Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore

I've been meaning to visit the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore since the first time I visited the city state. I've seen the building where the museum is house when I am around  downtown or in Marina Bay area, but I only was able to visit it during my business trip this year. 

The museum, as the name suggests, specializes in Asian cultures and civilizations. It was established in 1997, and moved to its present location - the colonial Empress Place building - in 2003. The building itself is just by the bank of Singapore River, which lends further symbolism to the museum's raison d'etre. The river, after all, played an important part to the development of Singapore's (multi) culture (if you can call it that), and history. Basically the museum encompases the Chinese, Malay, Indian and South Asian cultures which all, at some point of the city's history, contributed to its development.

Facade of the Asian Civilisations Museum

I actually had a funny anecdote about being multi-cultural when I visited the museum. As I entered I asked the receptionist how much the ticket would be. Probably because I have an "Asian" face, she assumed that I'm a local, and answered that Singaporeans go in for free. For a second I thought of what might happen if I just pretended that I'm a local (and peppered my sentences with 'lah'). But I corrected her and I paid the normal fee. 

Implements for indulging one's opium habit

As I went around the museum I resisted the idea of comparing it to the Asian civilization section of the Met Museum of New York, or that of Field Museum. I did compare it to that of the National Museum of the Philippines and the one in Kota Kinabalu, the Muzium Sabah. The former is about the same size, but I reckon that NM would have more artifacts in its collection. After all, Philippine history and culture has wider breadth than that of Singapore. The latter is comparably smaller, but almost thematically similar, with its Malay, Chinese, and South Asian artifacts.

Bronze artifacts from Thailand

There were eleven galleries in all - thematically organized around geographic regions and features. The first is Singapore River, which revolves around the culture and history of Singapore. Then there are galleries for Southeast Asia, West Asia, China, India and South Asia. The most interesting artifacts I saw in the Singapore River gallery were the opium implements used by migrant Chinese workers and traders in the 19th century, back when the Opium trade between China and the rest of the region were still active (it reminded me of the Opium Commission building in the Bund, in Shanghai).

Daggers and swords from Mindanao and Sulu

I tried to find artifacts from the Philippines in the permanent collections and most of the things on display are weapons from Mindanao and Sulu, such as daggers and swords. There are more artifacts from Thailand and Indonesia, including some musical instruments and puppets on the third floor.

Musical instruments from Indonesia

The museum also showcases special exhibits. I read that in 2009 the museum featured art and artifacts from the Philippines. During my visit there's the exhibit about lacquered objects from all over Asia, one about porcelain artifacts, and sculptures from the Batak tribe from Sumatra, Indonesia.

A lacquered Buddha
All in all the museum is a good place to pass some time in the city state, and learn about the Asian cultures that in one way or another contributed to the development of Singapore. There's not much about Singapore culture itself, but the things from other cultures more than makes up for it.

How to Get There
The Asian Civilisations Museum is located in the Empress Place building, in the central district of Singapore. It is just across the Fullerton Hotel. The closest SMRT station is Raffles Place station, five minutes away and via the Cavenagh Bridge.

Useful Info
The museum is open from daily from 10 am to 7 pm, except Fridays, when it's open from 10 am to 9 pm. Entrance fee is SGD 8 for foreigners. Photography is allowed but with flash off.


Lobby of the museum


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