Demand for Thailand's 10 baht coins has rocketed following reports that these can be used in vending machines in Europe that accept the new euro currency.
The Thai coin is reportedly almost identical to the 2 euro coin in weight and size, but it is worth about one-seventh its European look-alike. Ten baht is worth roughly 0.26 euros (just over US$0.20).
Staff at currency exchange booths at Bangkok's international airport said Saturday that the sudden upsurge of demand for the 10 baht coin started about three weeks ago.
"Dozens of tourists, mostly Westerners, specifically asked for 10 baht coins. Some of them wanted as many as 50 coins," said Anucha Krut-hern, staffing the Thai Military Bank booth at the airport's departure terminal.
Anucha said she was initially surprised because he figured most travelers would not want to carry heavy coins with low value out of the country. The answer he got from some he queried was that they were "just a souvenir."
Currency exchange staff of the Bangkok Bank and Krung Thai Bank, who asked not to be named, told the same story.
The tellers said their banks later issued orders not to dispense large amounts of the coins to tourists since they might be misused in European vending machines which reportedly cannot differentiate between the 10 baht and 2 euro coins.
The Bangkok Post Saturday quoted an official of the Treasury Department as saying that 559 million 10-baht coins were currently in circulation and the department had no plans to take action.
"The fact that our 10 baht coin is similar to the 2 euro coin is the problem of the European Union, not Thailand," Thevan Vichitakul, deputy chief of the department, told the daily newspaper.
Both coins weigh the same but the Thai coin is slightly larger. The metallic contents of the two coins are different. A EU official in Bangkok said the European Central Bank was aware of the problem. But Thailand had not been blamed for the confusion or asked to withdraw its coins.
"There are so many coins in circulation from different countries, that it's impossible for them all to be completely different," the European Commission spokesman said.
"If vending machine operators find foreign coins in their machines, it's up to them to change their software," he said.The euro made its debut as the official EU currency Jan. 1.
In the meantime, European tourists returning home are stocking up on the Thai coins where they can. One German tourist, finishing some beers before heading for the airport Friday night, asked for change in the 10 baht coins "just to see if they worked."
The Catalan daily, El Periodico, reported last week that the owner of a bar in northern Spain had found five 10 baht coins recently when he emptied his automatic cigarette machine.
"How could the European Union have made such a mistake?" asked Alegandro Diaz, the manager of the bar in Mollet.
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