For the past seven years, Commander Phairach Samutrsindh has been carrying out the rather daunting task of managing the Naval Museum in Samut Prakan on a meagre budget and with a handful of staff. Fortunately for members of the public, however, the constraints under which he operates never seem to dampen the enthusiasm with which he welcomes those who drop by to view the exhibits, which include old weapons plus pictures and models of ships once used by the Royal Thai Navy.
"Despite having to run this place with so few resources, I do have a sincere desire to make the experience for visitors as enjoyable as possible," declared Phairach, who joined the navy 15 years ago.
"Our visitors mostly comprise groups of students from secondary schools but we do get the occasional foreign tourist. But since we only give tours in Thai, the foreigners often bring their own local guide along with them.
"As the number of visitors gradually grows, I hope to recruit a new generation of student tour guides to help us out in the museum in the years to come ... youngsters who have a genuine interest in the history of the Royal Thai Navy and are keen to learn more."
To brush up his skills in museum management, Phairach constantly seeks knowledge on the Internet and visits other repositories around the country whenever he gets the chance. While he concedes that budget restraints and the lack of manpower is seriously hampering his ability to develop the museum, he is confident that he'll reach his goals some day by dint of hard work and sheer persistence.
In his free time Phairach enjoys sailing and going on short excursions out of town on his motorcycle. Finding interesting places in which to eat is an activity he indulges in whenever possible. Tasting new culinary delicacies is one of his top priorities, he said, whenever he goes on a day trip or takes a longer vacation somewhere.
What makes a trip to the Naval Museum special, in your opinion?
To start with, it's one of the few places where you'll find a collection of weapons and firearms that have been used in the Navy since the early Rattanakosin period. Visitors are allowed to observe the long and interesting history of the Royal Thai Navy up close. And by 'up close' I mean that we actually let people hold decades-old rifles and pistols from our weaponry displays and even pose for photos brandishing them! In fact, they're permitted to take photographs of any exhibit they want. I believe that this [facility] in itself makes a visit such a memorable experience for so many.
How do you manage to maintain the museum without proper financial support?
Apart from electricity and water, we aren't allocated any budget whatsoever. Since admission is free we depend on donations from visitors and the profit we make from selling souvenirs to pay for the upkeep of the building. We don't make enough to fund large renovation projects; it's just sufficient to cover small repairs.
The museum is especially popular with schoolchildren; why is that?
Despite being understaffed, we work from the heart. We don't just educate the students who visit us, we also entertain them with colourful episodes from naval history. We have a museum mascot to welcome them, and at the end of the tour we take a group photo which is presented as a free souvenir.
Which areas are most in need of renovation?
As our ground floor is partly open to the elements, during the rainy season the large, decommissioned torpedoes and wooden royal barges stored there often get drenched. It would be nice if we could build proper rooms to house these items. We also need to do a better job of preserving some of the exhibits, such as models of century-old ships and remnants of naval vessels which are currently kept in glass cabinets and plastic display cases.
I aspire to being able to put on a light-and-sound show at the museum some day! The treasures we have here are priceless and I believe that as Thais we are all duty bound to safeguard them for the sake of future generations.
Which is your favourite section?
Like many of our visitors, the armaments room is a personal favourite of mine. It contains every type of weaponry possible, from swords and bayonets to rifles, handguns, defused artillery shells and torpedoes. Some items date back to the mid-1930s.
Now, on a lighter note: You've been living in Nonthaburi for the past decade, I believe; could you tell us about a couple of your favourite tourist spots there?
Despite the fact that Ko Kret has become very commercialised over the years, I still find it a really nice place to visit. It's a riverine island inhabited for the most part by ethnic-Mon people. The first settlers are believed to have arrived there more than 200 years ago during the late Ayutthaya period. Mon-style pottery and cuisine and the Mon way of life are well documented there. One of the best ways to enjoy the island is to cycle around it on a bicycle.
Another top spot on my list is the Anthropology Museum, which was opened in 1961. Housed behind Nonthaburi's old town hall, it features exhibits on the evolution of plants, animals, human beings and the Earth in general. Artefacts on display include various Buddha images and antique porcelain. It's open from Tuesday to Saturday and admission is free.
In Sai Noi district, where I live, there's Wat Seni Wong, a monastery with a unique mix of Thai, Chinese and Mon architecture and loads of shady trees under which visitors can relax. Also not to be missed here is the Sai Noi Floating Market. Apart from taking a boat trip to view typical community life along the canal, you can also pick up lots of local culinary delicacies and seasonal fruit plus houseplants; everything is very reasonably priced.
Full review at: http://www.bangkokpost.com/travel/news/195363/naval-museum-a-real-labour-of-love