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Erawan Museum, Bangkok – Thailand’s Three Headed Elephant

Entrance way to the museum with the enormous elephant towering in the distance.

Entrance way to the museum with the enormous elephant towering in the distance.

ERAWAN MUSEUM BANGKOK | Sharon Henry

Climbing barefooted into the belly of Thailand’s three headed elephant is an unusual experience, Bangkok is full of surprises.

We’re following what sounds like hushed chanting of Buddhist monks, which gets louder the higher we go. A little dizzy from the spiral staircase climb we step into a softly lit temple; a blue astrology mural covers the entire curved room.

Devotees bow in prayer to a Buddha standing centre stage. It feels quietly sacred up here, not just because we’re in an elephant’s belly but because this is ‘Heaven’ and the ‘Universe’… No, I’m not on drugs!

Thailand's three headed elephant - Inside the elephant belly shrine, 'Heaven' and 'The Universe.'

Thailand’s three headed elephant – Inside the elephant belly shrine which is called, ‘Heaven’ and ‘The Universe.’

We have ventured a little off the beaten track at the edge of this sprawling city, to Erawan Museum, a colossal monument honouring a mythical Hindu elephant. It’s a copper and steel construction built in the shape of a three-headed elephant, mounted majestically on a pastel pink pedestal.

Thailand’s Three Headed Elephant Is Big

Trunks trumpeting high into the Bangkok skyline, Erawan stands 29 metres tall and weighs a mighty 250 tonnes. The combined structure including pedestal, towers 43 metres.

The museum is the private venture of Thai business mogul, Lek Viriyapant, built to house his vast personal collection of ancient artefacts and to preserve Thai art and culture. Construction started in 1994 and was completed in 2004.

There are three levels inside this museum that is modelled on the Hindu depiction of the universe. The first floor is the ‘Underworld,’ second is ‘Earth’ and the top, ‘Heaven.’

Thailand's three headed elephant - The ceiling is covered in a beautiful astrology mural.

Inside Thailand’s three headed elephant – The ceiling is covered in a beautiful astrology mural. No flash photography allowed.

 

It would accurate to say, "We're in Heaven!"

A selfie inside the Erawan Museum, although it would be accurate to also say, “We’re in Heaven!”

 

We’re in ‘Heaven’ right now and have just discovered the chanting sounds are coming from a CD player on repeat. We are quietly told by a guard no photography is allowed of the ancient Buddha statues flanking the room, just the view ahead.

The artistic ceiling mural depicts the cosmos, displaying zodiac constellations, a blazing sun and scatterings of gold leaf stars. The chanting enhances the room’s spiritual vibe and Darrin and I soak up the peaceful atmosphere, lingering to observe families pay respects to their god.

 

This little place of worship is located directly under the 'Heaven' floor, but still in the main belly of the elephant.

This little place of worship is located directly under the ‘Heaven’ floor, but still in the main belly of the elephant.

 

The spiral staircase inside the leg of the elephant.

The spiral staircase is built inside the leg of Thailand’s three headed elephant.

 

No Shoes Inside the Museum

We entered the museum earlier through the ‘Underworld’ at the base of the pedestal that contains valuable and ancient collections of Ming and Qing dynasty ceramics. It’s a gem for those who appreciate these works of art.

Before entering the middle section we were required to remove our shoes and leave them on a designated shoe rack. I have to admit I am a tad worried if they’ll be there on our return although there’s a watchful ticket collector in the vicinity.

 

No shoes inside.

No shoes inside.

 

Entering ‘Earth’ has the ‘wow’ factor, it’s absolutely spectacular. Such a feast for the eyes, there’s so much to look at and absorb. And it’s so pink! Sun streams through a stained glass domed roof, illuminating intricate ceramic mosaic patterns that glitter in the light. It seems all surfaces are extravagantly adorned with exquisitely molded stucco.

 

Entering the 'Earth' section. Thailand's three headed elephant.

Entering the ‘Earth’ section of Thailand’s three headed elephant. The domed stained glass above us is stunning.

 

Chinese Goddess Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy.

Chinese Goddess Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy.

 

Climbing The Stairway To Heaven

A white ornamental staircase leads to a wooden carving of Chinese Goddess Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. She stands under a pagoda, lotus flowers at her feet. Sculptures of mystical musicians, deities and creatures display remarkable craftsmanship and detail.

Sweeping stairways lead higher to the platform and the start of the long spiral staircase, up the elephant’s leg, that made me dizzy climbing to ‘Heaven’.

 

Porcelain bowls and spoons are given another use.

‘Earth’ section inside Thailand’s three headed elephant, so much detail in each statue. Notice the spoons ears.

 

Erawan Museum - Porcelain bowls and spoons are given another use.

Porcelain bowls and spoons are given another use. Intricate detail to admire throughout the ‘Earth’ of the Erawan Museum.

 

The grand staircase entrance-way.

Looking down on the grand staircase and entrance-way to ‘Earth’ inside Thailand’s three headed elephant.

A Close-Up View of ‘Earth’

There’s an elevator available for the less mobile which opens onto a viewing platform just below the top floor.

We hadn’t fully appreciated the stained glass pedestal roof earlier depicting an abstract world map, its luminosity showcases the building’s contents perfectly.

I’m drawn to the detailed pictures on the pewter pillars supporting the glass ceiling. There are four in total, each skilfully chased, (engraving technique) representing Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Mehayana Buddhist stories. The mastery is such that it took three years to complete each column.

The stained glass roof of the 'Earth' section.

Erawan Museum – The stained glass roof of the ‘Earth’ section with the four chased pillars.

 

Intricate designs on the four pillars.

Intricate chasing work on all four pillars in the ‘Earth’ part of Erawan Museum.

 

The inside carvings on the staircase.

The inside carvings on the staircase.

 

Praying at the Erawan Museum

The gardens of Erawan are equally superb as the museum. Tall shady trees offer respite from Bangkok’s sticky heat and the tinkling of water features sets a tranquil mood. We explore the grounds wearing our freshly laced shoes and admire whimsical statues that have spilled out from the museum. It’s so beautiful here, I don’t want to leave. This is one of the most unique places I’ve been.

 

Thailand's three headed elephant is 29m tall, 39m long and weighs 250 tonnes.

Thailand’s three headed elephant is 29m tall, 39m long and weighs 250 tonnes.

 

The gardens around the museum are a peaceful way to conclude a visit.

The gardens around the Erawan Museum in Bangkok are a peaceful way to conclude a visit.

 

Worship time outside the museum.

Worship time at the shrine outside the Erawan Museum.

 

All ages make time to offer prayers at the shrine.

After emerging from the Erawan Museum all ages make time to offer prayers.

 

A walk through the gardens reveals all these hidden delights.

A walk through the Erawan Museum gardens reveals all these hidden delights.

 

As much as Erawan is a museum it’s clearly also a place of worship. There’s another shrine outside, in front of the elephant where worshippers burn incense, offer fruit and flowers and kneel at the altar.

Directions, Fees and Dress Code for the Erawan Museum

To get here we took the BTS Skytrain to Bearing station, the end of the train line, then hired a metered taxi to bring us the rest of the way which cost 80 Baht (£1.60).

As foreigners we were charged 400B (£8) each entrance fee to the museum; Thais are charged 200B, something we thought a bit unfair. Double charging is common throughout Thailand.

 

Audio guides are provided in a range of languages.

At the entry point, audio guides are provided in a range of languages.

 

An audio guide is included in the price although a refundable deposit of 1,000B is required. The guide gives general information on the concept and details of the museum.

Visitors are advised to dress modestly, no shorts or revealing clothes. We noticed there weren’t many westerners present during our visit, mostly locals; Erawan Museum truly does seem off the beaten track.

 

Floating lotus' carry hopes in the wishing pond.

Floating lotus’ carry hopes in the wishing pond.

 

Acknowledgments:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erawan_Museum

http://www.ancientcitygroup.net/erawan/en/historical

COMMENTS

  • Patrick G Henry

    September 1, 2015

    Very interesting, amazingly beautiful place and people.

    • September 2, 2015

      It really is a very interesting place to visit. Cheers for the comment 🙂

  • Susan

    April 25, 2015

    What an amazing experience – great pictures 🙂

    • September 2, 2015

      It really was Susan, will never forget it. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  • Leoni du Preez

    April 23, 2015

    Wow .. never knew it was there … very special, thank you

    • April 23, 2015

      Yes Leoni – it’s not one of the most advertised attractions in Bangkok and it’s definitely worth a visit. 🙂

  • Shirley Gough

    April 11, 2015

    Great pictures !Thanks for sharing,

  • Sinead

    April 11, 2015

    Wow, loving all your stories & amazing pictures- can’t wait for more. 🙂 Well done & enjoy!

    • April 11, 2015

      Thanks Sinead – This is such an amazing adventure. 🙂

  • Alison

    April 11, 2015

    Sounds like a wonderful experience!

    • April 11, 2015

      Hi Alison – I thought of you when we were inside – you’d appreciate the religious concepts.

  • Simon Henry

    April 11, 2015

    Awesome! makes want to visit 🙂

    • April 11, 2015

      Thanks Simon – Thailand should go on your bucket list – and include the Three Headed Elephant. 🙂

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