The National Marine Museum

The National Marine Museum

The National Marine Museum

For history buffs, the National Maritime Museum in Chanthaburi, a province on the Gulf of Thailand coast and once a busy port of call for foreign vessels, showcases an array of artifacts befitting its strategic location on the ancient trade route.

For centuries it was an important port where ships from Europe and India stopped on their way to China, and in 1834 its place in Thai history was secured, while facing the prospect of war with Vietnam, King Rama III had a fort – Noen Wong – built there to defend the country.

The fort is now home to the museum. Pluemchit, the guide there, said the decision to set up a museum came after research and underwater excavation by archaeologists around the gulf coast yielded numerous historical objects that shed light on the early part of Thailand’s involvement in maritime trade. Artifacts excavated include those from ship wrecks, and among them are pottery, glass and beads from India.

She said foreign ships started dropping by in Chanthaburi around late 15th or early 16th century by which time it was a flourishing port town inhabited by a diverse mix of races – Thai (Siamese), Malay, Khmer, Vietnamese and Chinese. And it were the latter and their descendants who subsequently played a key role in the development of Thailand and its economy.

After arriving in Chanthaburi, the Chinese spread out to other parts of the country, but their early legacy is still preserved in the museum.

Pluemchit ushered us to a room dedicated to artifacts and items related to trading and shipping during the last century. A huge replica of an ancient Chinese cargo vessel stood at the entrance. It had no compartments and its lower deck comprised the cargo hold and crew quarters, and by the look of it life must have been difficult for those who sailed in it.

Among the exhibits were wax figures depicting labourers, various aspects of early maritime trade and the hard life merchant mariners had to go through in those days. Maps and sea routes, port history and trading items were displayed next to them.

Another exhibition featured the numerous ways people used boats and why they were a crucial part of the existence of the nobility as well as common folks. They came in all shapes and sizes, and the visitors, after learning of their utility, nodded in appreciation, overwhelmed by a sense of history.

Our next stop was a presentation called the “Jewels of Chanthaburi” that traced the evolution of the province from prehistoric times to its brush with foreign traders and emergence as a vital port town at the crossroads of East-West trade, and on to the present, backed by a list of its tourist attractions, native cuisine, fruit orchards and its reputation as a centre for high quality gemstones.

Visitors will also learn that it was in Chanthaburi where King Taksin raised his fleet of warships and set sail from Laem Singh, a provincial district, to rout the Burmese army more than two centuries ago. At Laem Singh visitors will find old boats from that era.

A monument dedicated to King Taksin stands there and visitors can be seen paying their respects. Another item of interest is a 2,000-year-old fossilised tree trunk that was excavated from a nearby shrimp farm and donated to the museum by its owner. Several ship wrecks, including a Chinese vessel found in the Laem Sing estuary are also there for visitors to admire.

– For more information, call the National Maritime Museum at 039- 391-431 or fax 038-391-433. The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 9am to 4pm, but closed on public holidays.