The War Museum in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, is a strange beast. First of all, it is not to be confused with Kanchanaburi’s other, and more popular war museum, the JEATH Museum, which can be difficult, as this museum has a sign at its entrance proclaiming it the JEATH Museum. It’s not. It’s just trying to drag in confused tourists.

A Wood-carved starving POW

It is also not exactly a war museum. It is a war museum, plus loads of other museums and collections, tucked into one, sprawling, barely maintained complex. The War Museum begins with an ancient Thai apothecary, filled to the brim with dusty animal specimens, and may or may not still be operating as an actual pharmacy (our photo tour of this amazing place is here). Next, a basement-like room displays prehistoric artifacts and some confusingly provocative murals of cavemen.

Unclear what nipple tweaking has to do with prehistoric people

Proceeding onward, the war portion of the museum begins to unfold in a ramshackle, un-curated jumble of artifacts and eerie wood-carved mannequins depicting war scenes. Dusty cars sit next to a tableaux of the building of the bridge over the river Kwai, next to a row of blue-skinned fascists, next to a man who had apparently set up shop in the middle of the museum, selling nang talung, or shadow puppets: beautiful hammered leather works of art.

Continuing out into a courtyard, it turns out this massive complex is in a strange and beautiful building, complete with poisonous bees.

The second floor contains various collections, each having very little to do with the last. A collection of currencies, a collection of Thai stamps, a collection of old radios and clocks, a collection of POW human remains, a hall of Thai beauty queens, a collection of ore, a collection of musical instruments, a collection of jewelry — it goes on and on, each room dustier and less congruous than the last.

Collection of… old stuff?

Gold toothed skull of a POW

Text reads: “In this glass monument, the remains of 104 of the prisoners who worked as laborers during WWII, are kept on the second level and the remains of another 2 of them are kept on the 3rd level, making a total of 106”

After the sobering display of POW human remains, how about a an ore/jewerly/Miss Thailand museum palette cleanser?

The Miss Thailand directory turned out to be a fantastic mural that wrapped around the room.

This museum wouldn’t be complete without a Thai stamp collection

“Please conserve the buffalos by not killing them”

Though the museum is undoubtedly filled with many fascinating objects, the lack of signage leaves much up to the imagination. The real fascination is the museum itself — it has the feeling of one eccentric collector’s hoard, hastily tossed into old display cases, and slapped with the label MUSEUM.