Siamese twins babies sharing one set of internal organs.
Photo credit: elephantsleg.wordpress.com
What does Bangkok inspire for you?
For me, it’s generally floating markets, monstrously serene Buddhas, assorted hawker food carts of delectable cuisine and throngs of smiling Thai. I don’t exactly think of two-headed babies, the charred corpse of a serial murderer and a display of unusually, large human testicles!
But Bangkok surprised me yet again.
As much as I love Bangkok, I was afraid I might be getting into a traveler’s rut – when a place is no longer shiny and new. My first visit was all about sightseeing: temples, floating markets, the golden palace and elephant rides. My second and third visits, were all about medical tourism and getting amazingly cheap discounts off of dental crowns and travel shots! By my fourth time around, I was scraping the inspiration barrel. I wanted excitement of fall off-the-grid into the local, the seedy, the morbid and well,… creepy.
How far could Bangkok take me?
What is morbid pathology?
Housed in the oldest hospital in Bangkok, the Siriraj Medical Museum, is a macabre museum with displays of real life medical anomalies, such as a Siamese twin babies sharing a heart, a cyclops infant and a mermaid baby born with feet joined together. It’s not your typical sightseeing museum. Instead, you’ll find rare and freakish medical cases preserved in large jars of formaldehyde for scientific study. This is because this stranger-than-fiction medical facility was originally constructed with the purpose of training its hospital doctors and nurses. Today, it’s open to the public and offers a gripping peek into Thai medical history.
Apparently, you’re prohibited from taking photos in the museum and yet, I found photos from people who have secretly snapped pics despite the clear prohibition. It’s probably cause the displays are pretty graphic and very real. You won’t find much of this kind of stuff anywhere else!
There’s a room decorated with rows of unborn fetuses and their unusual aberrations. The showcase runs a bit on the melancholic side, but it’s truly one of the most fascinating and eclectic collections you’ll find. But from there on, rooms continue to get progressively more gruesome.
Want to bone up on your parasitic diseases and know how to avert them? The parasitology museum will educate you through bottled organs and informative kiosks. By the time you leave it, you’ll want to bug spray all your mattresses and place tight security on anything entering your mouth in foreign countries!
Forensics medicine was my next stop, competing with my interest in the cyclops baby and my curiosity as to how one contracts hookworms…
The most gruesome display was the one on forensic studies. The museum is comprised of a couple of rooms dedicated to victims of murder, suicide and accidental but violent deaths, such as being run over by a truck and train. There’s documentary photos and blood-stained murder devices, such as knives, axes and saws. There’s skeletons of brutally-murdered victims and even, the charred corpse of a notorious serial killer and cannibalist, Si Quay, who was sentence to death by electrocution.
Siriraj and the 2004 Tsunami disaster: a grim DNA case study
Perhaps the least bizarre but still compelling display, was the case study exhibition of the tsunami disaster, which caused a brutal upheaval for Thailand and its tourism industry in 2004. Siriraj Hospital sent relief teams of pathologists and DNA specialists to help identify the water-logged and rotting bodies of over 8,000 victims off the Andaman Coast, Phuket and Ko Phi Phi. The display showed photos of missing people and the effort that teams went through reconstructing identities through tooth samples, skulls, etc…
Though it may seem strange to tourists, much of the museum feels like a treasure trove laboratory of uniquely, archived case studies, which will have you in perplexed amazement and odd wonder. It’s not as distasteful as it may seem, but rather honest, explicit, pretty darned riveting and all in the name of science.
Take the Chao Phraya ferry to the Tha Rot Fai pier (also called Tha Bangkok Noi pier) on the western side of the river. Exit and walk due west, then walk left into the hospital grounds, and follow the signs to the Adulyadej building. It’s a bit tricky to get to, so you may need to ask locals for directions along the way.