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What Do Thailand's Historical Sites Really Offer As Tourist Attractions?

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What do kingdom's historical sites really offer as tourist attractions?

Chularat Saengpassa

The Nation

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Certainly, that is what all would ask, young or old, when they are told to visit a historical site in Thailand.

That is not surprising. We are told that history shapes the present and the future, but it seems so hard to retrieve information from historical sites.

Twenty years ago, as a university student majoring in history, historical site visits were a must. Then, before our trips, we had to get all information about the sites beforehand. During the tour, we were guided by lecturers. They told us what the remains once were and when they were built.

Sukhothai Historical Park was a must. According to history textbooks, Sukhothai marked the beginning era of Thai history, followed by Srisatchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet historical parks. Civilisation continued southward, to the Ayutthaya and then Rattanakosin eras.

To a student, the visits completed the visualisation of historical civilisation. Information used in the examination, however, came from textbooks, as historical sites had few things to offer - remains of temples and palaces plus some artefacts and brief explanations.

Twenty years later, I returned to Sukhothai Historical Park as a journalist participating in the opening of a development project for the community around the park. With funding from the Thailand Research Fund, the project for the first time circled the historical area, which allows visitors to complete a tour in one loop.

At the event, showcased was the local culture from food, handicrafts to dances preserved by the people. Tourists and people living in other parts of the province enjoyed asking the locals for information.

I came across a dessert that carried a very icky name - "sangkaya kheewua" (cow dung dessert). Made of sticky rice and minced coconut meat topped with Thai-styled custard, it was named that way as villagers usually carried it to paddy fields while watching cows munching on grass.

I met Auntie Bang-oen Tuichan, the owner of the Ruean Noppamas National Museum. Among her artefacts was a Sangkalok plate featuring Nang Noppamas - who was believed to have created the krathong and whose legend started the famous Loy Krathong festival. A chat with her encouraged me to take a look at other pieces at her museum. The auntie along with people living in the neighbourhood have many things to tell, as their families have been living there for a long time.

Yes, that visit as a journalist was very informative. However, a visit as a tourist to the nearby park in Kamphaeng Phet was terribly dull. Although it's part of the World Heritage Site of Sukhothai Historical Park, Kamphaeng Phet had few things to share with tourists.

There was no guide to brief you on the history of this town. A brochure handed out by the tourist information centre was very brief, with a short explanation of the town and a map. Only at highlighted temples could you find a sign relating the history of the temples.

During the tour, questions may have popped up - from where the sandstone came from and how people hundreds of years ago bound the stones together. Sadly, there was no one around to answer those questions. Certainly, aside from the information on the history of the town, more details could have made the tour more interesting. An animated graphic may be too costly and a TV screen could increase the park's operating cost. But what about a model, telling how the park was constructed?

Like other tourists, that day I completed the tour by taking photos. All questions are not forgotten. If I have time, I will look for the answers.

Indeed, dullness is the character of all historical parks in Thailand. Without that event, Sukhothai Historical Park would also have been that dull. Colour is usually added by beverage carts, bearing logos of famous soft drink brands. What tourists can do is get a brochure and follow the map. Notably, all parks are big, walkways are uneven and not all offer enough shade. They are out of reach for the elderly. And the regular visitors today are students from nearby areas - who enjoy the out-of-school tour more than the history.

Rather than being sources of information and an inspiration for descendants, historical parks are comparable to the sites of ruins and dust. If we really believe that history shapes our present and future, we may need to do something to boost the attractiveness of historical parks.

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-- The Nation 2011-12-12

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Ar least you did not have to put up with being charged 8 times more than a Thai.

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I've noticed the same thing the writer is addressing. Curious to hear comments from seasoned Thai based expats why they think this is so prevalent. The general anti-intellectual nature of Thais or the fact that the people running the show get their jobs via patronage and are not history buffs? Seems like Thailand is missing a big tourism industry opportunity. E.g., all the battlefields, forts etc. in the US that offer major ops to learn about the history of the site.

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One problem with developing the historical sites is the lack of English. There simply aren't enough tour guides who have the historical knowledge to share and the communication skills to pass that knowledge on to tourists.

This article was written by a Thai, who is complaining about the lack of information being passed on in Thai! When you consider the difficulties in translation, in addition to the lack of historical knowledge being presented, these sites become even less interesting for a foreign tourist!

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Many years ago, when I visited the Forbidden City in China, they had a taped tour that you could use. At that time, foreign tourists were quite uncommon. They did have a few English speaking guides, but not very many and their English was not very understandable.

You got a map and a tape deck. When you reached a certain point, you turned on the tape and heard a rather comprehensive history and lecture about the building/place etc. You then proceeded to the next point etc. It was quite nifty. No unintelligible accents to deal with etc.. There was also written material to refer to. It was also nice to go at your own pace.

Of course, you can't ask questions, but it was detailed enough that there were few questions I had and those that I did, I asked when I got back to the information area.

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Perhaps interested native-English speakers living in the area should be employed or allowed to volunteer as local guides through the TAT.

I think most areas would have one or two able foreigners with time on their hands and would enjoy it.

The could study a course on the history, pass an exam and be given a temporary license to guide English speaking groups through TAT bookings.

Bit proactive I know. Hope I'm not charged with Lese Majeste for suggesting it. :rolleyes:

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I believe that being a tour guide is a protected profession and that foreigners are not permitted to engage in it. If I am correct, that one is out of the question.

These sites are very much a part of the cultural fabric of the country and I would much prefer a local to do the tours. It's a better flavor and understanding. It's more personal for them.

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I've noticed the same thing the writer is addressing. Curious to hear comments from seasoned Thai based expats why they think this is so prevalent. The general anti-intellectual nature of Thais or the fact that the people running the show get their jobs via patronage and are not history buffs? Seems like Thailand is missing a big tourism industry opportunity. E.g., all the battlefields, forts etc. in the US that offer major ops to learn about the history of the site.

Certainly Thailand is missing an opportunity for more tourist bucks, but, selfishly no doubt, I wouldn't change the status quo in this respect for the world. I love the fact that, with a decent level of Thai and the ability that gives to find one's way around, one can visit sites around the country that have almost no foreign tourists, wander and contemplate almost alone, without hassle, and all for a very modest fee.

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From what I see, most historical sites simply are another conduit to emphasise and promote Buddhism, and continue the brainwashing of the 'locals'.

Tourists don't mind an element of religion and temples in sightseeing, but when every thing you go and see revolves around prayer, it gets a bit boring.

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From what I see, most historical sites simply are another conduit to emphasise and promote Buddhism, and continue the brainwashing of the 'locals'.

Tourists don't mind an element of religion and temples in sightseeing, but when every thing you go and see revolves around prayer, it gets a bit boring.

I see nothing wrong with emphasising Buddhism ( brain-washing?) when visiting these Historical parks. Isn't that what they were built for. Most or all of the history revolves around religion. You're looking at temples, shrines, religious artifacts etc. The parks are all about religion. What would you expect?

I haven't seen visits to these parks as revolving around prayer. Thai's and some tourists will pay respect to Buddha, but it usually seems to be a 2 minute thing and maybe a stick of incense. Not boring for me.

Dreamworld is at Khlong 4. No boring religious stuff.

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It is true that the historical sites are poorly presented, though I would suppose that scarce funds for maintenance are best spent on preservation (and hope that at least some of those moneys are actually used for that purpose). However, they are mostly targetted at the domestic tourist- school trips abound- and in that context the students who are the primary 'consumers' of the parks will already have been briefed (presumably) on their historical significance.

That's leaving aside the potential legal issues of 'real' history in Thailand; though most of the truly historical sites are so old that they are relatively safe to discuss without the issue of present-day complications.

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Many years ago, when I visited the Forbidden City in China, they had a taped tour that you could use. At that time, foreign tourists were quite uncommon. They did have a few English speaking guides, but not very many and their English was not very understandable.

You got a map and a tape deck. When you reached a certain point, you turned on the tape and heard a rather comprehensive history and lecture about the building/place etc. You then proceeded to the next point etc. It was quite nifty. No unintelligible accents to deal with etc.. There was also written material to refer to. It was also nice to go at your own pace.

Of course, you can't ask questions, but it was detailed enough that there were few questions I had and those that I did, I asked when I got back to the information area.

Yes, but that was a long time ago. And it was in China. This is Thailand, it is not the same.

Right? :ph34r:

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No, it's not the same. It's simply an option that worked in one place and could work here.

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Many years ago, when I visited the Forbidden City in China, they had a taped tour that you could use. At that time, foreign tourists were quite uncommon. They did have a few English speaking guides, but not very many and their English was not very understandable.

You got a map and a tape deck. When you reached a certain point, you turned on the tape and heard a rather comprehensive history and lecture about the building/place etc. You then proceeded to the next point etc. It was quite nifty. No unintelligible accents to deal with etc.. There was also written material to refer to. It was also nice to go at your own pace.

Of course, you can't ask questions, but it was detailed enough that there were few questions I had and those that I did, I asked when I got back to the information area.

Yes, but that was a long time ago. And it was in China. This is Thailand, it is not the same.

Right? :ph34r:

Sukhothai historical park has these audio sets available. Also Hellfire Pass. I'd imagine other places also.

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