The virtual version of the National Museum Bangkok allows an exploration of its permanent exhibition halls with historical information of each building. Click on the picture of each hall, and you will be brought to the first zone of the hall. The expandable map will show your location. If you find the arrow cursor turns to be a pointing hand icon, it means information about the artefact is available. A headphone icon on some artefacts means an audio guide in both Thai and English is available. (Photos courtesy of The Fine Arts Depa rtment)

Until at least April 25, national museums have closed their doors to prevent the spread of Covid-19. In this age of rapidly changing technology, we no longer have to leave home and can still pay a visit to top museums in Thailand and around the world through virtual museum tour programmes.

Since time is on our side during the lockdown period, you can spend hours exploring collections of national heritages without paying an entrance fee. Although we can't virtually circle around each object to have a 180-degree view, the virtual museum tour offers ideas of where to visit when our lives return to normal.

In Thailand, all national museums are owned and operated by the Fine Arts Department (FAD) of the Culture Ministry. The department launched the virtual museum project in November 2017 through the website virtualmuseum.finearts.go.th. The site supports both Thai and English.

The site has links to all national museums, art galleries and the National Archives (in Thai language only) of the FAD. To make it easier to choose what museums to explore, the site lists names of the national museums by region.

The Virtual Model 360-degree view is available for some major artefacts. After clicking on one item like this Avalokitasavara Bodhisattava sculpture, which was found in Wat Wieng in Chaiya district, Surat Thani province, you will find information about the artefact and two video clips. One offers the 360-degree view and the other is for zooming in to see details of the sculpture. (Photos courtesy of The Fine Arts Depa rtment)

According to the FAD's statistics, the virtual museum tours received more than 72,000 visits from October to January. The most visited virtual museum is the National Museum Bangkok (virtualmuseum.finearts.go.th/bangkoknationalmuseums). The museum is also the most visited in the country.

When clicking on the link to the museum, you will see various tabs including "Virtual Museum", a list of ancient artefacts in "Model Present", and "Virtual Model 360" that displays objects at a 360-degree view. This function also allows you to zoom in to see the objects up close. Unfortunately, the zoom function and the 360-degree view do not directly tie with the virtual museum tour programme.

From there you can visit the Louvre, the world's most visited museum that attracts about 10 million people a year. The museum has a virtual tour programme at louvre.fr/en/visites-en-ligne. Although not all collections can be displayed online, we can explore some permanent exhibitions including "The Advent Of The Artist", "Egyptian Antiquities", "Remains Of The Louvre's Moat" and "Galerie d'Apollon".

The Mona Lisa Beyond The Glass app can blend virtual reality with animation technology. The presentation will let you know how the artwork was originally created, along with numerous details about the painting. (Photos courtesy of The Louvre Museum)

If you are looking for the world-renowned Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, you should download the museum's virtual reality app, "Mona Lisa Beyond The Glass". The app allows you to see and know more about Lisa Gherardini, whose portrait was painted more than 500 years ago.

The app is available at Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store. With your mobile phone, you can move your direction left, right, up or down to see an overview of the Louvre before the programme will lead you directly to the Mona Lisa. During the introduction, you can see other paintings in the room. If you have a virtual reality headset, it will give you a much different feeling than watching the presentation on a screen.

In addition, other well-known museums recommended include Museum Siam, the National Gallery in Bangkok, Chao Sam Phraya National Museum in Ayutthaya, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC and Vatican Museums.

The Egyptian Antiquities collection is my favourite exhibition at the virtual Louvre Museum tour. The first thing you will see after launching the virtual tour of this zone is the Great Sphinx of Tanis. Click on the “i” icon, and the picture will be enlarged with brief information below the photo. The Sphinx is flanked by two more artefacts, but the information is not available online. When you move your mouse around, you will see a black arrow guiding you to the next room. On the left corner of your screen, an interactive map is shown. When you click the cursor on the map, it will expand. Then it will be easier for you to navigate each gallery by clicking any icon on the map.

Top: Museum Siam which is temporarily closed until April 12 invites you to stay connected online. Visit its virtual tour at museumsiam.org/virtualexhibition/accountofthailand. The site will lead you to the door of the museum. When you click an arrow to get inside, you will be at the reception area. Below: On the left corner of the site, you will see a map of the room with interactive arrows leading you to the next rooms. There are 16 exhibition rooms in the three-storey building. Each room offers a 360-degree view with “Plus” icons. When clicking on the plus icon, the picture and a caption or a video clip will pop up. The information is available in Thai and English. Some rooms also have autoplay audio guide or music. If you want to jump to another exhibition room, click on the forward icon or on the word “Open” on the left side of the screen. You will see an expandable map of the museum. Then move the mouse on any icon on the map, it will show topics of the exhibition rooms. When you click on one icon, it will directly lead you to the next gallery.

The virtual version of the National Gallery can be accessed at virtualmuseum. finearts.go.th/nationalgallery. The site features both permanent and rotated exhibitions. When entering one gallery, you will see circular icons. Click on the sign, it will enlarge the painting. Unfortunately, there is no detail about the artist name nor the inspiration behind it. The virtual gallery tour is available only in Thai.

Chao Sam Phraya National Museum in Ayutthaya offers a virtual tour at virtualmuseum.finearts.go.th/chaosamphraya. Although the website supports both Thai and English, only selected parts are in English such as the Virtual 360-Degree function that showcases some masterpieces. The virtual gallery has brief information on some artefacts in Thai only.

Although I would like to bring you to the virtual tour of the National Museum of China (en.chnmuseum.cn/exhibition/#rep_exhibitions), which has an overwhelming number of beautiful ancient artefacts, the information is available only in Chinese. I would also like to introduce Vatican Museums (bit.ly/2vWJtHf). The virtual tour features seven zones including the Sistine Chapel, the Pio Clementino Museum, the Chiaramonti Museum, the New Wing, Raphael’s Rooms, the Niccoline Chapel, and the Room of the Chiaroscuri. When you slowly move your mouse left and right to see the art, don’t forget to check out the beauty of the ceiling and also the floor of each gallery. Take advantage of this 360-degree view. (Photos courtesy of the Vatican museums)

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC has the best virtual museum tour in my opinion. It is easy to use and informative down to the details. With its expandable guide map, you will see galleries you want to visit right away by noticing animal logos on the map. The virtual museum has a powerful zoom function, meaning you can even read the information on some artefacts as if you were standing in front of the items. A virtual reality function is also available.


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