Friday 15 February 2019

Thai Toy Story: The Toy Museum of Ayutthaya

On a 2012 media tour to Thailand I declined to join a group riding bicycles through the very hot streets of Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok. Instead, I investigated a toy museum I'd heard about.

As the story is no longer available online, I'd like to share it here. Enjoy!

I have an idea for the next Terminator movie: a cohort of tin robots marches across the earth, its colourful leaders backed by dozens of troops arrayed in black armour, with bulging red eyes and little looped antennas on their heads.

At least, that’s what I see when I look into one of the many glass cases in the Million Toy Museum in Ayutthaya, Thailand – and if there’s a better place for such a wild flight of fancy than a building packed with toys, I’d like to know about it.

The museum is the brainchild of children’s book writer and illustrator Krirk Yoonpun, an avid toy collector.

When his collection of toys got out of control, he built a new home for them in Ayutthaya, the former Thai capital which was sacked by the Burmese army in the 18th century.

The city is now famous for its extensive and evocative ruins, making this celebration of children’s modern playthings a delightful surprise.

The museum presents a lively, colourful contrast to the busy streets around it. Set back from the road in a lush garden dotted with salvaged horses from fairground carousels, the two-storey blue and white building resembles a massive wedding cake, light and airy but also a substantial presence.

There’s something fairy-tale about the place – as if Hansel and Gretel’s witch had decided she fancied a warmer climate, and set up shop in Thailand.

Not that there’s anything sinister about the interior, which is crammed with tens of thousands of toys. Soft toys, metal toys, superhero models, dolls – they’re all here, often in multiple copies for artistic effect.

Near the entrance I find a case containing 55 tin goldfish swimming side by side, and another case holds numerous toy helicopters whose yellow rotors resemble a forest of windmills.

I’m amazed at the diversity as I walk among the displays: toy trucks with transparent red plastic cement mixers on their backs, tin cuckoo clocks, tiny tanks, soft toys, baby-sized dolls in scary dead-eyed profusion, and miniature rockets and planes stacked next to each other.

Not that it’s all about 20th century playthings – upstairs there’s a case of centuries-old figurines, unearthed by archaeological digs among the ruins of old Ayutthaya.

Near these there’s a life-size figure of Superman and multiple copies of a character I later identify as the Japanese superhero Ultraman (thanks Twitter); but in this crazy colourful jumble, nothing seems out of place.

As I return to the ground floor, it occurs to me that toys often reflect the technology of the era they’re constructed in.

A case in point is the set of model locomotives about 30 centimetres long, painted in bright colours and with moving pistons.

I love the look of these, and jokingly tell museum attendant Napat he should search my satchel on the way out. He takes me semi-seriously, which just goes to show how good an observer of human nature he is.

I smile as I realise this museum is affecting me in a way I thought it never would – the sheer quantity of toys is enveloping me in the warm embrace of nostalgia.

I owned those tin robots when I was a boy, which seems like a million years ago. They were great.

The Million Toy Museum is located at 45 Moo 2, U Thong Road, Ayutthaya, Thailand.

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