Thailand is fortunate in that its ancient cities such as Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, which show the development and the evolution of the Kingdom of Siam (later to become Thailand), have survived well through the centuries. Because of this, they are high on the list of must-visit attractions in Thailand for tourists, especially those with an interest in history. However, with large numbers of visitors arriving every day, there is a danger that these heritage sites could become degraded.
In order to preserve these sites for future generations, the Designated Areas of Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA) has launched a campaign to transform Sukhothai and the associated heritage towns of Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet into the premier heritage destination in Asia. DASTA hopes to achieve this by coordinating efforts between local and international development networks, stressing the importance of low-carbon tourism and creative tourism.
It is hoped that residents in the areas surrounding the historical parks will participate in this project by offering facilities such as homestays and amenities such as craft shops, so that they are able to benefit economically, socially, culturally and environmentally. DASTA will join hands with local residents to promote ‘moradok phra ruang’ products, which represent local identity and wisdom. Some examples of this are Sangkhalok ceramics, silverware and ‘teen chok’ sarongs, which can enhance the reputation of local culture at the same time as improving the local economy. DASTA also plans to offer training for local guides, whose knowledge of the region’s rich history and whose ability to communicate this to tourists should result in visitors who are inspired and eager to learn more.
In a recent survey of 400 foreign visitors to Thailand’s heritage sites, the interviewees were asked about their attitude to several environmental, economic and social issues relating to heritage sites. It is not surprising that environmental aspects such as ‘Throw wastage in the dustbins at heritage destination sites’ and ‘Recognize the importance of environmental and natural resources at the heritage destination sites’ received a high level of agreement, while the respondents were less concerned about economic aspects and social issues.
The Historic Town of and Associated Historic Towns has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991, and the region is often considered the cradle of Thai civilization. How fitting it would be if DASTA is able to achieve its dream of making these ancient cities the regional hub of cultural and heritage tourism in Asia.