Are museums potentially boring and drab? Yes, but so is everything good in life, like wine and steak. If you’re planning to visit Southeast Asia soon, you’ll want to throw some of these 10 impressive museums into your itinerary. Aside from being a wealth of beautiful antiquities and fascinating tales, they also make a perfect respite from the midday sun — and really, it can get very hot.
The first of its kind in Southeast Asia, the Peranakan Museum devotes itself to the vibrant Straits-born Chinese people, a subculture of intermarriage unique to the region. Stroll through three floors of brilliantly-curated exhibitions about their traditional apparel, religious sites, and even porcelain tableware and eclectic ornaments. The highlights? A tablecloth made with over a million glass beads and stories about 12-day long weddings.
Peranakan Museum is located at 39 Armenian Street, Singapore 179941.
Islamic Arts Museum
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
You really don’t need to be a Muslim in order to appreciate Islamic art. Adorned with Islam-inspired details throughout its facade, the shrine-like Islamic Arts Museum traces the the religion from its birth in the Middle East and Iran to China, India, and of course, Southeast Asia. Attend a workshop to learn about Islam is practiced in different parts of the world, or be stunned by their vast display of Islamic art, books, and artefacts, including intricate pieces of fine jewellery and massive models of the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca.
Islamic Arts Museum is located at Perdana Botanical Gardens, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Ullen Sentalu Museum
For a glimpse of Javanese culture of the past, make your way to the Ullen Sentalu Museum in Yogyakarta — easily one of Indonesia’s best museums. Seamlessly blending into its surrounding nature, the building’s enchanting design is as much an attraction as the artworks it holds. Sprawled over four halls, browse through paintings, bedazzling jewellery, old letters, and statutes that tell the story of ancient Javanese kingdoms.
Museum Ullen Sentalu is located at Jalan Boyong KM 25, Kaliurang Barat, Hargobinangun, Sleman,Yogyakarta 55582, Indonesia.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Before it became the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, it was an execution and torture centre run by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 70s. Put yourself in the shoes of the 14,000 captives who underwent excruciating conditions by reading their interrogation transcripts and seeing the archived photos of oppressed prisoners. A word of warning, this place is not for the faint-hearted — oh, and you might want to leave the kids at home.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is located at Street 113, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Bangkok National Museum
Visiting the majestic Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok is a must, and the same goes for the Bangkok National Museum next door! Built in 1782, this is where you will find three permanent exhibitions displaying a plethora of impressive Thai art and artefacts, from Khon masks to breathtaking ceramics and precious stones. Look out for well-preserved murals depicting key events and figures from the eras of Sukhothai and Ayuthaya, as well as one of the most famous Buddha images in existence: the Phra Phuttha Sihing.
Bangkok National Museum is located at 4 Chao Fa Rd, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10200, Bangkok, Thailand.
Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture
Da Nang, Vietnam
How much do you know about Vietnam’s indigenous Cham people? Not enough apparently, if you haven’t seen the Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture. This open-air colonial building along the Han River houses the largest collection of Cham sculptures in the world, offering an insight into this ancient Hindu-influenced culture. The exhibition ranges from terracotta masterpieces to more than than 300 pieces of sandstone relics depicting historical idols and animals in a most captivating way.
Da Nang Museum of Cham Sculpture is located at Số 02 2 Thang 9, Binh Hien, Hai Chau, Da Nang 550000, Vietnam.
Neka Art Museum
The Neka Art Museum in Ubud is the beloved project of Balinese art collector and dealer Wayan Suteja Neka, featuring the island’s most comprehensive array of traditional and modern Balinese paintings. With six buildings full of the stuff, don’t miss the fascinating European-influenced Ubud and Batuan styles introduced in the 1920s, the archive of black-and-white photographs of Bali in the 1930s, or works by the master I Gusti Nyoman Lempad.
Neka Art Museum is located at Raya Campuhan Street, Kedewatan Village, Ubud Gianyar 80571, p. +62 361 975 074.
If you can only visit one museum in Manila, make it the gleaming Ayala Museum smack in the middle of Makati City. Trace the Philippines’s cultural history with the country’s biggest collection of rare and priceless treasures, including paintings by legendary Filipino masters, Juan Luna and Fernando Amorsolo. You’ll also discover old artefacts, musical instruments, weapons, as well as clothes and body ornaments used by the indigenous communities in rituals, superbly curated over four floors.
Ayala Museum is located at Greenbelt 4, Ayala Centre, Manila, Philippines.
War Remnants Museum
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
War museums are never the easiest to take in, but no museum in Southeast Asia exposes the horrors of war as powerfully as Ho Chi Minh’s War Remnants Museum. Here, the brutal effects and atrocities of the Vietnam War are displayed in full, from photographs of the notorious My Lai Massacre to replicas of the ’tiger cages’ that were used to lock up Viet Cong prisoners. Chances are you’ll come out with goosebumps all over, but hey, it’s history.
War Remnants Museum is located at 28 Vo Van Tan, Phuong 6, Quan 3, Ho Chi Minh 700000, Vietnam.
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Hardly surprising that a city like Jakarta has such a beautiful venue for modern art. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Museum MACAN) is the first of its kind in the country, boasting a significant collection of prominent works from Indonesia, Europe, North America, and China — grown over more than 25 years. With a large 7,100 sqm space to work with, the museum hosts an active programme of exhibitions and events, including the immensely popular Yayoi Kusama exhibit last year.
Museum MACAN is located at AKR Tower Level MM, Jalan Perjuangan No. 5, Kota Jakarta Barat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 11530, Indonesia.