Bangkok's Batcat Museum: 50,000 pieces of toy history
For anyone over 30, it’s a bit of a disappointment to head into any big chain toy store nowadays.
Cheaply manufactured gizmos, designed to appeal to the broadest demographic, line the shelves and you have to search high and low for anything unique or special.
What happened to the cool toys of our youth?
Well, it turns out a lot of them have ended up in Bangkok's Batcat Toy Museum.
What began as a hobby for 39-year old Somchay Nitimongkolchai has morphed into an epic display of toys, figurines, costumes, masks, collectibles and life-sized maquettes covering two floors.
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Despite the name -- coming from the combination of Batman and Catwoman, naturally -- the museum isn’t solely devoted to Batman, although the caped crusader is definitely the main focus.
Remarkably, Somchay has been picking up figurines from pop culture films such as "Predator," "Star Wars" and "Toy Story" for years, but didn’t start collecting seriously until about eight years ago.
“I was inspired by the Batman character after seeing Christopher Nolan’s 'Batman Begins' in 2005,” he says.
“Of course I’d seen 'X-Men' and 'Spiderman' and the other Batman movies, but this new version really struck a chord with me. He isn’t a super-powered alien or a genetic mutant, he’s just a regular guy who uses his brain and training to do great things.”
A regular guy with a few billion in the bank, but you get the idea.
Thailand's largest toy figurine collection
Somchay’s interest in collecting soon turned into a full-blown hobby. Once he bought all the widely available toys, he broadened his search, moving into vintage toys, figurines from the other Batman movies, the vehicles, limited editions and collections from as far back as the 1960s.
He says 70 percent of his collection has been acquired through eBay, 20 percent from fellow collectors in Thailand and 10 percent from collectors in Japan. Various bits and bobs have also been added from his travels around the world.
As of now, it numbers about 50,000 pieces; by far the largest toy figurine collection in Thailand and one of the biggest in the world.
Walking into the lobby feels like you’ve walked into a children’s arcade –- a few display cases with figurines, a reception desk with superhero-themed souvenirs, a couple of cool wall murals.
Cool, but nothing special.
However, it’s when you walk up to the Star Trek-style sliding doors and they whoosh open that you’re ushered into the museum proper.
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'Anyone can be Batman if you have a mask and cape'
The first display room is filled with thousands of figurines of all shapes and sizes.
Lifelike (and expensive-looking) statues from Marvel and DC pose majestically behind glass.
Long shelves are lined with a who’s who of children’s toys past and present –- GI Joe figurines from the 1970s, Doraemon, Predator, The Simpsons, Iron Man, Pixar, Where the Wild Things Are, Shrek, Looney Tunes, Disney, Dukes of Hazzard, Alien, PEZ dispensers.
The figurines come in all shapes, sizes, themes, and colors -– a full-size T-800 Terminator endoskeleton glares at you; a giant Predator bust opens its four-hinged maw in a silent scream; and this writer's favorite –- a 3D rendering of the classic VHS cover illustration from "A Nightmare on Elm Street."
And that’s just the first room.
“In 2011, when my collection got to be very large, I decided to open the museum,” says Somchay.
“It took six months to plan and build, and we opened in July 2012. I wanted Batcat to entertain, but also to inspire children to follow their passion, as well as act as the unofficial center of toy collecting in Thailand.”
He’s off to a good start. Every time you round a corner or pass into a new room you can’t help but say, “Oh man, look at this!”
Somchay's goal is to get the collection up to 100,000 pieces by 2032 and then ... auction it all off.
Perhaps one of the kids who has their noses pressed to the glass this weekend will attend that future auction and buy a few boxes, starting the process anew.
Indeed, the fact that anyone can be a collector is the reason Somchay loves Batman so much in the first place.
“Anyone can be Batman if you have a mask and cape,” he smiles.
Batcat Museum & Toy (Thailand), 7032 Srinakarin Road. Huamark, Bangkapi; +66 (0)2 375 9006. Open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Thai adults/children: 100/60 baht (US$3.25/US$1.95). Foreign adults/children: 250/150 baht (Expats can get the Thai price with a local ID.) www.facebook.com/batcat.museum