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Two-headed babies? Bangkok’s dark side & the Siriraj Hospital Museum of the macabre

siriraj museum of medical anamolies
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.

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!

The fetus room and a real cyclops baby

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. But all in the name of “science and medicine”.

Twin fetuses

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 how one contracts hookworms… the most gruesome display was the one on forensic studies.

This exhibition room is comprised of a few 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, a glass showcase of notorious serial killer and cannibalist, Si Quay, who was sentence to death by electrocution. His charred body stands erect in a glass case while his expression denotes agony.

Siriraj and the 2004 Tsunami disaster: a grim DNA case study

Perhaps the least bizarre , but uniquely compelling display, was a 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 a documentary film of the disaster relief and photos of missing people and the effort that teams went through reconstructing identities through tooth samples, DNA and skulls.

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.

 

Information:

Siriraj Hospital Medical Museum
Hours:  M-Sat 9 am – 4 pm.
tel. +66 2 4197000 Ext. 6363, 6440.
[email protected]
Admission fee: 40 baht.
Website: http://www.si.mahidol.ac.th/museums/en/index.htm

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.

 

20 Comments

  1. Jessie says:

    I was dying (ha!) to visit. Google now says that it is permanently closed. 🙁 My nerdy heart breaks!

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Jessie: Noooooo… really? I can’t imagine why they would do that. I was actually thinking of maybe stopping by on my trip.

  2. Esme says:

    I’ve been here – place pretty much defines “mornid fascination”. The best part? The “no food or drink” sign above the doorway.

  3. debbie ann says:

    I’m so glad I went. I had a great time in BKK – got a massage in a hospital! and another one in heathland or something like that. I also loved getting rides on the back of scooters. Went all the way up the river and missed the last bus-boat back and a kind person drove me back to the city. Plus some great food – kanom krok! great city.

    • @Debbie Ann: oops apologies for the delayed response. It’s been hectic. Glad to hear you had a bunch of fun excursions there! I think Bangkok offers so much to see, do and experience. I know a lot of travelers may think its too much on-the-beaten-track but it’s still one of my top 5 favorite countries.

  4. debbie ann says:

    i think it must’ve been in lonely planet
    http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thailand/bangkok/sights/museum

    • @Debbie: No way! I really don’t remember seeing it there. But the last time I looked at a LP Thailand was 2009. Perhaps the name didn’t seem intriguing at the time. I only just found out about it through an obscure guidebook, Hidden Bangkok (or something like that).

  5. debbie ann says:

    I went and I loved it!

  6. Laura in Cancun says:

    Wow, that is all CRAZY! (and hard to look at haha)

  7. Andrea says:

    We went to a museum that is similar to this in Berlin – the Medical History museum – and there were quite a few displays of abnormalities. I felt so sad for the poor deformed fetuses, especially the ones that were pretty much to term. Hard to look at.

    • @Andrea: I’ll have to take a look at that. I imagine the one in Berlin would be pretty tragic with the history of cruelty and science they have there. These fetuses were sad to see but I still found them compelling to look at.

  8. Seriously, where were you when I was wandering the streets of Bangkok looking for something to do?!!

    Great find, but chances are I’d get lost trying to find it. Wait, I’ve GPS, I’ll be fine! It’s now on my list.

    • @Dave: You’ve got a GPS?! I’ll have to wait for a product review post from you! Seriously, I was probably wandering parallel to you. I hit my caution flag level when I spent two days inside my hostel blogging and one day taking myself to watch Pirates of the Carribean IV in 3D. Of course, the down time was necessary; I’d just come back from India. But taking in the movie did scare me a bit, bc it’s something I seldom even do at home. Although it was a 3D IMAX & Bangkok seats are pretty cushy.

      P.S. I did get lost

  9. Peg says:

    That is cool.
    And way creepy.
    And something I totally want to see. How much time did you spend there? Is it a big place?
    Thanks for the photos!

    • @Peg: Not sure how long I was there in total– maybe a a month + or 2? I visited it in 2009 and I knew it’d be a city I’d want to return to. Fortunately, Bangkok ended up being a connecting hub for my trips to Southeast Asia… I’m always entering and exiting through it. After this post, maybe I did 2 more visits?

      Photos are complimentary of those who posted it on the web. Photography inside the museum is actually not allowed. 😉 Though I’m glad I could find some photos; it’s a really neat museum.

    • @Peg: OMG- that was a totally retarded reply I just gave. I shouldn’t respond to questions when I’m drowsy.

      The “time it took in the museum” (duh) … maybe two hours (+/-). Depends on how much time you want to spend in each department. Most things are written in Thai (which i don’t read), which might tempt me to fly through things, but I didn’t. This place incited a lot of curiosity & wonder for me. Like that baby exhibit–there was a surprising amount of anomalous cases that I’d not heard of or seen. Most of the time, I wanted to know more about something, so I’d stand there and just stare at the oddity. Ha ha… Also, there were about one or two more departments that I didn’t list on my post. I had gotten there late, so I couldn’t see everything. Apparently there’s museums/rooms on other floors in that building. Be aware, it’s not streamlined like a nice museum. It’s like an old archival laboratory.

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