I consider myself rather fortunate to live a pleasant ten-minute walk from one of Thailand’s eight philatelic museums in the provincial capital of Phuket Town. The other seven are located in Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima, Ubon Ratchathani, Nakhon Sawan, Hat Yai, and behind the Samsen Nai post office in Bangkok.
The postal counter in the Phuket museum is my only source of Thai new issues, apart from the increasingly-frequent folders containing limited-edition four-stamp mini-sheets and the occasional stamps that sellout before supplies are sent south from Bangkok (this usually happens with the annual issues for special Buddhist holy days such as the recent Vesak Buja). The postal clerks usually give me the ancient Phuket hand canceller whenever I wish to make unofficial first day or other commemorative covers.
The Phuket Philatelic Museum is housed in the building that served as the province’s first official post office and was formally opened on 14 December 2004, just prior to the devastating tsunami that claimed so many lives in the region. Displays focus on telling the history of Thailand’s postal and telegraph services – the latter of which was closed on 30 April 2007 after 133 years of operation.
The main room contains displays of stamps – usually enlarged photographs rather than the actual stamps – one of which portrays the Royal forerunners of the first official Siamese issues in the late nineteenth century. Another room features various bits of postal and telegraphy equipment. There is also a library with extensive holdings on the postal history of the Kingdom (unfortunately for me, these books and journals are all in the Thai language which I can’t read) which also serves as a meeting room for local stamp clubs. The exhibits do change from time to time and the museum is currently undergoing a remodeling due to the establishment of a drive-thru postal counter.
The history of the land and the building itself are quite interesting. Originally, the land was the property of Phraya Vichitsongkram (Thut Rattanadilok na Phuket), the first governor of Siam’s western provinces which included Phuket. The Chao Ley (sea gypsy) people from Tukkae Cape on Koh Sirey (an island just to the east of Phuket Town) paddled along the Bangyai Canal to this spot in order to bring seafood in exchange for consumer goods with the town people living in the area. The small pier was also used by the people of Koh Yao in Phang Nga Province when they did their business in Phuket. Local villagers often rested here because there were lines of shady coconut trees. There were also Nipah palm and Phapru forests here.
In 1882 the land became Crown property and the province’s Government House was constructed here. The future King Mongkut (Rama VI) inspected the area during a Royal Tour in 1909 and wrote the following in his report:
This place was originally the residence of Phra Anurakyotha (Nout) who was appointed Governor to supervise the interests of the King in Muang Phuket. The house is a spacious three-storey building attached to a long one-storey pavilion. The office of Rajalohakit is located in the smaller building and was originally the residence of Phraya Vichitsonghram’s son. The government’s offices are disperse in different places all against the same wall. The prison is adjacent to this place. The prison itself is a large hall building which has no external windows, but there are some air holes and in the past it is thought that the building was used as a storehouse for Phrya Vichitsongkram. This Government Official had been persuaded by some unknown person to go into tin mining. Chao Khun Ratsada was considering moving the Government’s Hall and other offices to a new location, but to where the documentation does not make clear.
When tin-mining operations (then Phuket’s principal industry), expanded into this area, the Government Office and other facilities had to move to the present Provincial Hall further north and east. According to the royal annals of King Rama VI, the post office was established in 1930. The government finished construction of the one-story Panyah-roofed Post and Telegraph Office on the site in 1932.
The white reinforced concrete building features square poles in incised line patterns connected to each other with cement railings. Louvered window frames are painted on oak which let the light come through via clear glass on the top parts of the windows. The lofty ceiling is painted white wood, matched with wooden shuttered doors beneath. The edge of the roof comprises about 10-centimeter thick concrete while Panyah-style roofing with half-cylinder Chinese hardened clay tiles. The façade sign is written in old-style characters.
During an enormous flood in 1942, Phuket Town was inundated by water from the Bangyai Canal. It caused overflows into the post office and, ironically enough, the fisheries office. Flood waters turned Montri Road (which fronts the post office building to the east) into a new canal, along which boats from Koh Yao and Koh Sirey could once again navigate close to Krabi and Vichitsongkram Roads.
The Phra Pitakshinpracha estate later intended to fill in the Bangyai Canal and sell that particular piece of land but the local municipality interceded in order to leave the canal as a waterway out to sea. Some adjacent pieces of land were sold to the Thavornwongwong and Ngan Tawee families. The location where the Pearl Hotel is today was developed into a tin mine and a building was later built as the island’s first department store. At that time, the post office was considered as occupying a prime piece of real estate.
Apart from the post office, other government offices such as the electricity office, public health office and even a branch of Siam Commercial Bank were also located there.
By 1981, the Post and Telegraph Office of Muang Phuket building had fallen into a state of decay. The Phuket Provincial Council submitted a proposal to the Region 8 Postal Office in Surat Thani to demolish the old building in order to build a new post office. The Fine Arts Department realized the historic value of the old post office in its Sino-Portuguese architectural style and registered it to be a preserved building. Starting in 1994, the building was renovated and established as the Phuket Philatelic Museum, officially opening in 2004. The new three-story main post office for Phuket was constructed just to the north of the old building.