Gone are the days when museums, especially arts, were associated with a drab space filled with boring statues and dreary photos against a backdrop of dusty dim lighting. Have a look at some of the best destination museums in the Asian region designed by master-class architects and ultimately boast some of the most extensive and rare art collections.
1. Tokyo: Nezu Museum
This art museum was established in 1941 in efforts to preserve and showcase items gathered by businessman Nezu Kaichiro. Having amassed over 7,400 Japanese and Asian artworks, the museum synthesises traditional art forms, modern Japanese architecture, and a 17,000-square-metre landscape garden into an amazing spot to explore.
Bonus: The garden changes its appearance each season and is dotted with tea rooms for visitors who want to experience the traditional tea ceremony.
Opening hours: Tuesday till Sunday 10am – 5pm
Admission: Adult JPY1,000 (RM37); Student JPY800 (RM29)
GETTING THERE: Book your flight to Tokyo here
2. Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
Regarded as Southeast Asia’s largest museum of Islamic art and one of Kuala Lumpur’s most popular attractions, Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia has over 7,000 Islamic artefacts from all over the world. Occupying 30,000sq m of Kuala Lumpur’s Perdana Botanical Gardens (a five-minute walk from the Planetarium and the National Mosque), the museum has 12 permanent galleries showcasing Islamic architecture, Quran and manuscripts, jewellery, textiles, arms and armour, coins and seals, and metalwork, among others. Notable exhibits include 1964 Kiswah — the cloth that covers Kaaba in Mecca (a place of Islamic pilgrimage) — and manuscripts such as prayer books dating back to the 17th century.
Bonus: The museum restaurant serves dishes from Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and the Arab Gulf.
Opening hours: Daily 10am – 6pm
Admission: Adult RM14; Student and senior citizen RM7; Children under the age of six – free
GETTING THERE: Book your flight to Kuala Lumpur here
3. Singapore Art Museum
Housed in a restored 19th century mission school St Joseph’s Institute, Singapore Art Museum focuses on contemporary art across Southeast Asia. Its permanent collection comprises over 7,000 works by internationally acclaimed artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Stella. On top of that, exhibitions change every few months and feature a wide range of art forms, from paintings and sculptures to installation art and moving media.
Opening hours: Monday till Sunday 10am – 7pm; Friday 10am – 9pm
Admission: Adult SGD6 (RM18); Students and senior citizens SGD3 (RM9); Singaporean, permanent resident and children under the age of six – free
GETTING THERE: Book your flight to Singapore here
4. Bangkok: Museum of Contemporary Art
Established in 2012 by one of Thailand’s richest men, Boonchai Bencharongkul, Bangkok’s Museum of Contemporary Art or Moca for short, is Thailand’s biggest private museum. It exhibits over 800 pieces of modern Thai art including the works of notable local artists like Chalermchai Kositpipat who is best known for designing the all-white temple in Chiang Rai, Wat Rong Khun. The top floor of the five-storey museum is the international artists section that includes a fine collection of Victorian era paintings.
Opening hours: Tuesday till Sunday 10am – 6pm
Admission: Adult 180THB (RM23); Students 80THB (RM10); Children under the age of 15 and senior citizen – free
GETTING THERE: Book your flight to Bangkok here
5. Hong Kong Museum of Art
Located in Kowloon, Hong Kong Museum of Art features an eclectic mix of contemporary art and antiquities. The collections of artwork include calligraphy, ceramics, sculptures, textiles, clothing, photography and surrealist art installations. With some objects from the Shang Dynasty (11th century BC) standing in sharp contrast to modern pieces, this museum highlights an unbroken tradition of Chinese art and culture spanning thousands of years. (NOTE: The museum is under renovation and is expected to reopen in November 2019)
Opening hours: Monday till Friday 10am – 6pm; Saturday, Sunday and public holiday 10am – 7pm; Closed on Thursday
Admission: Standard HKD10 (RM5); Senior citizen HKD5 (RM2.60)
GETTING THERE: Book your flight to Hong Kong here
6. Seoul: National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
This historic museum in Yongsan Family Park was opened when Korea gained independence in 1945. With over 220,000 artworks and relics in store, the museum showcases 13,000 works at any given time. The best way to explore? Tackle the museum one floor at a time! The first floor contains an archeological and historical gallery. The second floor is where you will find calligraphy, paintings, and donated works from individual collectors while the third floor features Buddhist sculptures, ceramics and art representing Asian culture.
Bonus: The museum stages events like concerts and films related to the permanent and special exhibits every Saturday.
Opening hours: Sunday till Thursday 10am – 6pm; Friday and Saturday 10am – 9pm (6pm – 9pm – free entrance)
Admission: Standard 4,000KRW (RM14); Visitors aged under 24 or over 65, college students, and person with disability – free
GETTING THERE: Book your flight to Seoul here
7. Philippines: Pinto Art Museum
About two-thirds of the most Instagrammed museums based on geotagging are art museums, dominated by the US, with France and the UK also having multiple entries on the list.
The lone museum from Asia is the Philippines’ Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo City, which is little-known outside the country. Perched on the hills of Rizal province just outside Metro Manila, the museum is set in the Silangan Gardens, which covers 1.3 hectares of landscaped gardens on rolling terrains. It showcases contemporary art from the collection of neurologist Dr Joven Cuanang. A patron of the arts, he has supported emerging Filipino artists over the past 30 years, amassing nearly a thousand artworks. Today, hundreds of thought-provoking pieces line the walls and floor of the museum, which opened its doors to the public in 2010.
Opening hours: Tuesday till Sunday 9am – 6pm
Admission: Adult PHP200 (RM16); Senior citizen/person with disability PHP180 (RM14); Student PHP100 (RM8); Children aged three and under – free.
GETTING THERE: Book your flight to Manila here