Friday, November 27, 2009

Explorer Museum

Although I had heard all sorts of wonderful things before going, I was unprepared for just how cool the Siam Bayshore Resort & Spa’s Explorer Bar & Lounge really is. This uniquely designed and fitted out bar is a veritable mini-museum. I was able to leisurely examine up-close a painstakingly collected array of precious antiques, artefacts, sunken treasure, ancient relics, old maps, curios, exploring equipment and paraphernalia from around Asia and the globe.

The bar, or “museum” is it’s referred too in-house, is the brainchild of Kamala Sukosol, president of Siam Hotels & Resorts, and her youngest son, Krissada ‘Noi’ Sukosol Clapp, best known as front man of the iconic Thai brand Pru and winner of a Best Actor award for his critically acclaimed performance in the film “13”. What the owners have done is create a magical and enchanting world, a time capsule if you like, juxtaposed to the hurly-burly of modern-day Pattaya. To my mind, this is the kind the establishment where you can truly step back in time to relive a bygone era when travel was a real adventure and intrepid men and women traversed the oceans blue in search of distant and exotic lands...

An unbelievable plethora of curios from around the globe are on display. Of particular interest are Thai daily household tools and belongings, along with sunken treasures from China and Ayutthaya, Thailand’s ancient capital city. Furniture and ornaments take pride of place, such as a 1920s Sino-Thai herbal medicine cabinet, baskets from Mozambique, Tanzanian fabrics, vintage weaponry, magnifying glasses made of horn and ivory, Naga tribal spears, Burmese antique mah jong tables and a Thai pushcart used to sell fabrics. More curios artefacts include vintage cameras, Vietnamese stamps, a forest tiger’s skull, volcanic rock from Bali, medicine ‘tubes’ from Java and a cane made from snake bone. There are (of course) essentials for ship travel too: an English deep-sea diver’s mask, a cast iron chest, a naval telescope and compass. Lastly, there is a canal boat from Thailand’s famous Floating Market. Bangkok was once dubbed as the ‘Venice’ of South-East Asia and such a boat was very much a part of everyday life, selling everything from fresh market food to clothing, toys and whiskey.

Ships that sank in the South China Sea are also of particular interest because many of them were sailing on the Marine Silk Road, carrying wondrous bounties from China. These shipwrecks are veritable time capsules giving us a picture of life in a bygone era. Perhaps the most famous of all is the Nanking cargo which attracted worldwide media attention when it was auctioned by Christies Amsterdam in 1986. The Geldermalsen set sail in 1751, loaded down with 160,000 pieces of porcelain, tea, raw silk, textiles and gold ingots. Sadly, just 16 days after setting sail it hit a reef and sank in the South China Sea. The cargo was recovered and sold two hundred and thirty four years later! At the Explorer Bar you can view the remnants of similar great wrecks, such as the Binh Thuan, Ca Mau and Vung Tau, ranging from the 14-18th century.
More than even a museum and bar, the Explorer is a cosy and inviting lounge (open 9:00 am – 1:00 am daily) where you can just sit-back and relax with a beverage or snack [my tasty sabai-sabai cocktail set me back Bht 190++ and generous club sandwich Bht 195++]; play a few rounds of pool; try your hand at a board game (connect four, chess, checkers); watch sports on the flat screen TV or snuggle up with a good book [an extensive library of books and magazine is on offer]. Best of all, the bar has a great daily ‘Happy Hour’ from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, with a very tipple-worthy ‘buy one get one free’ offer.

To end, I defer to a more eloquent writer, Ping Amranand, an internationally renowned Thai photographer:

“Entering the Explorer Bar & Lounge is like taking a step back into nostalgia, to an era of the gentleman’s club, where in dimly lit corners one can expect to find dusty travellers – gin fizz in hand – regaling each other with stories of their latest adventure.”

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