Maha Sarakham’s Many Museums

Maha Sarakham city is never going to become a top tourist destination, but if you do find yourself here, there’s an abundance of museums that can keep you occupied. None are worth a special trip – in fact, several are so small they hardly qualify as museums – but each has its own appeal.

Boon Tam Tan Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์บุญตามทัน)

room with many old things including a boat

This small private museum on the southern outskirts of the city feels more like an antique store than a museum, especially at the front where things like bottles, lanterns, and typewriters are kept. The collection gets older the further back you go with household and farm equipment like an old ox-pulled plow, food making pots, silk weaving equipment, and wooden dolls. There are no English labels. It in the small Kaeng Loeng Chan Convention Center. Ask someone in the gift shop to open the door for you.

wooden doll
two shelves full of colorful serving trays

Details – 8.30am-5pm Tue-Sun, 20/10B adult/child, 043-777717,

Center of Excellence for Silk Innovation (ศูนย์นวัตกรรมไหม มหาวิทยาลัยมหาสารคาม)

display cabinets with silk cocoons

Maha Sarakham University’s silk research department, also known as the Silk Innovation Center, is open to the public. The main room has a few displays about silk and mulberry trees, whose leaves are the only food that most silkworms can eat. It also showcases various products other than fabric, including soap, cosmetics, paper, and mulberry jam. In front of this building is a modern silk worm nursery where you can usually see worms, and occasionally people spin silk thread from the cocoons here. About fifty meters to the southeast, next to the little coffee shop, is the weaving center with a few looms. There’s next to no English here, written or spoken, but the workers are friendly.

bundles of silk thread
jar of mulberry jam

Details – 8.30am-4pm Mon-Fri, free, 043-753314,

Confucius Institute Maha Sarakham University (สถาบันขงจื๊อมหาวิทยาลัยมหาสารคาม)

Chinese dress and masks

Not really a museum, but the Confucius Institute is included here for the sake of being thorough. This Chinese-funded education organization’s musty meeting room has twelve little displays about Chinese arts and entertainment, from musical instruments to masks. There are only Thai and Chinese labels. Ask in any office you find open for someone to get the key.

two masks

chinese game like checkers

Details – 8.30am-4pm Mon-Fri, free, 043-754333

Isan Art and Cultural Center (สำนักศิลปะและวัฒนธรรม)

room full of pottery and fragments of stone carvings

This small but varied collection of historical artifacts fills the second floor of the Rajabhat Maha Sarakham University Office of Art and Culture. It has three main sections. Stuff from the recent past, including musical instruments, animal traps, and household goods; ancient items, mostly pottery and a few fragments of Khmer-era stone carving; and temple equipment made of wood. There’s no English, and even Thai labels are scant. You’ll need to ask someone in the ground-floor office to open the door for you.

portion of carved face
two carved wooden doors

Details – 8am-4.30pm Mon-Fri, free, 043-721839,

Jewels of the Sea Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์เปลือกหอย)

cases full of shells

A grand name for just sixteen glass cases of seashells, about half from Thailand. Though there aren’t that many seashells, most are beautiful. There are also a few displays about wasps, moved here when the old Insect Museum was converted to a meeting room. The names of the shells and where they came from is given in English. It’s on the fourth floor of the Maha Sarakham University Faculty of Sciences Building #2 (SC2); the same building as the mushroom museum. Ring the bell (repeatedly if needed) of the nearby lecturers’ office, room 401/1, to get the key.

two shells with long spines
plate full of yellow shells

Details – 8am-4.30pm Mon-Fri, free

Maha Sarakham City Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์เมืองมหาสารคาม)

rooms with many old household items

This is the best designed and decorated of the historical museums in Maha Sarakham, but it offers the least to see. Mostly just a few baskets, votive tablets, model houses, an old photo studio, and some paintings. There is some English signage, though not on all the displays.

six small votive tablets

Details – 8.30am-4.30pm Mon-Fri, free, 043-723467

Maha Sarakham University Art Gallery (หอศิลป์พระพิฆเนศวร)

four paintings handing on a wall

Rotating exhibitions of student, faculty, and outside artists are held in two separate rooms on the ground floor of the MSU Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts building. It’s also known as the CLMTV Art Museum (Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam) and there are sometimes collaborations between universities from these countries. The doors are kept unlocked, but you may have to turn the lights on yourself.

painting hanging on a wall
two paintings hanging on a wall

Details – 8am-4.30pm Mon-Fri, free, 043-754384,คณะศิลปกรรมศาสตร์-มหาวิทยาลัยมหาสารคาม-159544477416333

Maha Sarakham University Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์มหาวิทยาลัยมหาสารคาม)

old wooden house

The MSU Museum consists of seven old Isan buildings: six stilted wooden houses and one made of mud. Three of them are used for displays, the others for storage or meetings. One wooden building holds “The University Story” with pictures of students and faculty, and another is partly furnished to show what homes were like in the past. The home display also has signs about seasonal food gathered in the forest, much of which is still done today. Mud buildings were used by Chinese immigrants, though the real ones were much bigger; this one was just built to show how the walls were made. There’s nearly no English signage in any of the buildings, but the office under the largest building (where you can find someone to open the doors for you) has a brochure with English explanations of the buildings. Alongside the museum is a small “zoo” with deer, birds, and guinea pigs.

bedroom of old wooden house
pictures of students doing various activities

Details – 8.30am-4.30pm Mon-Fri, free, 043-754380,

Natural Medicinal Mushroom Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์เห็ดที่มีฤทธิ์ทางยา)

display cases with mushrooms

Professionally produced, this museum at Maha Sarakham University is more interesting than you’d expect by the name. Some of the specimens are gigantic and others have been carved into art. There’s also a display about parasitic fungi that can hijack the minds of cicadas. Pretty much the only English information is the scientific names. It’s on the third floor of the Faculty of Sciences Building #2 (SC2); the same building as the shell museum. Stop in the Academic and Research Affairs office on the second floor to have somebody unlock the door for you.

elephants carved onto a large mushroom
giant mushroom

Details – 8.30am-4.30pm Mon-Fri, free, 043-754247,

Palaeontological Research and Education Center (ศูนย์วิจัยและการศึกษาบรรพชีวินวิทยา)

fossils in display cases

This one-room museum at Maha Sarakham University holds fossils from various ancient animals including dinosaurs (mostly excavated in Kalasin) and crocodilians plus some petrified wood, coprolite (fossilized feces), and modern animal skulls. It’s small, but dinophiles will like it. There is just a smattering of English information. It’s easy to find because there are two large dinosaur skeleton statues out front.

gharial and crocodile fossils
large dinosaur femur fossil

Details – 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, free, 043-754373,

The Research Institute of Northeastern Art and Culture (สถาบันวิจัยศิลปะและวัฒนธรรมอีสาน)

gold-painted cabinet for storing palm leaf manuscripts

Maha Sarakham University maintains this small, somewhat neglected collection about Isan culture in a large, striking building. It essentially has four sections: basketry, musical instruments, palm-leaf manuscripts, and mut mee silk weaving. The Thai labels are thorough, but there’s no English. It’s on MSU’s old campus in the city proper.

tools for making palm leaf manuscripts
rack for putting patterns on mut mee silk threads

Details – 8am-4pm Mon-Fri, free, 043-721686,

Wat Mahachai Northeastern Local Culture Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์วัฒนธรรมท้องถิ่นภาคตะวันออกเฉียงเหนือ วัดมหาชัย)

large collection of various Khmer and other statues

Established in the 1960s to protect ancient artefacts in Isan from being sold and sent overseas, the highlights of this cluttered collection are the pottery, including many large vessels in excellent condition; various stone carvings, some from Khmer ruins; and old Lao wooden Buddhas. There are also some more recent cultural objects including musical instruments. Palm-leaf manuscripts are kept in a second building. It’s rather dark and dusty and there’s little in the way of labels (none in English), but it’s definitely worth a visit for history buffs, especially those who speak Thai and can get explanations from Phra Khru Arun, who is the only one with the keys to open it up. He enjoys showing people around.

rows of old pots on a table.
two drums

Details – no set hours, free, 061-1359147

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