ancient times, due to the danger of predators as well as flooding in different regions of Thailand, a unique style of architecture was used for traditional Thai houses, they are referred to as “Thai stilt houses”.
The main portion of the houses the residential areas were elevated from the ground using stilts. Different segments of the whole structure were made accessible through walkways and interconnected balconies.
There were stairs to climb up from the ground. The lower portion was mainly either used with the ancient storage of food and livestock or household materials.
The structures were a decent way to resist the climates that brought about regular flooding in those regions.
Some of the architectural Places to see in Thailand;
King Rama II memorial house: Traditional Thai house
Decorative Thai traditional style: Chulalongkorn Traditional Thai House
Suan Pakkad Palace, Bangkok
5 best Thailand Museums for Thai Art
Here are some of the museums of Thailand that are mostly focused on showcasing the Thai Art and Thai Culture scene. When you plan your tour around Thailand, don’t forget to add some of these to your places to see in the Thailand list.
Ancient scriptures of Thai Art at National Museum Bangkok
One of the most enormous museums you will ever get the chance to visit National Museum Bangkok expands around 6 buildings all of them housing different artifacts, tools, crafts, furniture’s and pieces of articles/scriiptures dating back to ancient times.
Anything and everything you need to know about Thailand’s culture and Thailand is can definitely be observed here.
The best exhibitions to take note of in this museum are the Buddha Jawan Chapel, King Pinklao’s bedroom furniture, as well as footprint of Buddha dating back to the Sukothai era.
Reach: 4 Na Phra That Alley, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok
Timings: From 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Wednesday to Sunday
Entry Fee: TBH 200
A glance at the ancient Thai Art at Chiang Mai National Museum
One of the most important things to note about Thailand is, cultures and traditions as well as ancient customs may change depending on the region that you are in, in the nation.
Foreign influence of neighboring countries played a major role in that, as well as rules of different kingdoms left different impressions and the local culture varies in different areas so the art forms were influenced similarly as well.
Before being invaded by the Burmese Chiang Mai was also the capital of the Lanna kingdom. Chang Mai National Museum is famed for housing ancient artifacts of the Lanna kingdom.
The artifacts on display in the galleries range from, ceramics, handicrafts photographs to sculptures, statues, and Lanna-style art.
If you want to know the relation between tribal life and the ancient Lanna kingdom of the region, then you should visit here at least once.
Reach: Tambon Chang Phueak, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai
Timings: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm Wednesday to Sunday
Entry Fee: TBH 30
The amazing Airavata of Erawan Museum Bangkok
Have you heard about one of the Indian myths known as Airavata?
Erawan museum is famously known for hosting a giant elephant that weighs around 200 tonnes, with three heads its 45 meters stretched construction, which represents one of the Indian mythology of Airavata.
There is a pure stream of water flowing through the museum it is said that if you offer Lotus in it then it is supposed to bring you good luck.
This amazing piece of art was completed in around 10 years’ time. I know that it may sound like a lot of time to spend on one construction. However, after visiting this museum and witnessing the marvelous brilliance of the structure, you will understand on your own why it was so.
Erawan Museum in Bangkok Thailand comprises photographs that contain unseen moments of the past, some visual art collections as well as religious scriptures of ancient times. There are some documents dating back to far back in time as well as many Thai antiquities.
Reach: 99/9 Ban Mueang Mai, Samut Prakan district
Timing: From 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, Monday to Sunday
Entry Fee: TBH 300
Outstanding Thai Art collection at Jim Thompson House Museum
Jim Thompson was a soldier who was a veteran of World War II, later on, stayed in Thailand. He was an architect from America and is known for making the silk industry of Thailand popular around the globe.
He had a curious habit of collecting Asian art silk pieces. Most were handmade and beautifully designed, collected with meticulous research from different corners of Thailand. He did that for quite a bit of time, eventually, he had a large collection of outstanding and exceptional silk art pieces.
A beautiful description of Thai art culture summarized in one place, from the dedication and hard work of one man alone.
Reach: 1 Wang Mai, Pathum Wan, Bangkok
Timings: 9:00am to 6:00pm
Entry Fee: TBH 150
Local and Modern Thai Art Galleries at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
The places to see in Bangkok, or the major travel attractions including museums in Thailand, are mostly about the ancient history of Thailand.
They mostly comprise Buddhist sculptures, temples, scriptures. Others showcase the custom and traditions of old times. However, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre focuses more on the contemporary art scene of Thailand.
Some of the main features displayed in endless Art museums are arts and design related to photography, theatre, music, national international films, and art pieces by artists both local and foreign.
It is by no means a small art joint, for it is a building solely dedicated to contemporary art expanding over nine-story, with huge galleries and beautiful interior.
There are small cafes in the building as well where you can hang out and meet with other art connoisseurs. You can choose to partake in some of the events of award-giving to Thai or foreign artists whose art pieces you might find displayed.
Reach: 939 Rama I road, Khwaeng Wang Mai, Thep Maha Nakhon
Timings: From 10 am to 9 pm, Tuesday to Sunday
Entry Fee: TBH 350
There are numerous things that I can tell you about the rich art history of Thailand and its impact on anthropology but for now, they will part way.
Keep your camera with you, wherever you go. Be safe, travel cautiously.
Keep all your basic necessities along with you. Whenever you get turned around, ask the locals. You will find usually that someone will be able to understand you.
Go on now explorer, have fun, Happy travels!