Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bangkok Children's Museum

Today I took Jacob and Nalin to the Bangkok Children’s Museum. They were off school as today and tomorrow are the progress report days at ISB. They each got to bring a friend, Domi for Nalin and Benjamin for Jacob. Originally I had invited Nalin’s classmate Luca to go with us, but he declined because he had been there twice before and really didn’t want to go back.

Like a lot of things here in Bangkok, the Children’s Museum just wasn’t up to what you would find back in the U.S. We’ve been to a number of children’s museums in the U.S. and the science museum in Hong Kong. Cincinnati has a very nice children’s museum, and the Indianapolis children’s museum has been voted the best in the states. The science museum in Hong Kong was also first rate. You could easily keep the kids entertained in one of those museums all day long. We were at the Bangkok Children’s museum for about three hours (including lunch) and pretty much had seen everything that we wanted to see.

The price for the museum was 170 baht for kids and 190 baht for adults. The museum consists of several buildings. The main building has a few interactive exhibits on the first floor, including one where the children can stand on a platform, and have someone try to make a giant bubble around them. There are also ones on the human body, including one on the digestive system. This exhibit shows a boy sitting on a toilet. You can see his digestive track. You are asked a series of five questions about the digestive process. If you answer correctly, a blue ball moves through the digestive track. As you answer the final question correctly, the ball “disappears” and you hear a flushing sound. It was kind of funny if not a world class exhibit. The second and third floors had a few displays, although nothing to keep the kids interest very long.

There was an outdoor playground with a giant rope pyramid that the kids can climb. Jacob easily scaled that of course. Tim told me that he had climbed it when he was three. That is actually pretty impressive, because his friend at least wouldn’t or couldn’t make it to the top. There was also a small obstacle course outside. Fortunately, the weather was mild today, so playing outside was pleasant for the kids.

The museum has a Disney Princess display which the girls did like. The boys were less enthused to say the least. I have to take the boys side on this, and its not because I detests princesses. The whole thing seemed very cheap. I guess the highlight was the carpet ride where they sat on a magic carpet that moved up and down a few inches while it appeared that they were flying on a big screen. It sounds better than it was in reality.

There was a building that had a sylvan motif with books, comfortable chairs and a little area for a puppet show. I entertained Jacob and Benjamin with the puppets for about 10 or 15 minutes, but this building wasn’t anything spectacular.

Overall the museum really lacked a lot of quality exhibits. One of the keys to the really good museums is to have a lot of hands on exhibits that really engage the kids. If you only have three or four of those (at most), you are just not going to keep kids attention very long. Even something like a big area of wooden building blocks or legos would have been a welcome addition.

Hey, I understand that Thailand is not the U.S. or even Hong Kong. It is still in the developing world, so don’t expect it to rival what I find in Indianapolis, Hong Kong or even Cincinnati. Still its disappointing, because I really wanted it to be one of those places where the kids love to go.

Perhaps the reason is that there is just not the critical mass of customers that you find in the U.S. While an average U.S. family may be able to spend $30 in a month to take the family to a museum, for an average Thai family, dropping 900 baht on a day at the museum might be out of the question. The only way a lot of Thai kids might be able to see the place is on a class field trip.

Part of me thinks that there is more to it than that. Sometimes I really get the feeling that Thais are often penny-wise and pound foolish. They will take shortcuts to get things done quickly at the expense of quality. So instead of spending a bit more money to create a place that children want to return to over and over, they create one that in the eyes of one of Nalin’s classmates, just wasn’t worth a third visit. Even if they had to charge an extra 10, 20 or even 50 baht per visitor to pay for the improved exhibits, that this would not cause a problem. For the most part, the people willing to pay 900 baht for a family (price of 4 kids and 2 adults) would be willing to spend 950 or even 1,100 baht. Even more importantly, they might return more often.

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