If you’re looking for weird things to do in Bangkok’, you’re probably not short of choices, but the Siriraj Medical Museum should certainly be at the top of the list.
The museum serves as an educational site for medical students and children on field trips, but has recently become an unlikely tourist attraction, too. Exhibits there include the dead bodies of convicted rapists and killers, victims of unusual deaths, preserved foetuses and various body parts, and with murder weapons. If you’re very squeamish, you might want to give this house of horrors a miss. However, if you’re anything like me (with a fascination with serial killers and murder mysteries), then you’ll find it very interesting, indeed.
After reading lots about the museum and what it contained, I was really intrigued to visit, to feed my morbid interest but also to do something different, so I made a spontaneous day trip.
The museum is open 10:00-17:00 on every day except Tuesdays, Sundays and public holidays. Entry costs 200 Baht and headphones with an audio guide can be rented at an extra cost. Unfortunately, I didn’t see this when I entered, and later regretted it because a lot of the exhibits weren’t explained in English. I’d definitely recommend the audio guide, if you’re looking to learn more about the exhibits and their stories. If you’re just going to get a kick out of seeing some weird stuff, it’s not necessary.
Before entering, visitors are required to store their belongings in lockers. Photography is prohibited, so the photos included here are from external sources. Most of them are very unpleasant, so exercise caution when scrolling through.
The Pathological Museum
When I first entered, I went left and into the first room I saw without reading any of the signage, and was immediately met by walls of preserved feotuses encased in glass boxes filled with formaldehyde. This was the Pathological Museum. Many of the babies there had varying congenital defects, and displays included conjoined twins, a two-headed foetus, a child with ‘mermaid syndrome‘, whose legs were fused together. Some of the foetuses were kept in separate halves so that their insides could be seen, and others had been cut up and stitched back together. There were also foetuses in different stages of development. All of these things were rather unnerving to see, but interesting. Photos below from FayeVoyage:
The Forensic Museum
I spent some time studying the various conditions there before heading to the Forensic Museum in the next room. This was much more morbid than the previous one, as impossible as that sounds. The first corridor showed photos of people who suffered unusual deaths, such as a child who was cut at the head by a propeller, an arm that had been crushed by a machine, and a man who had been chopped clean in half, possibly by an axe or a sword. There was also a set of close-up photos of gunshot wounds, showing the various degrees of damage that different guns can cause. Underneath the photos were glass cases containing hundreds of bones showing similar damage.
As I walked further into the exhibit, I saw that displays had been organised by body part, then by cause of death. There was a case of skulls that had been shot, another case of skulls that had been struck with blunt objects, another case of skulls that had been damaged in car or motorbike accidents. I could go on, but you get the idea. I started to wonder why I ever took motorbike taxis, knowing that I could just as easily end up looking like some of the people here!
There were even more babies on display in this room, some stillborn and some murdered. At one point, I just stood and stared at one such display, contemplating the fact that I was looking at real children, and became overwhelmingly sad. There was a large urn which had once contained the body of a child who had climbed in there to escape a fire, but later died as a result of what is labelled as an ‘asphyxial death burn‘. There was also the body of a toddler who had been drowned, next to which someone had left a teddy bear and a small piece of candy. It was somewhat comforting to know that these children weren’t always seen as just specimens.
I then passed through displays of poisonous snakes and sections of human skin that had been removed to preserve the sak yant tattoos etched on them (one shown above in photo from Freelance Flanuer), before the exhibit got particularly strange. I found myself in what I’ll call ‘The Murder Room’.
The Legend of Si-Ouey
The ‘Murder Room’ was where I found the main attraction — the preserved body of Thailand’s first-recorded and most well-known serial killer and cannibal, Si-Ouey (also spelled See Oui or Si Quey).
Si-Ouey was a Chinese immigrant who moved to Thailand in 1944, where he was said to have killed multiple children before eating their hearts and livers, which he believed made him powerful and even immortal. The exact number of his victims remains unknown, but stories range from half a dozen to dozens, then, from more ambitious sources, to hundreds. In the 1950’s, he was caught and sentenced to death by firing squad. His body has remained on display ever since as a deterrent to anyone who dares to repeat his crimes. His morbid legacy lived on for decades through Thai parents who told their children “be good, or Si-Ouey will come and get you!” There is also a movie adaptation of his story, ‘Zee Oui‘.
The cadaver stands upright in a glass box that’s a little smaller than a telephone booth, preserved in paraffin and smeared in what appears to be Vaseline. Now, he looks less than a human and more like a giant raisin with teeth, but it doesn’t make him any less terrifying.
There were several other cadavers next to Si-Ouey, all individually labelled as ‘rape murderer with death sentence’ and such like. Si-Ouey is the only one notable enough to be named.
In recent years, much doubt has been cast on the urban legend of Si-Ouey. Reassessment of evidence showed that no organs were missing from the bodies of the victims, and that the alleged timelines didn’t match with the testimonies that were given in court. Si-Ouey was said to have confessed to the murders, but denied the cannibalism charges. However, since he couldn’t speak Thai and relied solely on interpreters, this claim is also widely doubted. Now, it appears much more likely that Si-Ouey was a scapegoat and the victim of anti-Chinese sentiment, which was at its peak during the time of his trial.
In light of this information, Siriraj Medical Museum amended the exhibit in May 2019, changing its name from ‘cannibal’ to ‘death row prisoner’. A petition was launched to remove the exhibit altogether, and in July 2020, after 61 years on display, Si-Ouey was given a proper funeral. His remains were removed from the museum and cremated at Wat Bang Phraek Tai in Nonthaburi.
On the far left is a cabinet that doesn’t contain a person, but the last remaining possessions of one. It was the full outfit, of a young woman who’d been raped and killed. The exhibit included her jewelry and even her torn and tattered underwear. Along with her clothes was a small knife, which I assume to be the weapon she was killed with. The most striking item for me though, was her diary, which had been left open to show what she had written. Unfortunately, my Thai reading skills are so poor that even if the book hadn’t been dusty and the handwriting so small, I still wouldn’t have had any idea what it said. Still, it sent a clear message to me. I was staring and both the life and the death of this poor woman. Of all of the things I saw in that museum, this is the one that disturbed me the most. At this point, I regretted not getting the audio guide because I felt compelled to get more information about her story. However, the weren’t any staff around to ask.
The cabinets in the background contain various murder weapons. It’s really quite strange and macabre to look at objects that had been used to kill people. The selection included a lot of the standard instruments that I expected to see; bullets, knives, an electrical wire and even a towel. However, there was one that took me by surprise — a vibrator. That’s right, it appears that someone was actually killed with a sex toy. Again, I really wished I had the audio guide so that I could find out how it came to be there. It lied next to a blood-stained t-shirt, but I couldn’t be sure if the two items were related because the accompanying information was only written in Thai. I suppose that one will remain a mystery to me for now.
The Tsunami Museum
After leaving ‘The Murder Room’, I entered an exhibit dedicated to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami that devastated the south of Thailand, where it left almost 5,000 people dead and nearly just as many missing. Here, there was a lot of information given in English about the damage that the tsunami caused, how Thailand responded and the methods medical professionals used to inspect and identify the people who were killed. The exhibit contained computers that visitors could use to browse through harrowing pictures of the entire process, next to which there were mock-ups of such scenes in mannequin form. Photo below from FayeVoyage:
The Parasitology Museum
Next, I followed the corridor to the Parasitology Museum, which showed various tropical parasites and the horrible effects they can have.
This was definitely a lot tamer than what I had previously seen, but the shock wasn’t over yet, because it was there that I found the huge, swollen scrotum of a man who suffered from Elephantitis as a result of Lymphatic Filariasis, which was passed onto him by microscopic worms. There it was, all by itself, floating in a case of formaldehyde above a photo of the poor man who’d had to carry it around. Apparently, his scrotum alone weighed 75kgs. Photo below from Freelance Flanuer:
Along with information on plenty of other types of horrible parasites, such as tapeworms (which will put you off eating sushi for a while), there was also a really good exhibit on other deadly creatures, including cobras, scorpions, spiders and moquitoes. Having always had a weird interest in insects, this was right up my alley. As a kid, I would always be in the garden, lifting up rocks and looking for bugs. I also used to sometimes take spiders and put them in other spiders’ webs and watch them fight. It’s not something I’m proud of, but that’s besides the point. A lot of people might find this part of the museum a bit boring in comparison to the other stuff, but I still enjoyed it.
Last year, these museums were visited by two American men who stole artifacts including infant remains and attempted to ship them to the USA before getting caught at the shipping office and apprehended by Thai police. They were later revealed to be the same idiots who were responsible for ‘Bumfights‘, a horrible video series in which they paid homeless people to fight each other.
Assuming you’ll be much better guests than those guys were, I would definitely recommend paying Siriraj a visit. It’s not the typical tourist destination and won’t be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of visiting Bangkok, but it’s certainly worth visiting. I emerged with mixed feelings about what I’d seen, but glad that I had been able to learn about them.
How to get there
Take the BTS (skytrain) to Saphan Taksin station, which is on the riverside. As you exit the station, you’ll see a pier, from which you can take a Chao Praya Express Boat. They’re orange, so very easy to spot, and run every 10-15 minutes. The cost is 15 Baht, regardless of how far you go, and you’ll need to get off at Wang Lang (marked as N10 on the route map) for Siriraj. It’s a very small pier and when you walk out, you walk through some market stalls onto a Prannok Road, where you’ll see a right turning that leads to Siriraj Hospital. There are five museums there in total, including a Prehistoric Museum. The ones I’ve written about here are marked as M3-5 on the map below.