Today is the Thai holiday of Wan Khao Phansa (วันเข้าพรรษา) marking the beginning of Vassa, the three-month rains’ retreat also known as Buddhist Lent, following yesterday’s holiday of Wan Asanhabucha (วันอาสาฬหบูชา) commemorating the Buddha’s first discourse. This year, however, the twin Buddhist holidays coincide with another important holiday, that of Wan Chaloem Phra Chonmaphansa Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua Maha Wachiralongkon Bodinthrathepphayawarangkun (วันเฉลิมพระชนมพรรษาสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัวมหาวชิราลงกรณ บดินทรเทพยวรางกูร), which in English is simply the Birthday of King Rama X, incorporating his title and a small part of his full name. His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) was born on July 28, 1952, and ascended to the Thai throne upon the death of his father, King Bhumiphol Adulyajej (Rama IX), on October 13, 2016. For more on King Rama X, please see my post on Asian Meanderings.
The Kingdom of Thailand is preparing for its final farewell to the most beloved monarch this nation has ever known. Even in Phuket, an island some 12 hours south of the capitol city of Bangkok by bus, one sees preparations for the massive funeral which will occur from October 25-29. Television, social media, and websites are almost exclusively black and white as of the beginning of this month and numerous commemorative items are beginning to fill local shops.
A new series of banknotes began circulating just under two weeks ago (I just received my first of the new 100-baht notes) and four commemorative coins are set for release in the near future; I may attempt to obtain the 100-baht coin but the gold 50,000-baht will have to remain a dream.
Three million copies of the new stamps are being released on October 25; I didn’t find out about the pre-sale (August 28-September 11) until a couple of days ago so hopefully I can find them on eBay or elsewhere (Thailand Post is certainly making it difficult to purchase their stamps lately). The stamps are really beautiful, but I can say that about virtually every stamp the Kingdom issues.
Three sheets will be released under the Thailand Post issue number TH-1135 and the official name “Royal Cremation Ceremony of the Late His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej Commemorative Stamps”. The first sheet will include nine 9-baht stamps bearing various portraits of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama the Ninth. The second sheet features three 3-baht stamps portraying major components of the Royal Cremation Ceremony — the Royal Urn, Phra Yannamat Sam Lam Khan (the Golden Palanquin with Three Poles), and Phra Maha Phicha Ratcharot (the Great Victory Royal Chariot). The third sheet contains a single 9-baht illustrating the Royal Crematorium and the candlelit mass mourning ceremony held at Bangkok’s Sanam Luang ceremonial ground on October 22, 2016. The background of this sheet features Dusit Maha Prasat Throne Hall, where the body of His Majesty King Bhumibol is lying in state.
These stamps, as so many other details about the Royal Cremation, have received extensive media coverage so I expect them to be rather difficult to obtain. Several Thai-based stamp dealers are already offering attractive presentation folders for the set. Older stamps portraying King Bhumibol have already seen high selling prices offered on eBay and other online auction sites.
While I have had to forgo a previously-planned trip to Bangkok in order to view the funeral processions due to work commitments, the 26th will be a public holiday so that the entire country can mourn on the day of the actual cremation. Each of Thailand’s 77 provinces has erected replicas of the massive funeral pyre (as well as nine replicas in Bangkok plus the original) so that people who cannot travel to the capital can participate locally. I plan to attend Phuket’s ceremony. I assume that there will be big-screen televisions near the local replica, broadcasting the procession in Bangkok.
A quick reminder that a very nice set of four circular stamps, plus a souvenir sheet, commemorating the 120th anniversary of the State Railway of Thailand, are scheduled for release tomorrow, 26 March 2016. This is a Sunday and so stamps will not be available for purchase here in Phuket until at least Monday. I will never understand why Thailand Post insists on issuing stamps when none of the post offices are open for business. In recent years, they have become even slower at distributing new issues to the provinces (and some NEVER arrive!).
Nevertheless, this is an attractive issue and I will do my best to purchase copies for myself. As the face value of Thai stamps is low (usually 3 baht, occasionally 5, 9 or 15 baht for the vast majority of issues), I tend to buy full sheets. Most stamps are released in sheets of just 10 stamps. Then, of course, are the first day covers which are sold at minimal mark-up from the face value of the stamps. All of these are easily obtainable at most local post offices. I am blessed in that I live within walking distance (approximately 10 minutes, most of which is through a shady park) from the provincial philatelic museum and their fully-stocked sales counter.
The ever-increasing numbers of “special folders” are harder to find and I have to resort to eBay; I don’t always hear about these scarcer collectibles until the price has risen or they’ve sold out completely. Lately, I’ve obtained several first day covers that have received multiple pictorial cancellations (mostly in locations around Bangkok); these are usually signed by the stamp designer as well.
I am still waiting to see illustrations of the next two issues due to be released (on April 2 and 7, each in a set of four) as these have yet to be revealed. At some point later this year, new definitives portraying HRH King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun — the first of the 1oth reign of the Chulalongkorn dynasty — will be released, probably with little (if any) advanced notice. Thailand Post also mentioned in the most recent stamp bulletin that there will be an issue marking the cremation of HRH the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in either September or October following the mandatory year-long period of mourning. Yes, as a teacher (a government employee), I am still required to wear black each and every day…
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.
“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).
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…