If you were to Google ‘weird things to do in Bangkok’, I imagine that you would find all sorts of things, but I am certain the Siriraj Medical Museum would be near the top of the list. It 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 rapists and killers, victims of unusual deaths, preserved foetuses and various body parts, along with murder weapons. If you’re very squeamish, it will probably seem like a house of horrors and I don’t suggest that you go there. However, if you’re anything like me (a weirdo with a strange fascination with serial killers and murder mysteries), then you’ll find it very interesting, indeed.
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, 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 bodies you see there and what happened to them. 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 if you think they might bother you.
After reading lots about the museum and what it contained, I was really intrigued to visit, to feed my weird interest but also to do something different, so I made a spontaneous day trip. I’m so glad I did, because it was really, really interesting. I’ll tell you what I found there.
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‘, with legs 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 aborted foetuses in different stages of development. All of these things were rather unnerving to see, but interesting, once I could momentarily get past the fact that I was looking at real people. Photos below from FayeVoyage:
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‘. Here was the main attraction, the preserved body of Thailand’s first and most well-known serial killer and cannibal, Si Ouey. Si Ouey was a Chinese immigrant who moved to Thailand in 1944, where he 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 hanging. His body has remained on display ever since as a deterrent to anyone who dare repeat his crimes. His morbid legacy also lives on through Thai parents who tell their children stories about him to scare them into behaving well. ‘Be good, or See-Oui will come and get you!‘ There is a movie adaptation of his story, ‘Zee Oui‘. See the trailer below:
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 (photo below taken from Vice).
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.
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 had been raped and killed. The display 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. It seems strange to say, but even after having real dead bodies in front of me, of all of the things 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 were actually 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, I most certainly did not expect to see a vibrator among them. That’s right, someone was actually killed with a vibrator. 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.
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:
After leaving the tsunami exhibit, 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, moquitoes etc. 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. 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. You can read more about them and how they were caught by Thai police here and here. 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-seeing. I emerged with mixed feelings about what I’d seen, but glad that I had been able to see the and 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.