“I never thought it would get this big, but here we are…”
These were the words spoken to me when Naren ‘Oak’ Panyapu opened the door to the north of Thailand’s very first independent Micky Mouse memorabilia museum in Lamphun. Walls were covered in glassed off shelves that were stacked to the brim with rows and rows of Mickey Mouse figurines, toys, plushies and wall hangings. “I first started collecting Mickey Mouse when I went to University in Bangkok,” Oak said as he explained that apart from some comic books and early television references, Mickey Mouse was something of a mystery to those of northern Thailand. Now, he has over 4,000 individual Mickey Mouse items, all genuine, all with a story, all on display in this community-built museum.
That sure is swell, I thought to myself as I walked through the doors and lay my eyes on rows upon rows of perfectly round mouse ears and big black eyes. “The first thing I got was a Mickey Mouse money box,” Oak said, recalling exactly where and when he brought it: Robinson Mall at Victory Monument in 1985.
“It was Japan made, and it had working parts, cogs and Mickey Mouse even played the drums when you put a coin into it,” Oak exclaimed. “It also had a removable bottom so you didn’t have to smash it to get your coins out — I’d never seen a money box like it before in my life.”
This money box soon become the catalyst for Oak’s obsession with all things Mickey Mouse. The coins he so diligently saved in his money box was used to pay for the next item, and the next one, and the next one. “I was visiting second hand markets, Chatuchak and department stores, all looking for the next items — hoping it was on discount. I even got a job at Robinsons so I could use the staff discount to get them even cheaper!”
30 odd years later, Oak now owns over 4,000 individual Mickey Mouse items, from small McDonald’s toys to giant golden statues, with authentication certificates worth hundreds of dollars.
For many years, the collection began to collect dust, and like many collectors across the world, it remained hidden, unknown to friends and colleagues — perhaps due to fear of embarrassment, or perhaps it never came up in conversation.
That was until he joined the Spirit of Lamphun Society and decided to give back to the community.
Despite lending itself to another story entirely (that we will bring to you in the near future no doubt), the Spirit of Lamphun Society is something quite unique to the town. With members across the area, everyone puts in what they can to help give back to the community. Coffee shops take a few baht from every coffee to raise funds, builders offer free labour, bike repair shops have loyalty schemes to help promote local business. All of this is done to help develop Lamphun for the locals, resulting in community centres and local initiatives popping up around town, the most recent of which is Oak’s Mickey Mouse museum.
“This whole building was made possible by members of the Spirit of Lamphun Society,” Oak said. “The resources were paid for with the money we raise, the building was done by volunteers, and the land is my own, so that was free too.”
“Oh and of course, the Mickey Mouse collection too, that’s all mine.”
Although not an official museum, partly due to copyright issues and partly due to licensing laws, the Mickey Mouse House as it is locally known, is more of a memorabilia display than a museum. But that is soon to change.
“Right now, it’s just my collection displayed in cabinets,” explained Oak, “but I do want to expand it to accommodate school visits and active opportunities for children, such and drawing and playtime activates where kids can learn and become inspired.” He has already started by adding a film reel display with photos and text following the history of Mickey Mouse, where he came from and the legacy of Walt Disney, but is planning much more for the future.
Yet despite every Mickey Mouse having a story and a history with Oak, it is not mouse at all that is his most treasured belonging.
“Everywhere you go, there are pictures of The King,” said Oak, “If you go to a barber shop there is the King’s mum giving him a trim, you go to a pet shop and there is the King cuddling Tong Daeng — so I needed something special too.”
As luck would have it, in 1960, the King paid a visit to America where he met many influential figures such as Elvis Presley and, yup you guessed it, Walt Disney. “In those days, the King didn’t have a photographer from Thailand with him, so the only photos are from American photographers and quite hard to come by,” said Oak.
However, this didn’t stop his search, and after several months, he came across a photo on eBay — a photo of the King and the Crown Prince accepting a Mickey Mouse flag from Walt Disney himself.
He had to get it. After bidding, getting out bidded and bidding again, Oak now owns a very rare print, hung pride and place on the wall of his museum. He loves it so much there is four copies of the same image next to each other.
Open every day of the week, Mickey expects to see ya real soon!
Micky Mouse House
101/10 Sanmueang Road, Muang Lamphun