Thailand: Social change and management implications

World Heritage Sites and domestic tourism in Thailand: Social change and management
Author(s): Victor T. King and Michael J.G. Parnwell
Source: South East Asia Research, Vol. 19, No. 3 (SEPTEMBER 2011), pp. 381-420
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
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South East Asia Research
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World Heritage Sites and domestic
tourism in Thailand
Social change and management implications
Victor T. King and Michael J. G. Parnwell
Abstract: This study examines some of the tensions inherent in the
mobilization of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for tourism in Thai
land, set against the imperatives of conservation management. The
authors look at two cultural sites (the Historic City of Ayutthaya
and the Historic Town of Sukhothai) and one natural site (the Dong
Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex). They focus particularly on
domestic tourism emanating from the urban middle class in Thai
land, which has contributed significantly to the recent rapid growth
of domestic tourism in Thailand and for which cultural and natu
ral heritage sites have a particular attraction as tourist and
excursionist destinations. The authors consider both the ways in
which metropolitan-generated physical development brings pres
sure to bear on heritage sites and how rapidly changing lifestyles,
consumption and leisure patterns and cultural values serve to rede
fine the use made of and attitudes towards national heritage.
Keywords: heritage; tourism; middle class; Thailand; UNESCO
Author details: Professor Victor T. King and Professor Michael J.G.
Parnwell (corresponding author) are with the Department of East Asian
Studies, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK. E-mail:
[email protected]
This study examines some of the tensions inherent in the mobilization
of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for tourism in Thailand, set against
the imperatives of conservation management.1 We look at two cultural
This paper forms part of a wider cross-national, multidisciplinary comparative pro
gramme of research on selected World Heritage Sites across the South East Asian
region (specifically in Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vi
etnam). The research examines the tensions that exist between the often competing
interests, understandings and agendas of the various stakeholders involved in these
South East Asia Research. 19, 3, pp 381-420 doi: 10.5367/sear.2011.0055
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382 South East Asia Research
sites, the Historic City of Ayutthaya and the Historic Town of
Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns (both inscribed on the World
Heritage List in 1991), and one natural site, the Dong Phayayen-Khao
Yai Forest Complex (inscribed in 2005). Figure 1 summarizes the
framework within which this research is placed.2 The diagram identi
fies the forces that are affecting these sites and draws on previous
research on urban expansion and extended metropolitan areas, on do
mestic tourism in Thailand, as well as on the middle classes and
changing lifestyles in South East Asia. The darker shaded boxes in
Figure 1 are where the focus of the present study principally lies. The
discussion focuses particularly on domestic tourism emanating from
the urban middle class in Thailand, which has contributed significantly
to the recent rapid growth of domestic tourism in the country, and for
whom cultural and natural heritage sites have a particular and grow
ing attraction as tourist and excursionist destinations. We consider both
the ways in which metropolitan-generated physical development brings
pressure to bear on heritage sites and the ways in which rapidly chang
ing lifestyles, consumption and leisure patterns and cultural values
serve to redefine the use made of and the attitudes towards national
heritage. Such changes have been influenced by Thailand’s integra
tion into the global market, rapid urbanization and exposure to modern
values. But running through this process of change is a rootedness in
the essence of being Thai (‘Thainess’ or khwam-pen-thai), which in
volves a complex admixture of historical and cultural elements that
globally important sites: local communities, national governments and their provin
cial and local agencies, international conservation organizations (including the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] and the Inter
national Council of Monuments and Sites [1COMOS]), tourists (both domestic and
international) and civil society institutions. The project also has a policy and practi
cal dimension in that it seeks to determine whether or not these competing tensions
and pressures are being or can be resolved, and what policy options work best in
certain given circumstances. We would like to express our gratitude to Dr Kannapa
Pongponrat of the Travel Industry Management Division, Mahidol University Inter
national College, who has been working with us on a second empirical phase of the
research in Thailand. We also wish to acknowledge the helpful comments of the two
reviewers of the original version of this paper.
The research methods for this preliminary investigation comprise a rapid appraisal
of selected sites to provide an initial view of their main characteristics and uses
through pilot-study field visits, detailed photographic recording and a review of the
literature and relevant website material. The preliminary field investigation, which
we report here, has been supplemented by structured interview schedules with key
personnel responsible for the management of the sites and a questionnaire survey of
a sample of domestic and international tourists in each of the three sites. The find
ings of these surveys will be reported at a later date.
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World Heritage Sites and tourism in Thailand 383
! Local peooleS
IS Cultural
Appropnate use
Figure 1. Heritage and WHS management in the Thai context.
have a strong connection with perceptions of heritage, nationalism an identity. The important role that heritage plays in national identity f mation is a crucial factor in understanding why these sites have becom or have been promoted as important destinations for Thai urban midd class tourists.
In examining the relations between national identity, culture and her
itage in Thailand, Reynolds appositely captures what we are attempting
to address in drawing attention to the enormous impact Bangkok has
on the rest of the country, including its World Heritage Sites. Admit
tedly, he was writing before the economic crisis of the late 1990s, but,
in our view, his observations still hold. He says, ‘As Thailand’s eco
nomic boom has pushed Bangkok-based business to the far corners of
the country over the past decade, it has become increasingly difficult
to speak of any part of the country as remote’ (Reynolds, 1998, p 116).
More particularly, he notes that ‘[t]he forces driving this development
are complex and derive….from business expansion, tourism and
government development strategies’ (ibid, p 117). Reynolds also draws
attention to the more recent importance of tourism in ‘the develop
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384 South East Asia Research
Town of 1 Jiang Prahong
Ban Chiang
11mone Town of Sukholhai Archaeological Site
and Associated I hstone Towns
11 hungyai-1 luay Kha Khaeng
* Wildlife Sanctuaries
Dong Pha\avcn-khao Yai
Historic City of * fâ„¢1 Complex
‘ *
llangkok / Temple of • y Prcah Vihear
Phong Nha
* i Ke Bang
| National
Figure 2
Map of Thailand and Neighbouring
Countries Showing Localiont of World Heritage Sites Countries Showing Locations of World Heritage Sites
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World Heritage Sites and tourism in Thailand 385
ment and marketing of Thai-ness’3 and the ways in which the marketing
of Thailand as a tourist destination also helps shape local perceptions
of identity {ibid, p 135). A very significant element in this exercise is
heritage, and particularly heritage sites that are given recognition
through UNESCO and ICOMOS, because it provides these locations
with both ‘international status and authenticity’ {ibid\ see also Peleggi,
1996, p 433). Yet we should also note that ‘remnants of Thailand’s
past’ have been used to construct a national identity since the founda
tion of the Chakri dynasty and its capital Bangkok, and these remnants
are ‘excellent resources for building a politically useful heritage’ (Van
Esterik, 2000, p 109; and see Evrard and Prasit, 2009b, pp 239-245).
Whilst being pivotal in the way that heritage and identity are both
conflated and orchestrated in Thailand, the government is also placed
in the awkward position of trying to capitalize on the economic re
turns from heritage tourism and at the same time seeking to protect,
conserve and preserve heritage sites and resources – and the Thailand
they represent – from the pressures of development, including tour
ism and urban expansion, often using management techniques and
principles that have been adopted from other (for example, Western)
settings, but not adapted to local contexts. This also creates tensions
for and with local people (Figure 1) who live in or nearby important
heritage sites, particularly where they and their traditional practices
(of veneration, gathering of forest products, etc) are excluded in the
interests of preservation for future generations, promotion for higher
spending outsiders, or displacement by external operators who take
advantage of local business opportunities, and where their perception
of heritage is not always congruent with the uses to which heritage
sites are put in supporting wider national and international interests.
This raises several issues pertaining to heritage examined in this study
(see Figure 1): questions about the ownership of heritage, its appro
priate use, access to it as against conservation needs, heritage as a
commodity, as entertainment and as an educational medium, and finally
the interpretation and representation of heritage forms (Smith, 2003,
p 103).
This study asks whether the often competing interests, understandings
and agendas emanating from various stakeholders that lie behind both
This is something that has become all the more challenging to the Thai government
as the country seeks to repair an international image that has been tarnished by the
inertia and violence surrounding the 2010 ‘red shirts’ protests in Bangkok and parts
of the rest of the country.
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386 South East Asia Research
the promotion and the protection of World Heritage Sites in T are being, and can be, resolved. It also asks in the Thai case whe UNESCO status globalizes heritage at the expense of national ties. In this connection, the paper is one of the first to give par prominence to domestic tourism, and therefore to examine the significance of global heritage.
Heritage and heritage tourism defined
Heritage is a concept that is difficult to define. Indeed, Herbert pp 10-12) suggests that it is ‘among the undefinables’. In a narro simple sense, heritage is ‘a legacy; a set of traditions, values, or ured material things’ (Universal Dictionary, 1987, p 721), or as (2003, p 536) puts it, ‘…those aspects of the past deemed wor preservation because they tell us something about our history th want to remember or understand’. However, Smith (2003, p 82) the meaning somewhat further by emphasizing human agency tive engagement with heritage, proposing that it is distinct from related to ‘the past’ and to ‘history’, and comprises ‘the contem use of the past, including both its interpretation and re-interpre In introducing the notion of interpretation, which suggests that her is constructed, given meaning and imbued with significance, we into a much broader conceptualization that pertains to concepts of id nationalism and power (Peleggi, 1996, p 432; see also Black and W 2001; and Winter, 2007, pp 5-8) and processes of selection, cons tion, negotiation and contestation (Hitchcock and King, 2003a, pp 3-13; see also Harrison and Hitchcock, 2004 [2005]; Winter, 2 pp 7-8, 11-15; Askew, 2010; Nyfri, 2009; and Byrne, 1991). sense, heritage, presented and re-presented as something which to the past and which is in some way given special value or signi as ‘treasure’ or ‘legacy’, is constructed and appropriated by the and its agents as an object worthy of political, economic and ‘tou attention, although usually only certain items are selected for t pose and others are ignored or discarded (Peleggi, 1996). Nevert the deployment by the state of heritage resources – particularly designated as being of global significance – for the realization o tain politico-ideological purposes does not usually go unchall and visions of national revival, identity, history, sovereignty, nity and progress often (but not always) compete with interna conservation and scientific agendas, commercial and developThis content downloaded from on Mon, 07 Oct 2019 05:33:17 UTC
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World Heritage Sites and tourism in Thailand 387
interests, international tourist views of the exotic, mysterious and the
spectacular, and local community cultural and economic engagement
with the sites (see Winter, 2007, pp 139-149).
In ‘post-colonial’ developing states, this process of identity construction
is an even more urgent task, and the need, in Anderson’s terms (1991,
pp 178-185), to ‘imagine’ the nation leads to the selection and deploy
ment of archaeological finds and heritage sites to present images of
national resilience, unity and innovation, often in the context of an ‘im
agined’ golden or glorious age of endeavour and achievement (Glover,
2003, p 17). The ‘essence’ or ‘genius’ of the nation is usually traced
back to a glorious past and to benevolent and enlightened government
when everything that is now cherished as demarcating and defining the
nation was created and set in motion.
In summary then, the concept of heritage refers to tangible and con
crete elements of the past (buildings, monuments, artefacts, sites and
constructed landscapes), as well as those aspects of culture expressed
in behaviour, action and performance (usually referred to as ‘intangible
cultural heritage’) which are interpreted, valued and judged to be wor
thy of our attention, interest and protection. In addition to the state,
other domestic agents who are involved in the creation of meanings
and understandings in relation to heritage and the past comprise local
tourists and those communities that live in or in close proximity to her
itage sites and those who secure their livelihood from working there.
Heritage is contested and transformed not only by domestic agents,
but also by global actors, including representatives of international or
ganizations such as UNESCO, researchers and international tourists. It
has therefore become a highly politicized project to do with identity
and conflicts over its national and international character and trajec
tory. Since the late 1960s, heritage has been increasingly internationalized
by such bodies as UNESCO, which has ‘helped to generate a new set of
understandings of culture and built heritage’ (Askew, 1996, p 184).
UNESCO’s concept of cultural heritage is very broad. In its Conven
tion for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003),
UNESCO has reaffirmed the importance of oral tradition, performing
arts, social practices, rituals, festivals and traditional craftsmanship in
its criteria for selecting heritage sites (see also UNESCO, 1972, 1983).
But, given those cultural sites currently on the World Heritage List, the
emphasis is also on groups of buildings, monuments and settlements
that require some form of protection, conservation and preservation for
posterity, and are therefore tangible sites of historical, aesthetic, artistic,
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388 South East Asia Research
architectural, archaeological, scientific, technological or ethnolo value.
With regard to UNESCO’s definition of ‘natural heritage’, this refers
to areas that embody outstanding physical, biological and geological
features and those that have global significance in terms of uniqueness
and their importance in the evolution of the natural world. There is
emphasis on ‘areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic impor
tance’ and also on the importance of natural habitats where biodiversity
needs to be conserved.4
Here we need to draw attention to the major preoccupations of those
international organizations that focus on South East Asian heritage.
UNESCO (and its regional offices in Bangkok and Jakarta), ICOMOS,
the World Monuments Fund, the International Council of Museums (and
its Asia Pacific Organization) and the Getty Conservation Institute, and,
at the regional level, the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Or
ganization (SEAMEO) and the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for
Archaeology and Fine Arts (SPAFA) invariably stress the concepts of
‘tradition’, continuity and authenticity, expressed particularly in built
heritage and material culture, which needs to be designated and given
special attention, managed, monitored, conserved and protected
(websites:;; see
also Vines, 2005). Emphasis is placed on ‘the scientific management of
tangible heritage’ (Winter, 2007, p 56). Even though there is recogni
tion of the importance of ‘living’ cultural sites, overall this emphasis on
outstanding cultural legacies, which is also expressed in the heritage
tourism industry, tends to indulge in nostalgia for the past and in the
presentation of the exotic and an idealized and ‘essentialized’ Orient
(Kennedy and Williams, 2001; Winter, 2007, pp 47-66). ‘Natural’ sites
too are perceived as those that should be in some sense authentic and
pristine and that are capable of achieving a sustainable ecological equi
Let us now briefly consider issues of ‘heritage tourism’, which, like
the more general concept of ‘heritage’, has also proved difficult to de
fine and categorize. Smith (2003, pp 29-44) remarks that terms such as
It is interesting in the South East Asian context just how many of the designated
World Heritage Sites are ‘natural’ (12, including national parks) as a proportion of
the total number of sites (29), when compared with the overall balance around the
world: as of July 2010, the World Heritage Committee had 890 sites on its list, and
of these, 689 were cultural, 176 natural and 25 were mixed sites; 32 were also placed
on a ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list, including the Rice Terraces of the Philippine
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World Heritage Sites and tourism in Thailand 389
‘heritage tourism’, ‘arts tourism’, ‘ethnic tourism’ or ‘indigenous tour
ism’ are often used interchangeably. However, she prefers to classify
them, along with ‘urban cultural tourism’, ‘rural cultural tourism’, ‘crea
tive tourism’ and ‘popular cultural tourism’ as separate subtypes of a
broad category of ‘cultural tourism’, recognizing that cultural tourists
as a highly differentiated category consume not just the cultural prod
ucts of the past, but also a range of contemporary cultural forms (ibid\
Clarke, 2000, pp 23-36; Hughes, 2000, pp 111-122). Cultural tourism
is therefore no longer seen, as it was in the past, as ‘a niche form of
tourism, attracting small [stc], well-educated and high-spending visi
tors’ (ibid, p 45); it now attracts an expanding urban middle class. Heritage
tourism therefore comprises that part of cultural tourism which, according
to Richter, is ‘applied by some to almost anything about the past that
can be visited’ (1999, p 108). Tourism in this case becomes a ‘history
making business’ or at least an activity that commercializes the past
(Shaw and Williams, 2002, p 203).
The multiple and often contradictory ways in which heritage is viewed,
mobilized and treated by different sets of stakeholders – national and
international – have a significant bearing on its integrity, perceived au
thenticity and, ultimately, its sustainability. But the forces brought to
bear on heritage resources (including, increasingly, natural resources)
are also in a constant state of flux (as is the framing of heritage itself),
which has further implications for heritage management, as we shall
see below.
Urbanization, consumption and leisure in Thailand
Although heritage sites in Thailand are the object of the international
tourist gaze, it is important to emphasize just how much they are also
destinations for mainly urban-based middle class tourists from within the country (see Table 1 ).5 This is especially the case for Ayutthaya and Table I shows that there has been a steady upward trend in the number of tourists
who have been visiting the three World Heritage Sites that are covered in this study,
although the trends are very mixed. Khao Yai has experienced the greatest increase, rising 164% from 1998 to 2007 and 70% from 2004 to 2007. Almost all visitors to
this site were domestic tourists. Ayulthaya has also enjoyed significant but more
modest growth in visitor numbers, but with tourism made up of a still small but
higher proportion of foreign tourists (31.5%). Sukhothai has lagged behind, almost
certainly because of its greater distance from the capital region/EBMR: it has broadly
similar ‘attractions’ and facilities to Ayutthaya, although less than half the number
of rooms available – 1,260 compared with 2,761 (website: stat/web/static_tst.php, accessed 10 August 2009). Of course, we recognize that
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390 South East Asia Research
Table X. Visitor statistics and dynamics.
Number of Increase Increase Visitors
tourists in in tourists in tourists who are domestic
2007 since 2004 (%) since 1998 (%) tourists, 2007 (%)
Khao Yai 1,803,815 70.4 164.2 97.8
Ayutthaya 3,783,617 25.2 86.8 68.5
Sukhothai 706,514 5.0 10.9 66.8
Source: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Domestic Tourism Statistics, http:// (accessed 10 August 2009).
Khao Yai, which are within very easy reach of Bangkok (Figure 2) on
the major highways for those who visit for a day or who stay in accom
modation near these sites over the weekend. But increasingly, it is not
just Bangkok that is a source of affluent domestic tourists in Thailand.
The catchment area for urban middle class Thai tourists has expanded
far beyond the Bangkok conurbation since the onset of the country’s
economic boom in the early 1980s, associated with the ‘urbanization’
of the capital city’s rural hinterland. This process of ‘extended
metropolitanization’ (for example, see McGee, 2008; Ginsburg, Koppel
and McGee, 1991; Jones, 2002) has brought urban functions and form,
and urbanism – urban cultural being – to a region that stretches more
than 100 kilometres towards the east, west and north of Bangkok,
effectively enveloping Ayutthaya some 67 kilometres away, and reach
ing to the very edge of Khao Yai on the Khorat Plateau some 175
kilometres away. The pace of change from an agrarian to an industrial
society within the Extended Bangkok Metropolitan Region (EBMR)
has been ‘extraordinarily rapid’ (Sowatree, 1999, p 2), and ‘the extent
to which “urban” facilities have permeated rural areas over the last 30
years has been astonishing [and accordingly] rural areas have been
dramatically opened up to new ideas’ (Jones, 2002, pp 120-121). ‘The
majority of people [in the EBMR] have become accustomed to the main
stream “urban life style” and seek to take advantage of the novel situations
[that have] emerged’ (Sowatree, 1999, p 1).
These developments have significant implications not only in terms
of the volume of urban tourists who now visit heritage sites in Thai
land, but also in relation to the ways in which domestic visitors perceive,
domestic tourists are also a mixed bag that will include a range of people from dif
ferent socioeconomic classes, but our observations suggest that the majority of them
visiting World Heritage Sites are from more affluent middle class backgrounds and
have more leisure time at their disposal.
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World Heritage Sites and tourism in Thailand 391
Table 2. Tourists and excursionists: place of origin (2007).
Visitors Visitors Visitors Tourists Excursionists
who are who are from from from EBMR
tourists excursionists EBMR (%) EBMR (%) (%)
(%) (%>
Khao Yai 58.1 41.9 70.9 78.2 60.7
Ayutthaya 28.8 71.2 – 76.3 68.3
Sukhothai 70.2 29.8 – 32.4 45.0
Source: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Domestic Tourism Statistics, http:// (accessed 10 August 2009),
act in and interact with these sites, which in turn have a bearing on
management imperatives. This domestication of tourism sites in Thai
land is only one example of a much broader trend in the expansion of
domestic and intraregional tourism in Asia (Winter, Teo and Chang,
2009a, 2009b).
Bangkok, with its 12 million people and the progressive suburban
ization and industrialization of the surrounding countryside, is the major
source of tourists and visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites
(WHS). Table 2 illustrates the proportion of domestic tourists and ex
cursionists (people whose trip to a place does not involve an overnight
stay) to the three WHS who originated in and around Bangkok in 2007,
which is the most recent year for which such statistics are available.
Between 60% and 70% of domestic day trips to the WHS of Ayutthaya
and Khao Yai, and more than three-quarters of domestic longer-stay
visits, originated in the EBMR (defined here statistically as Bangkok
and the central and eastern regions), demonstrating how much the capi
tal and the central region dominate domestic tourism to these two
important sites. This can be explained in part by proximity, but also by
prevailing economic and socio-cultural factors.6
Tables 3 and 4 reinforce the view that domestic tourist numbers and
dynamics – at least those involving these World Heritage Sites – reflect
We need, however, to be a little cautious about interpreting these figures. Data from
the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) website revealed a huge variation in the
regional derivation of domestic tourists from one year to the next: for instance, in
2006 only 16.96% of domestic tourists visiting Khao Yai came from the central re
gion, but in 2007 this figure had doubled to 32.59% (giving figures for the EBMR of
54.38% and 70.85% respectively); similarly, visitors from the north-east halved from
2006 to 2007, from 30.38% of the total to only 19.08%. It is hard to explain why
there should be so much fluctuation on a year-by-year basis, and the TAT offers no
explanation for this, so one might surmise that there is at least some risk of recording
error in these data.
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392 South East Asia Research
Table 3. Characteristics of tourists (2007).
Tourists travelling Tourists travelling by Tourists travelling
independently (%)” their own means (% )h for a vacation (%)
89.9 78.8 72.9
67.8 66.9 61.6
73.9 65.0 71.2
“That is, who are not i Source: Tourism Auth Table 4. Social characteristics of travel: tourists and excursionists (2007).
Average size Percentage of visitors travelling to destination
of visitor party
Alone With friends With family With
or relatives workmates
4.65 16.4 30.1 29.3 24.2
3.97 23.8 25.6 33.9 16.7
6.81 7.9 23.2 24.9 44.0
KhaoYai 4.12 21.7 23.9 36.4 18.0
Ayutthaya 3.86 19.9 32.1 34.7 13.3
Sukhothai 6.72 4.5 33.8 23.7 38.0
Source: Tourism Authority of Thai„ts a growing number of indepe term road trips with friend (this includes excursionists a to the sites rather than rely travelled with friends or fa people. A further feature of portion who visited with te classes, especially on trips Satchanalai Historical Parks. WHS were relatively short- tions for extended vacatio numerous resort and spa h very well planned camping washing and toilet facilities therefore seen as places one This content downloaded from on Mon, 07 Oct 2019 05:33:17 UTC
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World Heritage Sites and tourism in Thailand 393
ing and where one takes photographs and is photographed away from
the congestion and high pressure of urban living.
Let us now examine in a little more detail the characteristics of those
urbanites who gaze on, encounter and use heritage sites for recreational
purposes. During the last two decades, academic interest has increas
ingly focused on the ‘new urban middle class’ in South East Asia, as an
important component of ‘the new rich’ (see, for example, Robison and
Goodman, 1996a; 1996b; and Abdul Rahman Embong, 2001a, 2001b;
Hattori, Funatsu and Torii, 2003; Hsiao, 2001, 2006; Hsiao and Wang,
2001; Kahn, 1991; Mulder, 1979, 1983, 2004; Ockey, 1999; Pinches,
1999a, 1999b, 1999c; Prudhisan and Chantana, 2001a; Rodan, 1996;
Sen and Stivens, 1998). The middle class is defined primarily by the
acquisition and use of an advanced level of education and specialist
knowledge, and is the product of changes in the economic organization
of developing societies and the demand for people with new skills and
expertise (Hewison, 1996, pp 142-145).
Importantly in relation to the expansion of tourism and leisure, mem
bers of the middle class are also defined by their lifestyles and consumer
behaviour. They are consumers par excellence in pursuit of new life
styles; they ‘consume’ media products, electrical and electronic ware,
fashion and luxury goods, cuisine, entertainment, tourism and educa
tional services (Robison and Goodman, 1996b, p 1). After all, modernity,
in a very direct sense, is increasingly about consumption practices, and
consumption is a vital element of status, identity, image construction
and the everyday experience of class (Rappa, 2002, pp 2, 38). Although
it is problematic to define a middle class and draw boundaries around it
because, with specific reference to Thailand, its members are ‘diverse
in their origins, socio-economic background, economic interests and
political experiences’ (Prudhisan and Chantana, 2001b, p 263), a useful
categorization is provided by Hsiao and his colleagues in their com
parative study of the middle class in East and South East Asia (2001).
They see the South East Asian middle class as ‘a class in the making’.
For them it comprises three main segments: the ‘new middle class’ (edu
cated salary-earning professionals, executives, managers, technocrats,
intellectuals and administrators), the ‘old middle class’ (small proprie
tors and the self-employed, including shopkeepers whose educational
level is somewhat lower), which was often referred to in the Marxist
tradition as the petite bourgeoisie (see van der Kroef, 1953), and the
‘marginal middle class’ (lower-grade white-collar clerical and sales and
service workers and small proprietors who deal with more routine tasks),
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394 South East Asia Research
sometimes referred to as ‘lower middle strata’ (Girling, 1985, p Prudhisan and Chantana, 2001 b, pp 276-290). These latter usually lap with, and, in some respects are indistinguishable from eleme what we might term the upper working class, often of skilled an skilled manual workers (Hsiao, 2001, pp 5-8, 35-36; see also Hew 1996, p 143; and Robison and Goodman, 1996b, p 9). Broadly ever, members of the middle class are distinguished at the upper from ‘capitalists’ or a bourgeoisie in that they do not command capital; nor do they control large enterprises; and at the lower from the working or lower class, in that they have higher level cial and cultural capital in terms of education and skills, more opportunities and a greater consumption capacity.
In the case of Thailand, the urban middle class, primarily c trated in (and more recently around) Bangkok, emerged largely the industrialization, urbanization and educational expansion that place rapidly from the 1960s (Funatsu and Kazuhiro, 2003; G 1996; Ockey, 1992, 2001; Prudhisan and Chantana, 2001a, 2001b) survey undertaken in Bangkok in 1997-98 by researchers f Chulalongkorn University, it was discovered that many small-sca prietors and business people had moved into Bangkok from the provi from the 1970s to take advantage of the expanding economy. In about 50% of the Bangkok middle class overall derives from th inces and rural areas. However, only about a fifth of the members of middle class were from lower class origins and about a quarter current middle class who took advantage of educational and tra opportunities were from various segments of the middle class particularly the old middle class already resident in Bangkok.
The middle class had benefited in particular from state-gener economic development and the increasing access to education fro 1970s. They were rewarded with higher incomes and were deve particular ‘consumer tastes and symbols’ (housing, cars, electronic recreational and social activities, including vacations); they wer ing to marry those of their own class background and to draw distin between themselves and other classes, particularly the working most of the members of the Bangkok middle class also subjecti identified themselves as middle class; and they were oriented t achievement, careers and success. The television and global med cluding advertising, also presented certain kinds of valued middl lifestyles that served as models for behaviour (Prudhisan and Ch 2001b, pp 262-267, 281-285).
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Members of the new middle class in particular, as well as some mem
bers of the old middle class, pursue a lifestyle that recognizes the
importance of leisure pursuits, which include such activities as spend
ing weekends away in resort and spa hotels or holidays abroad, playing
golf, joining health, fitness and sports clubs, communing with and gaz
ing upon nature, eating out in particular restaurants, dressing in designer
clothes, using computers, cell phones and digital cameras, being seen
in upmarket cars that carry status, and increasingly adopting certain
Western habits such as drinking wine (see below). We can often see
much evidence of these lifestyle markers in places such as Khao Yai
and Sukhothai at weekends.
Domestic tourism is therefore one manifestation of this process of
social change. Evrard and Prasit (2009a, 2009b) have taken a close look
at the emergence and evolution of domestic tourism in Thailand and
offer insights that have some bearing on visits to World Heritage Sites
in the country. They point out that, in 2004, there were 74.8 million
Thai tourists [or more accurately, tourist visits/activities], compared with
just 11.6 million foreign tourists (2009a, p 301), and yet the latter have
hitherto received disproportionate attention and there is a tendency to
see Thai domestic tourism simply as an emulation and replication of
Western tourism (see Winter, Teo and Chang, 2009a, 2009b). Evrard
and Prasit find important differences in the motivation and behaviour
of Thai domestic tourists, which have implications for both tourism
and heritage management. The rapid growth of Thai tourism reflects
the ‘enhanced desirability of travel’ (2009a, p 302) – which has been
constructed both socially and economically – set against a motivation
of ‘metropolitan escape’, facilitated by increased personal mobility in
terms of disposable income, more time for leisure and improved com
munications networks. Nevertheless, although we have emphasized
domestic tourism in Thailand as a primarily middle class phenomenon,
we recognize that day and weekend excursions to places of interest in
close proximity to Bangkok and other urban centres are not confined to
that class. Ayutthaya, for example, with its important religious and his
torical meaning for the Thais, is visited frequently by those from lower
and working class backgrounds as well.
At the heart of Thai domestic tourism is an implicit nationalism and
an explicit nostalgia, which have transformed people, places and land
scapes from being things to be avoided, ignored, looked down upon
or even feared (in the case of remote forests and uplands) into things
that are attractive and curious, which are worth visiting and worthy of
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preserving (ibid, pp 302-303); domestic tourism attractions also portantly make a contribution to ‘the sense of “feeling Thai” ‘ (E and Prasit, 2009b, p 251). While foreign tourists seek the exotic authentic, the Thai tourist seeks sanuk [fun], convenience and ‘West
ern symbols of modernity’ (2009a, p 307), with a ‘dominant
metropolitan core commoditising and fetishising the weaker cultural
and natural periphery’ (ibid, p 317). Ayutthaya and Sukhothai have thus
emerged as symbols of Thai nationalist origins, both being former Thai
capitals; whilst Khao Yai is a national symbol of nature, once feared,
now tamed, accessible and curious (see also Cohen, 2009). We travel
to see what we no longer have in our own modern lives – hence cul
tures, history and nature – and Thais are no different in this regard:
the ‘ “Thai tourist dream” [has been] nurtured by urbanisation, herit
age policies and the idealisation of the rural’ (Evrard and Prasit, 2009a,
p 311):
‘On the whole, the improvements in communications networks, the
multiplication of “local histories”, the idealisation of the rural, the
politics of heritage, as well as the onslaught of numerous magazines,
journals and travel guides devoted to these subjects directly contrib
uted to the development of leisure mobility among Thai citizens and
consequently of a domestic mass tourism industry.’ (ibid, p 312, and
Evrard and Prasit, 2009b, pp 244-245)
What is also worth noting is that, historically, Thai domestic tourism
began as a royal and more broadly an elite project and was explicitly
very closely connected to the development and construction of the Thai
nation-state (2009b, p 243). From the mid-nineteenth century, outly
ing sites visited by members of the elite became increasingly fixed,
mapped and claimed and were incorporated into the ‘Siamese geo
body’ (Thongchai, 1994, p 13). A nation, as Anderson (1991) has
argued eloquently, is an imagined community, but it is also a geo
graphical and spatial entity, which has territorial boundaries within
which national landmarks and particularly shrines and sacred places
are located and which serve to provide symbolic centres both express
ing and embodying nationhood and the constructed history of the
nation (ibid, pp 16-19, 140-163). The national elements of this do
mestic tourism have also been carried into the more recent period of
local mass tourism (see also Winter, Teo and Chang, 2009a, pp 11 —
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Thailand’s world heritage
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) knows precisely where to
situate its World Heritage Sites. In a promotional pamphlet entitled
Paragons of World Heritage (2008a), it introduces these sites with a
statement that emphasizes the role that they play in giving expression
to the Thai nation and its invented past (see Winter, 2007 on Angkor
and Cambodian nationhood). We find that the ‘ancient Thai kingdom
reaches back thousands of years’ and that these ‘national treasures’ serve
as ‘dignified reminders of a glorious past’ (TAT, 2008a, p 5). The roots
of the Thai nation are therefore not only traced back some seven hun
dred years to the foundation of thirteenth-century Sukhothai, but are
projected back to the distant past – some 5,000 years to the Bronze Age
site of Ban Chiang in north-east Thailand – a past that is described as
‘glorious’ {ibid). This is not merely an isolated national plea for recog
nition because the ‘internationally esteemed UNESCO has recognised
the outstanding value of Thailand’s historic and natural conservation
sites and has bestowed six such destinations [more precisely five sites
counting the Sukhothai complex as one] with the title of UNESCO World
Heritage Sites’ {ibid). The cultural sites are managed on behalf of the
Thai government by the Fine Arts Department in the Ministry of Edu
cation, which is involved in conservation work, historical studies and
the planning of land use and tourism promotion. The natural forest com
plexes are managed by the Royal Forest Department, which has its
National Park officers on site.
Most importantly, in one of the official guides to Ayutthaya published
by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the national value of the cultural
sites to Thailand is expressed in the words of His Majesty the King,
Bhumipol Adulyadej, which are appended to the back cover: ‘A new
building today is just the pride of the builder, but an ancient monument
is the pride of the Nation. A single ancient brick alone is valuable and
should be preserved. Without Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and Bangkok, Thai
land would be meaningless….’ (TAT, 2000) Sukhothai and Ayutthaya
in particular are presented as ‘the antecedents of the modern Thai na
tion-state’ (Peleggi, 1996, p 433). These messages are reinforced in major
tourism guidebooks. For example, Lonely Planet says of Ayutthaya that
it is ‘complexly intertwined with Thai nationalism and religion’ (2007,
p 194). Although modernity and globalization are acknowledged, what
are emphasized are the essential elements of ‘Thainess’, which are con
tinually reinforced in the government tourism promotional literature:
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Thailand retained its independence when its neighbours were in bly incorporated into Western colonial empires in the East; the very strong adherence to the ‘national religion’, Theravada Bud and the monastic order (the Sangha)\ Thais are staunchly loyal monarchy and hold it in deep reverence; and there is a set of c characteristics that delineate the Thai nation expressed in language, r dance, architecture, behaviour and personality. These cultural
commonalities override or at least neutralize ethnic difference and cul
tural dissonance. They are also used to counter the threats posed by
modernization and globalization in order to reinforce Thainess {ibid, p
We need, however, to put the Thai heritage industry in context. It is
not the main attraction for international tourists, though it does carry
much more importance for domestic tourists (see below). Peleggi pro
poses that ‘heritage attractions in Thailand are definitely more popular
with local patrons and associated hotels and resorts are now patronised
by wealthy residents from Bangkok’ (1996, pp 433, 436). In undertak
ing pilgrimage to Buddhist shrines and visiting family for important
festival days, the Thais are internally very mobile people, and the im
proved standard of the infrastructure enables them to get around the
country with relative ease. Recently, the TAT has also been paying more
attention to the domestic tourism market. Certainly, ancient monuments,
temples, Buddhist images, costumed dancers, saffron-robed monks,
colourfully costumed ethnic minorities, plus the stunning architecture,
colours and magnificence of the Grand Palace, the Temple of Dawn
and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok provide a pictur
esque Oriental backdrop in promotional literature, tourist brochures
and guidebooks. These images, which are primarily for the interna
tional tourist market, emphasize exotic timelessness and draw sharp
contrasts between Western (and Asian) modernity and Asian tradition,
but these traditions are usually presented as being in harmony, not in
conflict. Bangkok is the gateway to the country where the old and the
new ‘blend’, and amidst the ‘dynamic modern world’, the capital city
‘manages to preserve its cultural heritage to a marked degree’ (TAT,
2008b). Importantly, foreign tourists can therefore have access to mod
ern conveniences and can relax in ‘the familiar’, but can also experience
something excitingly different. This is a familiar theme in much of the
tourism literature on South East Asia, from Singapore to Malaysia to,
increasingly, emerging destinations such as Vietnam. The Tourism
Authority of Thailand, like similar agencies in neighbouring countries,
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has been promoting the country as a destination for cultural tourism
(Peleggi, 1996, p 433).
Whether or not this official promotional literature has an influence
on prospective tourists, whose images are also constructed on the basis
of personal networks, previous experience, media reports and commer
cial tour company brochures and videos/compact discs, is a moot point.
Clearly, government agencies think that it has some positive effect on
visitors to their country. But personally, we think it unlikely that do
mestic tourists will become engaged in ‘the intellectual exercise of
deconstructing the interpretations of the past conveyed by heritage in
stitutions’ (Peleggi, 1996, p 446). It is much more likely that they will
absorb and enjoy the touristic opportunities offered by them, whilst
recognizing that they also offer something that celebrates the achieve
ments and legacy of the Thai nation and the need, however imperfect,
to preserve and promote them.
Natural heritage is also given some profile in presenting Thailand as
a land of lush tropical vegetation with an exotic, diverse tropical fauna
and flora. The word ‘exotic’ occurs endlessly, and in the TAT’s Golden
Wonderland brochure (2008b) we are treated to an ‘exotic kaleidoscope’.
Nevertheless, the main focus of much of the promotional literature is
not on the educative functions provided by visits to heritage sites, tem
ples, monuments, museums, parks and wildlife sanctuaries, but on the
delights and pleasures of recreation, relaxation and leisure: the ‘endless
possibilities’ offered in ‘delicious dining’; the paradisiacal atmosphere
conjured up by the defining characteristic of late capitalism – shopping
and the treasures that await the eager consumer; ‘wondrous entertain
ment’ that comprises both Thai and Western performance and music,
the national sport of tnuay Thai [Thai boxing] and national festive oc
casions including Thai New Year [songkran] and the festival of the full
moon in November [loi krathong]’, ‘sporting options’ – particularly water
sports and golf; beach resorts and tropical islands, which are ‘the per
fect complement to cultural sites’ – presumably, after a demanding time
gazing on history, one needs to recuperate on sandy beaches and idyllic
islands; spa resorts that provide for modern health obsessions and op
portunities for massage, meditation and herbal therapy; and ‘staying in
style’ in ‘the finest hotel accommodation in the world’ (ibid, pp 8-15,
18-19, 22-27).
Peleggi (1996, p 437) makes the important point that ‘urban Thais
are keener than foreign tourists in their longing for the quaint or nostal
gic aspects of a pre-industrial Thai lifestyle and certainly more receptive
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than they [s/c] to festivals, national celebrations and heritage tions that exploit the folk patrimony and the repertoire of historica nationalist symbols’. Clearly, visits to ancient Buddhist shrin monuments and to such major attractions as the Grand Palace h different meaning for local tourists who are familiar with the re monarchical and nationalist meanings of the sites, as against in tional visitors who can certainly appreciate the splendour of the and their importance to the nation, but are essentially experiencing as tourists (ibid, p 437).
The UNESCO status of Thailand’s World Heritage Sites doe seem to be promoted to the extent that one might have anticipa though some of the private sector tourism companies, particularly r hotels and golf resorts operating around such sites as Khao Yai sociate themselves with the global heritage industry and attempt advantage of their proximity to a UNESCO site. In the TAT Wonderland brochure (2008b), the ‘Ancient wonders’ section pr a brief one-page summary of the heritage sites. The UNESCO s Ban Chiang, Sukhothai and Ayutthaya are referred to in relation historical development of the Kingdom of Thailand, and in the c Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, emphasis is placed on ‘the archit achievement of the Thais’ {ibid, p 16). There is no mention (in section at least) of UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. In field survey at Khao Yai National Park, there was a similar lack erence to it being a UNESCO World Heritage Site on signposts i around the park, and it is certainly not promoted as such in some general tourism literature available to international tourists. In th exhibition, museum and souvenir area of the park, there is very indication of its UNESCO status, even though it was inscribed i 2005, and the overwhelming impression is of a National Park. Af it was founded as Thailand’s first National Park in 1962; it has o on this basis for nearly 50 years and international recognition t UNESCO seems merely to have been a recent bonus.
These sites are placed firmly in a Thai national space and attrac numbers of domestic visitors. Indeed, it has been suggested th tourist industry’s agenda is extraordinarily compatible with the ment agenda with regard to national identity and public cultur Esterik, 2000, p 120). After all, the Thai government had decid protect these sites before it sought UNESCO inscription, and wha to have happened is that the national agenda has remained pre-e in this programme of heritage promotion. In the 1980s the TATThis content downloaded from on Mon, 07 Oct 2019 05:33:17 UTC
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to promote its ‘cultural heritage’ seriously, in part to counter the coun
try’s more racy, nightlife-oriented image, but also because it had
embarked on major restoration work of its ancient monuments in the
1970s (Peleggi, 1996, p 433). Here we have an interesting example of
the way in which UNESCO listing is sought after, yet, in the promotion
of the sites so designated, partially ignored.
Case studies
The following case studies were chosen to address issues such as the
ways in which the management of the sites is coping with the compet
ing pressures of tourism and conservation. Two sites – Ayutthaya and Khao Yai National Park – are within easy reach of the extended metro politan area of Bangkok and the EBMR and connected to it by highways They are therefore the focus of package tours, usually day trips, over
night stays or weekend visits organized by hotels and tour agencies in
Bangkok for international tourists. They are also favourite destinations for residents of Bangkok who also undertake weekend day trips t Ayutthaya as well as enjoying overnight stays there; a similar pattern i found at the Khao Yai National Park, where accommodation can be
found in the numerous resort or golf hotels that ring the park, or in
campsites and chalets in the park itself. Ayutthaya is only one hour’s
drive from the capital city and Khao Yai is two hours away. Both sites
therefore endure the pressures of sustained and substantial tourism in
terest and are very well known tourist destinations both within and beyond
Thailand. Sukhothai and its twin settlements of Si Satchanalai and
Kamphaeng Phet are, in contrast, somewhat off the beaten track.
Sukhothai is five to six hours’ drive from Bangkok and is therefore
rather less visited than the other two sites. Nevertheless, it is one of the
stopping-off points for international tourists, and particularly backpackers
who travel by bus or train from Bangkok via Ayutthaya to Sukhothai
and then occasionally on to Si Satchanalai, and eventually on to
Chiangmai and the hill tribe regions of northern Thailand. Though of
less importance, domestic tourism to Sukhothai generated in the EBMR
is by no means insignificant, comprising about one-third of the total
number of tourists and almost half of the excursionists in 2007.
Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya
Once referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’, Ayutthaya was established
at the confluence of three rivers – the Chao Phraya, Pa Sak and Lopburi
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— and a canal was cut across a meander of the Chao Phraya to c fortified artificial island. Canals were also laid out across the island for
ease of communication, and along these were graceful monasteries, tem
ples, stupas [chedi], palaces and other royal dwellings, as well as
commercial and residential areas (TAT, 2008a, pp 18-19; Fine Arts
Department [FAD], 1996). Ayutthaya [‘Unassailable’], named after the
mythical kingdom of Ayodhya in the Hindu-Indian epic the Ramayana
(Ramakien in the Thai language), was founded in 1350 by King
Ramathibodi I (U-Thong). It was the successor to Sukhothai as the capital
of Thailand until 1767, when it was eventually besieged and destroyed
by the Burmese. Ayutthaya was in effect abandoned until the mid-nine
teenth century and the surviving population relocated to Bangkok. The
city wall and some of the temples were demolished by the Thais be
cause of the need for construction materials for the development of the
new capital during the reigns of the first three Chakri kings in Bangkok
(FAD, 1996, p 33). Left abandoned, the temples, halls, walls and Bud
dha images were also the targets of looters.
In the first two-and-a-half centuries of European mercantile relations
with South East Asia, Ayutthaya was a very important regional and
cosmopolitan trading centre, and at the height of its power in the seven
teenth century, it controlled a large empire that extended to embrace
Sukhothai and small states to the north and south, parts of Myanmar,
Laos, and Angkor in Cambodia (Keyes, 1987, p 27). This is one reason
why it occupies such an important place in Thai nationalist history. The
wealth accumulated was translated, among other things, into a celebra
tion of the monarchy and religion with ‘resplendent palaces and 400
temples’ (TAT, 2008a, p 18). Although most of the edifices and struc
tures built from perishable materials were razed to the ground and some
of the brick buildings damaged, many of the stupas and parts of the
walls, pillars and foundations of monasteries and other buildings sur
vive. Ayutthaya is also a living community in that new monasteries
were founded subsequently, particularly during the period of restora
tion under King Mongkut (Rama IV, 1851-1868) and King
Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910) from the mid-nineteenth century
and are the focus of ritual and monastic life today. It was King
Chulalongkorn who declared Ayutthaya a nationally protected site, and
surveys, excavations and restoration work were commissioned from
the second half of the nineteenth century.
‘As a masterpiece of creative genius’ it was inscribed on the UNESCO
World Heritage List in 1991 (FAD, 1996, p 31) along with Sukhothai,
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although it presents a rather different set of issues because of its close
proximity to Bangkok. It therefore has many more visitors, especially
at weekends and on a daily sightseeing basis, and it is in close proxim
ity to local urban development. There has also been extensive hotel and
restaurant development in and around the main urban area, especially
in riverside locations. A host of tourism-related activities has also grown
up in and around Ayutthaya: from elephant- and ox-drawn cart rides, a
visit to an elephant camp, snake shows, annual Buddhist festivals, arts
and crafts fairs, handicraft centres, shopping for souvenirs, river cruises
and boat tours, to homestays and bicycle tours (ibid, pp 48-62). In ad
dition, some urban development has invoked protest from conservationist
groups about inappropriate buildings appearing near to the ancient sites
and about the encouragement given to mass tourism by both govern
ment agencies and private tourism operators (Peleggi, 1996, p 438).
These pose major problems for conservation and ensuring that the in
tervening and neighbouring landscapes are appropriate for a national
and international heritage site. As part of attempts at controlling urban
encroachment, there has been a proposal to extend the boundaries of
the conservation area to provide a buffer zone, but this is made difficult
because of the very close proximity of the urban area where people live
and pursue their livelihoods. It is unlikely that a buffer zone can be
established without demolition and relocation of some existing urban
areas, which predictably will generate local protest and resistance. Lonely
Planet (2007, p 194) delivers the somewhat harsh verdict that the ‘mod
ern city that grew among the rubble is busy and provincial, adding a
distracting element of chaos to the meditative mood of crumbled king
The ancient monuments have also required much more extensive res
toration because of the level of Burmese destruction. Restoration had
already begun by the mid-nineteenth century, but it commenced in ear
nest from the mid-1950s when the Cabinet allocated a significant budget
for the repair, restoration and protection of some of the main temples.
This was sustained intensely during the 1970s, and various bodies co
operated in this major task, including the Fine Arts Department, the
Department for Urban Planning and the Municipality of Ayutthaya.
According to critics, some of the work was not done sympathetically:
some of the repairs with grey-coloured concrete sit uneasily with the
original red-bricked structures (Buckley, 1992, p 195, cited in Peleggi,
1996, p 438).
Following UNESCO inscription, the Fine Arts Department, which is
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404 South East Asia Research
responsible for conserving and managing the historical park, sub its Master Plan on the Conservation and Development of the Hi City of Ayutthaya to the government, and this was approved by the Cabinet in 1993. Government funds were released in 1994, follo some revisions to the plan to ensure that the programme could plemented, although the level of financial provision has fallen sh what was specified in the plan. There is still a pressing need to a the impact of urban encroachment, the uncontrolled local stall and traders operating within the park precincts and the litter and re generated, and very importantly the increasing tourism traffic a sure of visitor numbers on some of the sites. For example, the i of entrance tickets to the main park areas between October 200 September 2008 indicates that, in these sites alone, Ayutthaya re just under 1.4 million visitors a year (about 45% local and 55% f overseas). Many more would have visited Ayutthaya to attend sit temples that do not require an entrance ticket. These visitors ar major market for local traders, whose control usually falls with jurisdiction of the municipal authorities. Particular problems w perienced following restoration and landscaping work by the Fin Department in 2001 when over 500 booths and stalls moved int Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit temple area, close to the ruins of royal palace. Eventually, after much foot-dragging and negotia tween the various parties involved, the traders were relocated to obtrusive site nearby.
There was also a particularly urgent need for funds for emer support and consolidation work following the serious floods of and some of this was supplied by private commercial interests. that Ayutthaya is surrounded by water on a low-lying flood plain confluence of three major rivers, then the problems of flood d are very great indeed. However, anti-flood defences are now in the p of construction, overseen by the Department of Public Works an city planning authorities.
Even from 1976, the Fine Arts Department had drawn a boun around the most important historic areas to be protected and ha menced the Ayutthaya Historical Park project in 1982 with development of the Master Plan in 1987 (FAD, 1996, p 36). T included archaeological and historical research and the restorat monuments; the rehabilitation of parts of the ancient canal syste development and improvement of infrastructure in the historic city scaping and the removal or improvement of those features This content downloaded from on Mon, 07 Oct 2019 05:33:17 UTC
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environment not considered to be in harmony with the site; improve
ment or relocation of residential communities close to the monuments
and their socioeconomic development; relocation of industrial plants
and factories not in keeping with a historic site; and the development of
academic and tourism services and the premises of those involved in
managing the site (ibid, pp 38-43). Some of these responsibilities are
also contained within two national laws: one is the Act on Ancient Monu
ments, Antiques, Objects of Art and National Museums, which was passed
in 1961 and amended in 1992; and the other the Regulations of the Fine
Arts Department Concerning the Conservation of Monuments, 1985. In
a built-up area such as Ayutthaya, the City Planning Act of 1975 also
comes into play, together with various environmental regulations over
which the municipal and provincial authorities and other government
bodies have jurisdiction. Given that the main feature of Ayutthaya is its
religious buildings, the Department of Religious Affairs also has an
advisory role in the restoration and maintenance of these structures,
and the Tourism Authority of Thailand is also involved in the tourism
promotion and development of Ayutthaya.
There has to be negotiation over how urban development is control
led in the best interests of conservation and so that the historic areas of
the city are not overwhelmed by unsightly buildings and by increases
in traffic flows. It is clear that in such a complex interdepartmental
situation of potentially competing interests and agendas, the sheer prob
lem of establishing and developing clear lines of responsibility and
communication, and the consequent long-drawn negotiations and de
lays in implementation are major issues. Predictably, every organization
involved also produces its own literature on the historical park and its
attractions. Clearly, Ayutthaya, though deserving of its UNESCO WHS
status because of the place it occupies in the national history and iden
tity of the Thai people, presents major management problems, and it is
not evident that all the mechanisms and structures – particularly a co
herent and efficient management system – are in place to enable the
historical park to cope with current and anticipated pressures.
Sukhothai, which translated means ‘Dawn of Happiness’, was the first
capital of a recognizably Tai state located in north-central Thailand. It
is acknowledged as the birthplace of the Thai nation when Tai-speaking
tribes moving down from the north settled at strategic river sites and
began to found states (TAT, 2008a, p 9). It is assumed to have been
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406 South East Asia Research
founded as an independent Tai political and cultural community i and presents a mix of Khmer-style Hindu-Mahayana Buddhist t [prang] dating from the twelfth and early thirteenth century a Lankan-Burmese-style Theravada stupas [chedi]. It therefore mar transition from Khmer control of and cultural influence over ou Tai states to the Tai conversion to Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism and
the establishment of an independent state of Sukhothai under the Phra
Ruang dynasty. But during the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng (c 1279
1318), craftsmen and artisans also developed a distinctive style of Thai
religious sculptural, architectural and decorative art to adorn the tem
ples, pagodas and monastic buildings (ibid). This is referred to popularly
as the ‘golden age’ in the development of the Thai nation (Lonely Planet,
2007, p 402). When its political fortunes waned, it was simply aban
doned and given over to the jungle until it was rehabilitated in the late
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the Chakri kings of Thonburi
and Bangkok as the source of Thai culture and identity (ibid).
UNESCO inscribed Sukhothai as a World Heritage Site in 1991, but
it was officially inaugurated as a national historical park in 1977 and
opened to the public in 1988 along with Si Satchanalai (Peleggi, 1996,
p 438; Van Esterik, 2000, p 112). The management of tourism is much
easier than at Ayutthaya, given that Sukhothai is a 450-kilometre, five
hour drive away from Bangkok or a seven-hour bus journey, or by air
or rail to Phitsanulok, some 50 kilometres away. Most visitors will ei
ther come on a one-night two-day excursion that includes both Sukhothai
and Si Satchanalai, or they are individual or small group international
tourists who also visit for a short while and return to Bangkok or, as is
usual with backpackers, they stop off there on their way to Chiangmai
and the northern hill areas. During the late 1980s and early 1990s,
Sukhothai historical park attracted both international and domestic tour
ists in about equal numbers, with an overall total of approximately
400,000 annually (Peleggi, 1996, p 438). In Sukhothai, the ancient
monuments are scattered in clusters over a relatively large area, and
tourists, both international and domestic, usually hire bicycles at the
park entrance and spend a half-day to a day cycling around on well
surfaced roads. There is reasonable signage in both English and Thai
describing the main temple complexes.
The ancient monuments are now a beautifully maintained and land
scaped historical park located on the outskirts of the municipal centre
of Sukhothai some 12 kilometres from the town centre, and comprising
over 100 structures (royal palaces, temples, city gates, walls, moats,
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dams, ditches, ponds and canals) and 193 individual monuments scat
tered over some 70 square kilometres. Most of the structures are posted
with signs informing visitors that they should not climb on to the brick
work, though it has to be said that the quality of some of the early
restoration work has been questioned and, even to the casual observer,
leaves much to be desired (Van Esterik, 2000, p 112).
There has been some ribbon development along the approach road to
the park catering to tourists, including restaurants, bars, coffee houses,
souvenir and handicraft shops, guest houses and a low-rise bungalow
type hotel. This development is relatively unobtrusive and does not affect
the ambience of the park. However, during its restoration from the late
1970s, some 200 households had to be relocated from the park pre
cincts in order to landscape with trees, plants and water, and to develop
a tourist infrastructure with roads, car parks, restrooms, information
services and ticket office and to ensure that the perimeter of the park
itself was protected (Peleggi, 1996, p 438). There are also restaurants
and souvenir shops at the entrance to the park. The market town of
Sukhothai does not hold much interest for the tourist; it is a rather non
descript place, but it has developed some tourist areas by the river where
guest houses are located and there is hotel accommodation, along with
souvenir shops and restaurants in streets just off the main thoroughfare.
This suggests that the main visitors to Sukhothai town do not spend
holidays here, but are short-stay international and domestic tourists and
excursionists and also international budget travellers.
Si Satchanalai, a sister settlement of Sukhothai, some 45 square kilo
metres in size and about 50 kilometres to the north on the east bank of
the Yom River, is rather more remote and removed from urban develop
ment (TAT, 2008a, pp 15-16). It is not particularly well signposted,
there are no signs forbidding visitors to climb on the monuments, of
which there are some 134, and although reasonably well maintained,
with an internal road system so that the park can be easily covered on
hired bicycles, the grounds are not as well manicured as at Sukhothai.
There is clearly a tourist interest, but it is linked to Sukhothai. Very few
tourists travel directly to Si Satchanalai; nor does it seem to be very
well equipped for large numbers of tourists. It has restaurant facilities,
a bicycle hire shop, some souvenir sellers, basic facilities for tourists,
but very little in the way of information for foreign tourists. Again, we
assume that this is a site of more interest to domestic tourists, but it is
certainly visited by foreign package tourists from Bangkok and by
backpackers. The other related site is the smaller fortress settlement of
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Kamphaeng Phet (‘Diamond Wall’) 80 kilometres south of Sukho and situated on the Ping River, which is rather off the beaten tr seems to have only modest tourist interest. Its remoteness and t of tourist interest have rendered the site rather unkempt; the T chure refers to ‘overgrown temples… [which have].. .a wilder and untouched atmosphere compared to its familiar neighbour [Sukh (ibid, p 17).
Nevertheless, the restoration and conservation of Sukhothai and its
projection as a site of benevolent government and as an essential ele
ment of Thai national identity have been the focus of considerable debate
(see Van Esterik, 2000, pp 111-112). Reynolds, citing the Master’s dis
sertation of Maurizio Peleggi (1994), points out that one Thai historian
has claimed that the historical narratives of Sukhothai’s importance are
‘fictions and myths’ and that its presentation to the visitor gives no
clues as to the ‘urban setting and planning of the past’ (1998, p 136). It
has to be said that, although the historical parks are wondrous and awe
inspiring places to visit and provide the visitor with a feeling of religious
tranquillity, they give no positive indication of what the communities
that created them and lived and worked there were like and how the
ancient monuments that survive fitted into what must have been vibrant
religiously oriented farming, manufacturing and trading societies fo
cused on highly stratified urban social systems comprising royalty,
nobility, administrators and monks.
In response to criticism that Sukhothai was in danger of becoming in
effect a ‘Buddhist Disney world’, the Fine Arts Department responsible
for the management and care of the site made some significant changes
to the development plan, but ‘the site was so highly charged with sym
bolism and tourist potential that it was impossible to resist inventing
more tradition’ (ibid). Sukhothai is now the site for a Loi Krathong
festival held annually in November, which attracts a large number of
Thai visitors. But Reynolds suggests that ‘[t]he historical legend of the
festival is a fabrication, incurring the wrath of an archaeologist and
ethnohistorian, Srisakra Vallibhotama, who has been a persistent critic
of such heritage projects’ (ibid). The identification of the festival as a
genuine Sukhothai tradition was an attempt to give it an authenticity
that was not supported by any firm historical evidence. Apparently, the
TAT decided that ‘staging’ festivals at heritage sites, rather than pro
moting their historical, architectural, artistic and aesthetic authenticity,
would increase their touristic appeal (Peleggi, 1996, p 439).
Despite these debates and the somewhat artificial, captured-in-time
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presentation of the park, there is no doubt that it is very well main
tained; tourism is controlled and more easily controllable and there are
no noticeable pressures on the site emanating from the nearby urban
area. Its distance from Bangkok has not deterred a relatively substantial
number of visitors from seeing the park and it is now firmly rooted in
the national heritage and identity of Thailand.
Khao Yai
Khao Yai (‘Big Mountain’) was Thailand’s first national park, designated
in September 1962 (and also designated an ASEAN Heritage Park in
1984), located to the south of the provincial centre of Nakhon Ratchasima
on the edge of the Khorat Plateau some two hours’ drive to the north-east
of Bangkok. There are also daily Bights and rail services from Bangkok to
Nakhon Ratchasima, or a three-hour bus journey to the town closest to the
park, Pak Chong. Khao Yai National Park (KYNP) is part of a much larger
forest complex spread along the rugged Dong Phaya Yen upland range and
covers an area of just over 6,150 square kilometres. Although Khao Yai is
the most well known and visited of the national parks in this region, there
are altogether five designated parks in the complex. The forest complex
presents a range of forest types, from moist, hilly and dry evergreen forest
to mixed deciduous and dry dipterocarpous forest intermixed with some
open grasslands where logging and agriculture had taken place before the
area was placed under national protection (National Park Office, nd; Lonely
Planet, 2007, pp 464^166). The forest complex was inscribed as a World
Heritage Site in 2005.
In the approach to Khao Yai, little seems to have been made of its
World Heritage status. It was only fairly recently inscribed, and at the
entrance to the park its status as a National Park rather than a World
Heritage Site is given prominence. Its protected status dating from the
early 1960s acted to prevent some encroachment into the foothill areas
bordering the park, and it now appears to be a relatively well kept and
guarded sanctuary for fauna and flora, but this has not always been the
case, and all along the approach roads to the park and around its perim
eter there have been extensive, mainly Bangkok-generated leisure
developments, including resort hotel complexes, spa resorts, guest houses
and lodges, golf courses, restaurants and steakhouses, souvenir shops
and retail outlets, horse-riding farms and vineyards with organized wine
tasting tours. Often those staying in the surrounding hotels and guest
houses will spend a half-day or one day in the park and also become
involved in other activities outside the park.
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What appears to have happened is that the park, with protected for almost 50 years, has been a magnet for all kinds of leisure d ments catering mainly to the weekend and vacation needs of Ban burgeoning population, but it also serves as a convenient weeken for residents of nearby provincial settlements such as Nakhon Ratch and Saraburi. The park provides a limited range of accommodat tering for campers (there are two campsites), trekkers (the dormitories) and couples or families who rent two-person bung and larger villas and who want to experience and enjoy walking ing, night safaris and bird- and animal-watching. For the more recre type of activity, the luxury hotels and resorts with swimming spas, golf and good food, and – for increasing numbers of Bang middle class – wine, cater for all needs and desires.
There has been a massive expansion of these facilities during th 20 years, and despite the economic downturn of the late 1990s, s new resort hotels are currently under construction, though som finished and unoccupied complexes are testimony to the boom-an atmosphere along the perimeter of the park. There was controve 2010 when the Highways Department felled 128 mature trees alo route leading from the Mitrapap Highway (connecting Bangkok Nakhon Ratchasima) to the entrance of the KYNP ahead of wide the road from two to four carriageways, in part to ease congestion a entrance to the park during peak times and holidays. This actio claimed to have degraded the entrance to the park, and one repor suggested that it threatened the Park’s status as a WHS (The Na 2010). The ensuing public outcry eventually led the Cabinet to su the widening programme for the six kilometres nearest to the Pa controversy has also led to a tightening up of regulations governi actions of the Ministries of Transport and Natural Resources and ronment (Bangkok Post, 2010).
Although the national credentials of Khao Yai are emphasized a of Thailand’s heritage, in the tourist facilities surrounding the p owners and managers of some resorts have also deliberately cre Western, or specifically a Mediterranean flavour in their resorts does express globalized cultural influences in leisure activities. close proximity, the traveller can move from Italianesque golf r such as Toscana, to the retail outlet of Primo Posto, reminiscen Hollywood film set staged in the hills around Florence, to the vi of Granmonte and its upmarket Vincotto restaurant, to the Fren signed hotel and restaurant of Chateau de Khaoyai. For those unfThis content downloaded from on Mon, 07 Oct 2019 05:33:17 UTC
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with wine from Thailand, day or weekend trips are organized from Bang
kok for vineyard tours, wine-tasting and dining. There has been a
significant increase in wine consumption in Thailand in recent years,
and one sign of this is not just the increase in production, but also the
formation of the Thai Wine Association in 2004. Its website
( informs us that Thai wine production now at one million bottles per year, with 1,200 employees. Althoug of the production is for export, a considerable amount goes to rants and hotels in the Bangkok and Khao Yai region. There are eight wine merchants in Thailand, five based in Bangkok, one i Yai and two in Phuket (website: Certainly, among some circles the existence of Granmonte vin and its restaurant, PB Valley Winery and The Great Hornbill G teau des Brumes and the Farm Winery and Spa Resort in the vic the national park enhances the touristic profile of the area, part for the country’s urban middle classes.
The crucial issue here is whether the burgeoning tourism, urb sumption-related developments and local farming and other ac around the perimeter of the park are creating unmanageable pr from the perspective of heritage conservation. When KYNP w nally created under the 1961 National Parks Act, its main funct ‘for public education and enjoyment’ (website: the Act itself was very pro-tourism (Wong, 2008, p 201). The P initially zoned for ‘intensive use’, ‘outdoor recreation’ (12% of th ‘special use’, ‘forest regeneration’, ‘strict nature reserves’ and tive areas’ (78% of the Park) ( But three pe problems have been hard to manage. First, before designation tional Park, and for some time afterwards, local people made us forest and the resources it provided. As recently as 1991, som families held disputed tenure certificates to land inside Khao Ya are still several villages inside the Park’s borders; and in some other parks, human settlement and farming are realities that ar going to disappear.
This is clearly a challenge for conservation, but is not a simpl lem to resolve, partly because local people feel they have histor traditional rights of access to the forest complex; they also feel forest’s resources are being protected for the benefit of the urb dle classes at a cost to their livelihoods, and this leads to conflict, m and continued encroachment (Wong, 2008, p 201). It is also ver cult to keep people out of the Park: ‘Khao Yai is like an island, surroThis content downloaded from on Mon, 07 Oct 2019 05:33:17 UTC
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by a sea of villages’ (Tassanee, 2006, p 1); it has no buffer zone, w means that farming and population settlement (there are 104 villa surrounding Khao Yai) come right up to the Park’s borders. People just walk in and out of the Park. Illegal settlers have been removed the years, and ranger patrols have intensified to protect not only life from poaching but also valuable forest products such as aloesw (.Aquilaria crassna), the resin of which is a very valuable ingredient the perfume industry and found only in South East Asia (Tassanee, 2 pi).
Simply trying to keep local people (and also Cambodians in the east
ern reaches of the forest complex) out of the forest is not, in itself,
likely to solve the problem: high levels of poverty locally, plus limited
alternative livelihood opportunities, sometimes make the lucrative re
sources of the forest rather difficult to resist. Accordingly, since 1999
the park authorities (Department of National Parks), together with the
US-based World Conservation Society and an NGO called WildAid,
have been working with local communities – including former poach
ers – to educate local people about the importance of conservation, whilst
also helping to develop alternative income-earning opportunities such
as mushroom cultivation, organic farming and flower planting (Tassanee,
2006, p 1).
A second problem is that, historically, the close connection between
political and business interests in Thailand has meant that conservation
protection under National Park legislation has often been stronger on
paper than on the ground. Former Prime Minister Field-Marshal Sarit
Thanarat (1957-1963), upon designating Khao Yai a National Park, al
located local development rights to senior members of his regime. For
instance, in 1961 a nine-hole golf course was constructed in the heart of
what was then being gazetted as a National Park, and the then head of
the Tourism Authority of Thailand, who was an army general, was al
lowed to construct tourist infrastructure, accommodation and official
dwellings inside the Park. A major road also runs right through the mid
dle of the Park (Wong, 2008, p 202). From 1964, National Park and
tourism development policies were synchronized, and as a result Khao
Yai was subject to more than three decades of development activities
that conflicted with the principles of conservation and protection (ibid).
Domestic tourist interest in the Park intensified in 1985 after a journal
ist produced a feature on the Park and its attractions in a popular Thai
magazine (ibid, p 206).
More recently, within a more democratic and transparent political
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environment and with growing public interest in and concern for the
protection of nature, conservation legislation has been much more strictly
enforced and the principles of protection appear to be more seriously
adhered to. The Park was temporarily closed to the public in 1991, and
overnight stays inside it were banned in 1992, with much of the tour
ism-related infrastructure, including the golf course, being removed
(Wong, 2008, p 204). It is this much stricter enforcement of conserva
tion legislation that has pushed tourism- and recreation-related
development to the perimeter of the Park, especially near the western
approaches, which are closest to the Bangkok EMR and which cater
principally for the affluent middle class (Wong, 2008, p 204, citing
Vandergeest, 1996), at precisely the same time – and indeed linked to
the same social changes that have been taking place in Thailand – that
more people are interested in approaching nature and natural landscapes
as part of their leisure pursuits. Continued tourism growth also seems
to be a major focus of strategy. According to research conducted with
officials by Tim Wong inside the Park, ‘Increasing numbers has be
come the central management focus … As a senior park manager
commented during the research: “The park is not necessarily important
because it is Thailand’s first national park, but because it is one of the
most interesting places for tourism in Thailand. We have to take good
care of the environment so it will not affect tourism.'” (Wong, 2008, p
We commenced this paper by asking whether the competing interes understandings and agendas of various stakeholders in the national p tection and promotion of world heritage were being resolved, or inde were capable of being resolved. The case studies have revealed dome tic tourism and urbanization pressures to be significant factors intensifying the tension between the mobilization and conservation Thailand’s World Heritage Sites (at least the three under considerat here), and as such, our study points to areas that have hitherto bee neglected in mainstream heritage tourism discourse (Winter, Teo an Chang, 2009b). Thus, the expectation that globally designated sites arenas for the international tourist gaze has to be heavily qualified the Thai case, and this has implications for the ways in which we c ceptualize tourism encounters and impacts. The study has also reveale the vital importance of Bangkok as the country’s dominant metropoThis content downloaded from on Mon, 07 Oct 2019 05:33:17 UTC
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and extended metropolitanization as an underlying economic, p and cultural process, as a source of tourists and as a major influe the use and development of these sites and spaces (particularly Ayutt and Khao Yai). Linked to this, the ways in which the appreciati and construction of heritage in Thailand are intertwined with th rialization of a Thai middle class have also emerged as an impor theme that arguably has resonance in other parts of South East and which we hope will be revealed as our comparative program research develops. The growth and spatial spread of middle clas ists and excursionists, and their consumption of cultural and n heritage sites can, we believe, be interpreted as being linked to a not only for an authentic Thai identity rooted in a past that is expression in monumental ruins (ostensibly confirmed as ‘auth via its endorsement by an international heritage body), but als lost rural/natural Thailand.
The rapid growth of domestic tourism in Thailand, and its steady
embracement of heritage sites as destinations for day trips, weekend
breaks and, less frequently, longer stays, have significant and distinc
tive implications for the management of these sites. Within our
programme, further research is currently being undertaken into the
motivations and behaviour of Thai domestic tourists to WHS, how these
influence visitor impacts and attitudes, and how the authorities are jug
gling development pressures and preservation imperatives. Nonetheless,
our preliminary observations have revealed significant variations in
management issues and responses across the three sites. Ayutthaya is
the most ‘exposed’ site, not only to tourism pressures, but also to the
encroachment of urban settlement and the seepage of vendors and oth
ers keen to capitalize on the site’s economic potential. There is very
real tension between the municipal authorities and the site managers in
terms not only of their respective visions for the site’s future develop
ment, but also in the responsibility for and the modalities of site
management today. Khao Yai is partly protected by its status as a Na
tional Park, but has been subject to a burgeoning leisure sector
development around the Park perimeter, which, on the one hand, has
dramatically increased the numbers of people visiting the vicinity of
the Park on a regular basis, but also, paradoxically, keeps people enter
tained without the felt need to enter the Park during each visit to the
area. Sukhothai, as a less frequented heritage space that is reasonably
effectively buffered from urban influence, is arguably more manage
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World Heritage Sites and tourism in Thailand 415
There are thus significant management challenges that require a
nuanced and contextualized understanding of process, preference and
impact. We are not convinced that current management practice is suf
ficiently informed by such an understanding. Very often, management
approaches are guided by global practices and standards, and are still
heavily geared towards international tourists, who are not as important
in our three sites as might be supposed. But the way these sites are seen
and used varies considerably between foreign and domestic tourists (see
also Evrard and Prasit, 2009a, 2009b). International tourists usually
view them as global and exotic ‘must-sees’, their status and authentic
ity accredited by international conservation agencies, whereas domestic
tourists see them as status sites of leisure to be spent with family and
friends, as well as vital elements of national pride and identity and (in
the case of Khao Yai) as a medium to recapture or recover (for urban
middle class Thais) a lost rural or natural idyll. Ayutthaya and Sukhothai
are also active religious and sacred sites and serve as a focus for Bud
dhist pilgrimage and ritual. Given the proximity of local urban populations
and the ease with which these sites can be accessed, visits to them are
often more numerous and frequent, which in turn has implications for
the intensity of visitor pressures and the ways in which higher levels of
use can be managed and controlled.
International heritage bodies focus on the protection and conserva
tion of ‘authentic’ representations of human achievements and natural
evolution, whereas national governments deploy these sites for national
political purposes and to generate tourist revenue. Thus an immediate
policy recommendation that emerges from this preliminary research is
that UNESCO must recognize these sites as ‘living’ cultural and ‘natu
ral’ landscapes and that any management plans must incorporate domestic
tourism, local perceptions and the involvement of local communities
(see also Hitchcock, King and Parnwell, 2010). This in turn might en
courage those who promote tourism to change the way in which they
present these sites to the wider world.
A final point with regard to the preoccupations and perspectives of
heritage tourism studies requires due emphasis. Given the importance
of these global sites in a national context and in relation to domestic
tourism in Thailand, they comprise vitally important venues for ena
bling us to move beyond the continuing guiding principles in tourism
studies of ‘Anglo-Western centrism’ (Winter, 2009) and in so doing, ‘to
disturb the ethnocentric foundations of the field, which emerge from
the widely held assumption that tourists come from the West and that
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“the modern tourism industry” is essentially Western in its origins’ p 24). As Teo (2009, p 35) has recently observed, we must bewar dominance of Western knowledges and practices in tourism stu and address the widely held assumptions that there are cer ‘universalisms’ in the characteristics and motivations of tourists, in fact have been derived from Western experiences. Intriguin the case of Thailand, it is in those very sites that appear to be th global that we might find that which is the most local.
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