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Today is listed on my calendar as Thailand Post Co. Ltd. Establishment Day, marking the date in 2003 that Thailand’s postal services were privatized.  The stamp at left was released to mark the 10th anniversary two years ago and is Thailand’s biggest stamp released to date, measuring 62 x 62 mm.  I’m not really sure what rate the 10-baht face value was intended for (first class domestic letters are 3 baht; international postcards are 15 baht); it was released in a sheet of four.

I’d already planned a trip to the Phuket Philatelic Museum to buy a few new issues released since my last visit on 29 July (the release date of the Thai Alphabet set), this being my last day off until early October.  But first I needed to visit Phuket Immigration Office; foreigner residents are required to check-in every 90 days.

While walking back home from the immigration office, I witnessed the totally unexpected local celebration of Thailand Post Day:  Led by a highway patrol car with lights and siren to clear the traffic, I first saw perhaps a half-dozen red-and-white Thailand Post and EMS trucks.  This was followed with around 50 motorbikes ridden by local mail carriers wearing their red-and-white jackets and helmets.  It was quite a site – particularly as they were circling a locally-iconic clock tower at the time.  It’s a shame that I didn’t have my camera with me – one of the rare occurrences that I’d left it at home!  Next year, I will be waiting…

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As for the post office visit, the ladies manning the philatelic museum shop counter were sporting the red 12th anniversary polo shirts which I commented on.  To my shock, they offered me one but they didn’t have one in my size (a Thai XXL which, back in America would be a loose-fitting XL).  Thai people are nothing but hospitable.  They had all the stamps I needed but were sold out of the first day covers for the THAIPEX issues (beautiful purple-based stamps portraying musical instruments played by HRH Princess Chakri Maha Siridhorn who is celebrating her 60th birthday this year) as well as the FDC for National Communications Day (which happens to be on the anniversary of the very first stamps released by Siam in 1883).  They did have the covers for the Royal Thai Army stamp and ASEAN Day stamp, both released on 8 August.

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The ASEAN Day stamp is quite striking and will make a nice accompaniment to my Muang Phuket Local Post ASEAN flags stamps on outgoing postcards (the 15-baht rate is the international postcard rate).  Since it also saw a souvenir sheet release, it took some effort to explain to one counter-lady that I wanted that plus a full sheet of ten.  I discovered that they call the souvenir sheet a “sheet” and a full sheet should be ordered by saying, “per sheet”.  This was the first time I ever had a real lost-in-translation moment at Phuket Philatelic Museum as they are usually pretty good at interpreting my stamp needs. 

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While I’m thinking about it, I’ll go online this afternoon and try to find the missing first day covers; the post office also sold out of the princess’s 60th birthday stamp issued in March and I haven’t yet tracked one down.

The next Thai stamps won’t be released until 18 September, a pair commemorating a half-century of diplomatic relations with Singapore and picturing tasty desserts (sticky rice with mango for Thailand, ice cream sandwiches for Singapore), followed on the 22nd with a single stamp marking the 103rd annual World Congress of the World Dental Federation to be held in Bangkok.

Happy Birthday, Thailand Post!

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Because of my job as an English teacher in Thailand, it can be difficult for me to make a trip to the post office during business hours.  This morning, however, I was able to stop by the Phuket Philatelic Museum on my way to work and buy all of those issues that have been released since my last visit back in April.  In fact, the only item that was unavailable was the first day cover for Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s 60th birthday.  I was surprised that they had today’s new release – a sheet of ten depicting Thai numerals – along with the first day cover.  Bangkok is getting much better at supplying the provinces!

I was able to buy three months’ worth of stamp singles, sets, souvenir sheets, and first day covers plus Thailand Post’s monthly stamp magazine – well illustrated but I can’t read a lick of it – all for 353 Thai baht.  That’s just a bit over $10 in U.S. currency.  Where else can you do that?

As I mentioned, the Thai numerals set was released today – 29 July – which happens to be National Thai Language Day.  According to Thailand Post’s quarterly new issue bulletin,  “Thai numbers constituting the numeric system in Thai is considered to be one of the national identities.  Their curvy, wavy, and gentle lines indicate the values of Thai art, the beautiful cultural heritage and the prosperity of the nation for having its own numbers and alphabets for over 700 years.  The numbers were designed by King Ramkhamhaeng, who adapted them from the Khmer numbers, which were derived from the Indian Devanagari.

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“Currently, the government has a policy to encourage the use of Thai numbers in official documents, according to the resolution of the cabinet in 2000, along with the use of fonts in the computer and the internet.  School students are also encourage to familiarize with the written Thai numbers to uphold the value of this Thai heritage.  This stamp series is the continuing series of Thai Alphabets in 2011.  The images depict Thai numbers from 0 to 9, together with 10 colorful numeric symbols on 10 stamps, which may also be used as a learning media for children.  This series will be launched on the National Thai Language Day on this 29 July.”

Aside from use on Thai government documents, the Thai numerals are also used to denote room numbers in government-operated schools.  Knowing these numbers has helped me on numerous occasions when I’ve had to substitute at a new school and couldn’t find anybody to ask the location of classrooms.

I’m happy I was able to go to the post office today as they will be closed tomorrow and Friday for the twin Buddhist holidays of Wan Asanha Bucha and Wan Khao Phansa (the ban on selling and consuming alcohol begins at one minute past midnight tonight). 

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The Phuket Philatelic Museum will be closed all of next week as the staff will travel to Bangkok for the resumption of THAIPEX –- the National Stamp Exhibition – for the first time since 2011.  Held at the Grand Postal Building in Bang Rak, the show will be presided over by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and will see the release of several stamps during it’s run from 3-9 August.  Admission is free, by the way.

Unfortunately, this means that I probably won’t be able to have the ASEAN Day Muang Phuket Local Post covers dual-cancelled with the Phuket postmark on 8 August.  They are receptive to my doing such things at the Phuket Philatelic Museum but counter clerks at the regular post office deny this sort of service.  It’s a bit of a shame as Thailand Post is issuing a very nice ASEAN Day stamp of their own next Saturday and I’d planned to make a few special first day covers.  We’ll see what happens…

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Happy Collecting!

Scan_20150117 (13)Because I prefer the classics, Thailand is the only country that I actively collect new issues of.  I find that most of the stamps are attractively designed, feature interesting subjects, and the face value is pretty darn low – usually 3 baht which translates to 10 U.S. cents per stamp.  While there are occasional sets of three or four in an issue, most are singles.  These usually come in sheets of ten so I usually buy them in full sheets as well as the singles and first day covers.  Thailand Post has been averaging about thirty-five issues per year which isn’t that many.

Scan_20141226 (51)While some issues do seem to be geared solely towards the collector’s market – digital TV, owls and frogs, for example – the majority honor royal anniversaries such as our monarchs’ various birthdays, Buddhist religious days, and the Red Cross (of which the eldest princess is the head).  National Children’s Day is always a popular issue and lately have seen designs featuring not only kids but trying to promote awareness of the ASEAN community’s ten member nations.  One forthcoming issue clearly motivated (likely ordered) by last year’s military coup is a pane re-iterating the 12 values for Thai youths to follow.  Hopefully, the English translation on the stamps themselves will be better than the flyers distributed to schools and portrayed on billboards last year, translations that had all of us English teachers rolling on the floor laughing at the unintended hilarity.  Lost in translation, indeed.

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In fact, I frequently puzzle over the stamp descriptions as published in the Thailand Post new issue bulletins.  On my other blog, I’d taken to transcribing them as printed in order to give my readers a chuckle.

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As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I do prefer the classics.  For Thailand (or Siam, as the nation was called until the 1940’s), that starts a bit earlier than the August 1883 solot issue.  The post office in the British consulate in Bangkok provided a mail service for foreigners (farang), initially using stamps from India and Hong Hong but finally began overprinting Straits Settlements stamps (Penang, Malacca and Singapore) with a large B.  These are quite popular amongst collectors in this region and thus far I haven’t been successful in obtaining one. I do have a rather poorly-executed counterfeit of the most expensive issue – Scott #22 which is priced at US $45,000 unused in my 2009 edition of the Scott catalogue.

As far as catalogues go, there are several options for the collector of Thai stamps.  Scott does cover the issues quite well, although I prefer Stanley Gibbons for the British Post Office in Bangkok postal history.  There are several different catalogues published here in Thailand, most are in the Thai language of course, but a couple are semi-bilingual.  The problem with these is that there always seems to be a lot more of the foreign language than the English equivalent; I just know they aren’t translating everything!

Scan_20141226 (47)The language barrier does create some problems, particularly at the post office.  I do have adequate Thai language skills that serve me well for basic conversation or when attempting to purchase food in the market but they don’t extend to philatelic terms.  Luckily, Phuket is in possession of a philatelic museum and I make almost all of my stamp purchases at their sales counter due to the slightly more than rudimentary English skills of the main sales lady.  She really tries to be helpful, even passing me the ancient and well-worn Phuket circular datestamp on those rare occasions when I want to make a commemorative cover of some sort.  (The handstamp probably dates from the 1920’s and I have never gotten a passable impression from this device.)

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Thailand021-rsOne of the most frustrating things is that issues of new definitive stamps never seem to be announced in Thailand and it can be difficult to find out details once they are released.  Also, an increasing number of commemoratives are issued in special limited edition mini-sheets of four the majority of which are NOT available in post offices.  They are usually distributed in souvenir folders at events associated with the subject matter and can be found on eBay at huge markups usually without the original folders.  Other back-of-the-book items and booklets add to the mix of annual issues (unannounced) and there are multiple pictorial postmarks for every new issue and many local events.  Some are announced in Thai language publications after the fact.  Thus, it seems to be virtually impossible to stay on top of things and form complete annual collections of Thai new issues.  At least that’s my take on things.

There are a few other mild irritations, including the complete lack of physical stamp shops on Phuket.  There are a few that remain in Bangkok so I need to spend some time in the capital at some point doing nothing but checking these shops out.  Also, there are always several issues each year that either are never supplied to post offices on Phuket or sell-out before I have a chance to get there.  The shelf life for many issues seems abnormally short.

On the plus side, there’s at least one major show each year in Bangkok but I have yet to attend one due to it being held during the school year.  If I had the time, there are also active philatelic communities in both Malaysia and Singapore.  The last time I visited the latter place, I spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the philatelic museum there.

I simply enjoy collecting what I can of the country, sticking with the items that I can find at the Phuket Philatelic Museum sales counter and if one of the harder-to-find items appears on eBay at a reasonable price, I will snatch it up.  I’m certain it would improve my collecting of the nation if I were able to read the Thai language but I’ve more or less given up on more than a rudimentary understanding of the language.  At least I’m having fun and that’s the most important aspect of any hobby.

Happy Collecting.

Postmark2014iAround the time I began collecting stamps again in earnest, I stumbled across several local post stamps.  Somewhat inspired by these, I set off on a tangent to my main philatelic pursuits and launched my own local post.  I had two purposes in mind when I created Muang Phuket Local Post:  1)  to learn how to use photo-editing software to design stamp-like labels and postcards and 2) to commemorate subjects that I felt were interesting but weren’t being honored by official postal administrations.  Mostly, it was just for fun. 

phuket_mapMuang refers to an administrative district for a community in Thailand, applied to the capital district (amphoe muang) of a province but is also generally the municipal equivalent of a town.  Originally, the term was used for a town having a defensive wall and a ruler with at least the noble rank of khun.  Other district subdivisions include tambon (township or subdistrict) and muban (village or hamlet).  I happen to live in Tambon Talat Yai (“big market subdistrict”) in Amphoe Muang Phuket which most local people just call Muang Phuket or “Phuket Town”.  Thus, the name for the local post.

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The first issues in late 2013 were designed using a couple of different Android apps while the postmarks were done in Adobe Photoshop (a program in which I’m still struggling with the basics).  Various other markings were pieced together using Microsoft Paint and sheet layouts were often done using MS Office Word.  The 2014 releases were created using a Windows 8 app called Fotr while the January 2015 Penny Black issue and the yet-to-be-released ASEAN flag stamps were made using Paint.  An issue I’m planning to mark my 50th birthday in December may be the most complex yet as with portions made using Paint, Photoscape, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.  I hope it comes together as I intend…

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I “released” the first two Muang Phuket Local Post stamps in October 2013 – a definitive featuring an iconic building that serves as one of the symbols for Phuket Town plus a commemorative for World Post Day.  Four additional issues appeared before the end of the year marking the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, 180 years of Thai-American friendship, and a 6-stamp Christmas in Thailand set.  MPLP has participated in the last two World Local Post Days (the last Monday in January) with a single commemorating the centenary of the start of World War I in 2014 and the 175th anniversary of the Penny Black this year.  A pair of stamps at the end of 2014 marked the tenth anniversary of the Boxing Day Tsunami.

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Future releases include an eleven-stamp set portraying flags of the ASEAN member nations (plus the ASEAN flag itself) to be issued in early August, at least five marking my 50th birthday in December (which happens to fall on the same day as His Majesty King Bhumiphol Adulyadej), and a single designed for use at the English camps held by my teaching agency at various village schools on Phuket and neighboring islands.

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To date, all MPLP issues have been imperforate, the 2013 issues printed on plain paper and affixed to covers using a glue stick.  The 2014 and 2015 stamps have been printed on self-adhesive paper.  All have been extremely limited releases, usually numbering less than fifty of each design printed with less than ten first day covers prepared for each issue.  These are dual-canceled by the Phuket Town post office and sent through the mail. 

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Denominations are in either 25 or 50 satang, a very small unit of the Thai baht (100 satang = 1 baht = US $0.029).  The tiny brass coins are occasionally given as change (rounded down) but never accepted for payment, at least here in Phuket Town. 

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First day of issue postmarks have also been made for each issue, the majority printed directly on the envelopes after stamps had been affixed.  For the 2014 tsunami anniversary issue, I had a generic undated rubber handstamp made with a stylized wave which I’ve been using on all Muang Phuket Local Post correspondence (primarily Postcrossing postcards).  I’ve also designed a few transport markings including “Carried by Elephant” and “Tuk Tuk Express” but thus far these have been printed by computer rather than actual handstamps.

The sole manner of conveyance is by my own footpower, transporting covers and postcards from my home to the closest mailbox or post office (usually the main one in Phuket Town, adjacent to the Phuket Philatelic Museum).  Rather than doing hand-back service at the counter, I prefer to have these go through the Thai mailstream (i.e., FDC’s are always mailed to myself or another collector).  I have sent envelopes bearing MPLP stamps (affixed to the lower left) internationally and all have arrived…so far.  The local postings do illustrate the inefficiency of Thailand Post as they take at least a week and usually closer to two weeks to travel the two kilometers between the main post office and my home.

I’m currently at work creating a catalogue listing the stamps, covers, and postmarks of Muang Phuket Local Post.  And I just realized that I should make stamp album pages as well…

Once again, I find it interesting the tangents that this hobby can lead you to pursue.

Happy Collecting.

SAM_4910I 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.

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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.

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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.

Postman-SiamWhen 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.

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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.

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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.

SAM_4906By 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.

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