B.O.B and Noppadol invited me to drive them up to the Royal Thai Air Force museum, some 20km away, near to Bangkok’s elderly airport – Don Muang. Apparently there was a free entry museum where you could climb in, under, over, on Thai air force planes to your heart’s content. Given this little gem isn’t in any tourist guidebook, then it was a particularly good find by Noppadol.
We sashay up the Expressway; B.O.B and I manage to take a wrong turn (he was Goose to my Maverick) even with a Google Maps direction finder and we introduce our respective families to the joys of one of Thailand’s very few roundabouts. Mayhem, hilarity, and references to National Lampoon’s European Vacation are swiftly followed by me hooking a sharp left through some gates and parking up in a place that clearly only ever expects about thirty cars. We are number five and this is a weekend.
The kids rush in (save Josh who is strapped to the Diplomat) and we all oooh and aaah at a ginormous plane hanging over us. Now, I’m not one for aviation history, but I’d not been aware Thailand even possessed an air force but here they are, proudly plaqu-ing a few skirmishes during the Second World War and subsequent battles. It seems Thai air power history commenced in July 1912 with a Major Luang Sakdi Salyavudh taking to the skies of France in a Breguet biplane with Captain Luang Arvudhsikikorn racing alongside him in a Nieuport monoplane. Such a resounding success meant the purchase of four Breguets and four Nieuports. The three enterprising aviators graduated from courses in France and returned to Thailand in 1913.
Since then, The RTAF have been involved in a few dogfights.The first recorded air battle was in late November 1940. Six enemy aircraft came in low and fast over Nakhon Phanom province. In reply the Thais sent one plane which engaged, then another to send the enemy racing for safety. On Dec 8, 1941 twenty Japanese warplanes conducted a sortie against the Watthananakhon airbase. Three Thai heroes took to the skies to defend their comrades, each falling in the ensuing fights. The Korean War resulted in a Thai military medical team being sent to assist South Korea, ably assisted by 33 C-47 planes. There have been a few other incidents; of course, none of this is comparable to other air forces but the quantities of dead aviators per country is not important. What is important is the stories of every single man and woman who died fighting for their homelands are recorded in remembrance…and this is what the Museum does for its Thai few.
The rest of the Museum is housed in three large ‘hangars’. As we enter the one to the left is full of older planes, the one to the right more modern jet fighters, such as Tigers and F5-As Stepping through and out to the back of the site lots more planes are dotted on a strip of tarmac. These are where kids (and adults) can play. There are cargo planes, helicopters (even a Sikorsky and a Huey for those over 35 who grew up with Hollywood movies where the former were the staples of Russian ‘baddies’ and the latter of American ‘Goodies’).
Isla and her friends race around, clamber in cockpits, run up loading ramps, try to scale turrets. I join in, agilely scampering into a Kaman Huskie ‘copter and indulge happily being 12 years old all over again. Of course, this is Thailand. Forget H&S, there’s knobs to twiddle, levers to pull, glass to pound, metal to gash you, plastic to throw, fiberglass wings to groan alarmingly under the weight of kids. And….this is the joy of it….you can actually get in and use these old planes like a playground.
As far as two hours of exhausting fun can go, this is it. It’s free, not too far from central Bangkok, empty of people, and, most importantly, wide open to everyone’s imagination. Both you and your kids will love it.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?