To the northwest of Sanam Luang is the National Museum (open Wed-Sun 9am-4pm; entrance fee; guided tours start at 9.30am); several buildings housing art and ethnology exhibits. (There are more than 30 branches of the museum throughout the country.)

Besides housing a vast collection of antiquities, the museum has an interesting history of its own.

National Museum, Bangkok

National Museum, Bangkok

The oldest buildings in the compound date from 1782 and were built as the palace of the Prince Sucessor, a feature of the Thai monarchy until 1870.

Originally, the palace included a large park that went all the way to Wat Mahathat and covered the northen half of the present Phramane Grounds. The first building to the left of the entrance is the Sivamokhaphiman Hall which was originally an open-sided audience hall. It now houses the prehistoric art collection, in particular, the bronzes and some of the handsome painted earthenware jars found in the northeast Thailand.

The front of the building is the Thai History Gallery which narrates the country's history, from the Sukhothai period (13th century) to the Rattanakosin period (1782 to present).

Directly behind the entrance is the Buddhaisawan Chapel, built in the late 1700s by the Prince Successor as his private place of worship. It contains some of Thailand's most beautiful and best-preserved murals depicting 28 scenes from the Buddha's life and dating from the 1790s.

Above the windows, five bands of thep (angels) kneel in silent respect to Thailand's second most-sacred Buddha image, the famous Phra Buddha Sihing, a bronze Sukhothai-style image which legend says came from Ceylon, but which art historians attribute to 13th century Sukhothai.

The image is paraded through the streets of Bangkok, for once empty of cars, each year on the day before Songkran.

Also in the museum compound is the Tamnak Daeng (Red House). Originally located across the river in Thonburi, it was the residence of an elder sister of King Chakri and was formerly located in the grounds of the Grand Palace. It has a fascinating collection of early royal furniture.

The finely-proportioned old palace of the Prince Successor, which formerly held the museum's entire collections, is now reserved for ethnological exhibits of elephant howdah, ceramics, palanquins, roral furnishings, weapons and other objects.

The Buddhist are collection in the new wings, Includes sculptures from Asian countries, but its main exhibits are of Thai are and sculpture.

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