A Reluctant Past:
Uncovering New Paths for Preserving Historic Sites in Ayutthaya
By Ken May
© June 2010
How does a modern city learn to re-identify with the ruins of its past? As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed since 1991, the Thai city of Ayutthaya is presently threatened with the loss of its status due to public encroachment on protected land. Overly simplistic accusations abound: greed, corruption, and Third World incompetence. Bewildered foreign media ask why Thais can not respect their own history well enough to take care of historic sites. However, a great dilemma has weakened the foundation of conservation projects in the city, and this must be understood before any sustainable solution can arise. How does the city’s industrialized population – deeply entranced by modern luxuries such as motor vehicles, mobile phones, televisions, the Internet, and shopping malls – learn to embrace a past that it is no longer feels connected to?
On one hand, Ayutthaya is moving toward the future. Factories manufacture exportable merchandise on land once comprised of scenic rice fields. Motor traffic clogs transportation routes formerly used by boats. Electrical lines stretch like tentacles from shop to shop. Prosperous businesses and shopping malls glisten with urban energy as customers carry purchases home in plastic bags and throw-away containers. In sharp contrast, crumbled remnants of Ayutthaya’s past remain scattered across the central island as well as its suburbs. Hundreds of ancient ruins peek out from behind concrete houses, schoolyards, and government offices; and many of Ayutthaya’s most amazing historic sites are still buried in overgrown vegetation. Centuries-old bricks and pottery shards can be found everywhere. Unlike other UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Sukhothai, Ayutthaya is a living city. The modern municipality was rebuilt as a palimpsest on ancient territorial grounds.
Ayutthaya residents are fully aware that Ayutthaya was crushed in defeat by Burmese troops in 1767. A plethora of local folktales are still told about Burmese atrocities, including the popular myth that it was only the Burmese – and not Thai looters – who cut heads off of Buddha images and pillaged most of the temple ruins. As Bangkok took on the role of the new Thai capital, the sincere feeling of historic connection to Ayutthaya was gradually forgotten by future generations. This detachment made looting temples and polluting the natural environment more likely as Ayutthaya strived for recognition as a developed industrialized city. Unfortunately, over time, Ayutthaya governing officials became too reliant on Bangkok for guidance on how its tourism industry should be developed. Local residents also became more passive and shed responsibility to Bangkok for preserving their own historic sites.
It is typically believed that healthy amounts of global investing would lead to a prosperous tourism industry – and, in turn, the successful conservation of Ayutthaya’s historic sites. However, the reality is more complicated. The truth is that Ayutthaya residents have an awkward relationship with the architectural ghosts of the fallen capital city. Many locals take ruins for granted because they are commonplace and considered empty without the presence of Buddhist monks. Residents drive by the ancient temples without bothering to learn their names or taking any interest in their histories. A thriving tourism industry alone would not help to preserve the country’s national heritage. The successful conservation of Ayutthaya historic sites and the city’s natural environment also depends on the occurrence of a much needed paradigm shift, in which local residents educate themselves to take pride in this past and proactively accept responsibility for the maintenance of the ruins. A deeper connection must be felt between them and their rivers and canals. Moreover, local communities must understand the process by which Ayutthaya rose from its destroyed ashes to be born again as a modern city.
Ayutthaya as Religious Center
Ayutthaya, founded in 1351 by King U-Thong, served as the political center of Siam for 416 years. As a strategically located maritime city, Ayutthaya rose in economic power as a vibrant zone for trade. Chinese, Muslim, and European merchants established settlements in the city in attempt to prosper from the generosity of Siamese kings. The ethnically diverse city also thrived with Khmer, Lao, Mon, Vietnamese, Japanese, and other Asian populations. Ayutthaya’s beauty impressed several foreign visitors to the point of referring to the city as the Venice of the East.
Unfortunately, it is too often overshadowed that Ayutthaya also served as a religious center as well. In 1638, Dutch trader, Jeremias Van Vliet wrote, “[T]he town is adorned with about 400 fine temples and monasteries, which are cleverly and sumptuously built with a great number of towers, pyramids, and innumerable images made of all kinds of material” (Baker 110). In 1636, Dutch merchant Joost Schouten wrote that there were at least 30,000 Buddhist clergy in Ayutthaya alone (Manley 140). French theologian Nicolas Gervaise estimated that there were more than 60,000 monks in Siam, not including young novices (Gervaise 139). In 1685, Abbe De Choisy placed the number of monks in Siam at over 100,000 (Smithies 156). This Buddhist clergy was most highly concentrated in the capital of Ayutthaya.
The physical geography of Ayutthaya was partially reshaped by residents with Buddhist cosmological principles in mind. Beth Fouser suggests the city itself may have been designed to represent Mount Meru – the center of universe that is surrounded by seven mountains and separated by seven rivers with four continents in each of the cardinal directions (Fouser 36). In addition to municipal functions such as defense and transportation, the city’s rivers were possibly dug to form an island symbolizing Mount Meru and the world ocean, and individual moats were shaped around each temple for a similar reason. Important cities such as Sukhothai, Suphanburi, Nakhon Sri Thammarat, and Lopburi (or possibly Angkor), and may have been viewed as the four continents in each direction.
Ayutthaya kings were identified with Mount Meru as part of the axis of the universe – and at times believed to be divine incarnates – as they sat on thrones originally located in the center of the island. Ayutthaya kings built royal monasteries (wat luang) to mark the ceremonial sites of royal cremations or to commemorate divine victories on the cities behalf. The construction of royal monasteries was also a means for kings to validate their authority as a religious figure and to demonstrate spiritual legitimacy by making merit. For example, the Royal Kathin ceremony, an annual event held by kings for donating robes to Buddhist clergy, included an elaborate procession of elephants, musicians, and soldiers (Pombejra 84). These royal monasteries contained valuable treasure and numerous gilded Buddha images.
Many foreigners remarked on the great wealth stored in these royal sites and spoke of solid gold images encased inside. Jeremias Van Vliet wrote: “Under the seats of the idols in some temples, big treasures of gold and silver have been buried, also many rubies, precious stones, and other jewels have been put away in the highest tops of some towers and pyramids, and these things remain there always for the service of the gods. Among the Siamese fabulous stories about the immense value of these treasures are told” (Baker 156). Unfortunately, El Dorado-style tales of hidden valuables have ultimately led to a great deal of theft and vandalism at these holy sites.
In contrast to royal temples, village monasteries (wat raad) were smaller and less impressive but remarkably important in Ayutthaya because they were frequented by commoners and lesser nobility. An abundance of these village monasteries were located in suburbs outside the royal palaces along the city’s canals and rivers. Neighborhoods formed around these religious sites, and the lay community used them as a community center. People moved around them socially, held weddings and funerals, studied in classrooms, and sought advice from monks. Floating markets and business shops were frequently established nearby. Nevertheless, these sacred places were also designed with similar cosmological principles in mind. They were either aligned to the east to greet the rising sun or in the direction of water to recognize that Buddha was facing a river when he obtained enlightenment.
A third type of temple was also present during the Ayutthaya period. Even though Ayutthaya thrived as a religious center, many of its monasteries had fallen into ruins that had been abandoned by Buddhist clergy (wat raeng). Nicolas Gervaise wrote that there were so many temples in Siam that there were not enough monks to fill them all, and because new monasteries were built every day “the monks, instead of having them repaired when they begin to fall into ruin, abandon them at once and go to live elsewhere” (Gervaise 138). Maurizio Peleggi explains that constructing new temples is considered an act accumulating more merit than actually restoring them. Ruins were “in the elite’s as well as in the populace’s eyes, mere evidence of the Buddhist law of impermanence (Peleggi 13). Once a temple had fallen into ruin, it was vulnerable to plundering. French envoy Simon de La Loubere observed in the 1680s that “Siamese have demanded some smooth files of the Europeans, to cut the great iron bars which linked the stones in the temples, under which there was gold concealed” (Loubere 124).
Ayutthaya’s strength as a city was not due to just political power and lucrative economic trading. The city was also held together as the spiritual nucleus of Siam. It was an important Buddhist center. Monks went on pilgrimage to Ayutthaya from as far away as Sri Lanka, China, and India. In addition, the city was rich in Brahmin priests who contributed to various religious rituals and judicial affairs in the ancient kingdom. Christians were allowed to build several churches and the seminary college, Mahapram. The city may have also been used by some Muslims “as a transmitter of Iranian culture and Shi’ite scholarship and mysticism” (Marcinkowski 52). Though in later years, foreigners made bold and calculate attempts to convert Siamese kings, the cosmopolitan city survived so long as it nurtured its roots with Buddhism.
Ayutthaya’s role as a religious center ended with the fall of the city to Burmese troops in 1767. An enormous number of city residents were killed or taken to Burma as war captives. Royal Chronicles speak of citizens who “had removed their valuables and precious things and hidden them by burying them” before Burmese whipped, beat, and roasted them into revealing their hiding places (Cushman 521). Luckier locals survived by escaping to surrounding territories. Ayutthaya was emptied and left in ruins, but there still remains a type of continuity to the ancient city because Buddhist temples are still designed and used in a similar ways. Ceremonies and religious customs have been preserved by passing them from one generation to the next.
Deconstructing an ‘Old City’
It proved a monumental task to rebuild Ayutthaya once the majority of its population became lost or scattered. There was a lack of stable governance in the city and its surrounding countryside. A great number of people died from starvation and disease over the following years. Rice fields were pillaged to salvage remaining grains. Roving survivors raided tombs for gold and silver. Bandits robbed and looted until they could establish relationships with the remnant of local ruling families or members of the new capital’s bureaucracy (Wyatt 123). Quaritch Wales suggests that the loss of population by captivity was more serious than the number of those killed in actual fighting (Wales 9). However, it should not be forgotten that Ayutthaya had often done the same practice when conquering cities such as Angkor.
Burmese armies continued to loot and plunder the ancient capital for seven months, destroying temples for hidden treasures and melting down Buddha images for precious metals. The nearly leveled Royal Palace bore the worse of Burmese furry. By one account, a fire burnt at Wat Phra Si Sanphet that lasted for seven days (Garnier 139). This ransacking was put to an end when Phraya Tak Sin, a military general with a Siamese-Teochiu Chinese background, returned to Ayutthaya to oust Burmese troops. Phraya Taksin stayed for only one night at the Throne Hall before deciding to set up a new capital at Thonburi (Kasetsiri & Wright 219). As a result, Ayutthaya gradually became known as “Muang Krung Kao (the Old City)”.
Phraya Taksin needed to finance warfare against Burmese troops, so he sent expeditions to Ayutthaya to track down hidden treasure and ship it back to the new capital. A large number of earthen jars full of silver were taken from Wat Pradu Songtham, three boats were needed to haul away all the gold from Wat Phutthaisawan, and a significant number of Bronze Buddha images were also removed for economic purpose (Phulsarp 39). Likewise, King Rama I (1782-1809) exploited Ayutthaya’s ruins to obtain raw material for the construction of the new capital. Large portions of city walls and other fortifications were disassembled for transport to Bangkok. The loss of these protective walls allowed flood waters to flow onto the main island causing swamplands where temples once stood. During the reign of King Rama III (1824-1851), the removal of city walls and other masonry continued. One of his goals was to build a great religious monument in Bangkok, Wat Saket, but the massive structure collapsed after only a few years. From the rubble, an artificial hill was modified to become the Golden Mountain in 1897 (Van Beek 173).
As Ayutthaya’s defensive structures were being disassembled, by Bangkok officials who may have feared that Ayutthaya could rise again, many of the city’s residents pilfered through the remains of the “old city”. A French missionary in Ayutthaya at the time of Rama III, Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix, observed that “there is a mania to seek treasures, especially in old temples and admist the ruins of Juthia (Pallegoix 281). He noted that the greedy people engaged in these searches would participate in elaborate rituals on site before seeking buried treasure.
This massive looting was partially inspired by countless stories about hidden caches of gold, secret amulets with magical powers, and Buddha images buried to avoid detection by the Burmese. However, the desecration of sacred monuments by individuals has much deeper roots than greed or dire poverty. The ancient capital was plundered because the city’s population no longer felt connected to Ayutthaya’s glorious past. Since the majority of Ayutthaya residents were taken to Burma as war captives in 1767 or forced to migrate elsewhere, the people that repopulated the conquered capital were seldom indigenous to the city. In fact, entirely new neighborhoods sprung up around the ruins, and these residents lacked basic historical information about the religious sites. New names and stories were sometimes invented to explain the ancient temples. Furthermore, Buddhist clergy were missing, so these sites no longer functioned for spiritual purposes. The small population was unable to fund the rebirth of most monasteries.
The lack of education through scarce archives and historical records also contributed to a sense of detachment. Simon de La Loubere once complained that “The Siamese history is full of fables. The books thereof are very scarce, by reason the Siamese have not the use of printing… they affect to conceal their history…” (Loubere 8). Unfortunately, the only Royal Chronicle to survive from the Ayutthaya-period is the rather short Luang Prasoet version, in addition to some diary notations made by foreign visitors. Enhanced versions of Royal Chronicles were produced after the fall of Ayutthaya, but it is doubtful that many residents had access to these historical documents or the scholarly ability to effectively study them.
Ayutthaya entered a new age of prosperity after King Mongkut (1851-1868) signed the Bowring treaty with England in 1855, which enabled the European country to import large quantities of rice into its colonies. A new business center formed at the Hua Ro market, and a large migrant Chinese population industriously transported goods by boat from small remote villages and sold them at warehouses along the market. New canals were dug to expedite this trade. King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910) also developed the city’s transportation infrastructure. He hired German engineers to develop a railway from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima, which opened to traffic in Ayutthaya on March 26th, 1896 (Ramaer 4). He also had Ayutthaya’s remaining walls toppled to encircle the city as U-Thong Road. King Chulalongkorn launched major administrative reforms nationwide. A provincial government and judicial center was set up in Ayutthaya, and scholarships were provided for civil servants to study in Bangkok. Ayutthaya became the education center of the region, and a number of new temple schools were established in the city. This included a teacher training college that ultimately evolved into Ayutthaya Rajabhat University.
A small trickle of foreign visitors began to tour Ayutthaya, including French naturalist Henri Mouhot and Norwegian scientist Carl Bock, who observed in the 1880s that “only ruins are left, scattered far and wide over the low-lying rice fields” (Bock 68). The first female tourist to visit Ayutthaya was probably Florence Caddy, who describes Ayutthaya as a “labyrinth of canals, waterside shops, and houses with curved pointed roofs, and every house and shop has its high-prowed boat moored at its landing stage (Caddy 181). National Geographic magazine reported on the roundup of elephants in December 1906, and Marthe Bassenne wrote about Ayutthaya in 1909, briefly mentioning the looting of temples, for a French magazine called Le Tour du Monde. British writer Somerset Maugham also visited the city. A small group of Western expatriates and Thai nobility also founded the Siam Society at the Oriental Hotel in 1904 in order to discuss Asian art, history, and culture.
As a result, attempts were made to spark interest in Ayutthaya once again. In 1907, Prince Damrong Rajahubhap, the father of Siamese history, helped to create the city’s first museum at the Chandrakasem Palace, and an elaborate three-day festival was held in Ayutthaya to commemorate the reign of King Chulalongkorn. At the event, the king gave an inaugural speech inciting the audience to increase knowledge of Thailand’s past and to engage in the search for ancient documents and artifacts (Peleggi 15). This objective came to fruit in 1926 when Provincial Governor Phraya Boran Ratchathanin released a map of holy sites and municipal institutes. This map is one of the first ever produced of Ayutthaya by Siamese cartographers, and it is still the best representations of what the old city looked like before the system of absolute monarchy was halted by coup.
A new constitutional government was established in 1932, and Ayutthaya-born Pridi Phanomyoung became Minister of Finance. In this high office, he helped to create the country’s first modern banking system and heavily invested in Ayutthaya’s infrastructure, such as laying the groundwork for Rochana Road. The constitutional government also reinstated the Fine Arts Department in 1933 and added new structures such as the National Museum and National Library to preserve the country’s heritage (Peleggi 18). However, the most important development of all in Ayutthaya was the availability of local real estate. Pridi Phanomyoung approved legislation in 1938 that allowed land titles to be sold for property on the main island. In the beginning only military officials and civil servants could own land, but eventually commoners were allowed to purchase it, too. For the first time in Ayutthaya’s history, any Thai citizen could buy land formerly belonging to kings. Government-owned municipal sites such as police stations, schools, hospitals, and post offices started to spread into newly developed sections of the city.
Field Marshall Phibun Songkhram further developed Ayutthaya with a strongly nationalistic fervor, especially during his second reign (1948-1957). The 1954 Land Code was created to regulate land use within Ayutthaya. Phibun developed a city park at Bueng Phra Ram to promote “Thai” heritage, which later became known as Ayutthaya Historic Park. He also ordered restorations at royal temples such as Wat Mahatat and Wat Rajaburana. Unfortunately, Phibun’s nationalism was also equated with the modernization of the city. New highways were paved linking Ayutthaya to surrounding cities, and the Pridi-Thamrong Bridge was built to cross the Pasak River. Ancient canals and temple moats were buried to construct new roads, and the modern age of motor traffic was launched. A private bus system began to form, tuk-tuks filtered into the city, and motorcycles became commonplace. In addition, motorized long tail boats began to assault remaining house rafts owners with loud noise and unpredictable waves. Local water-based families soon settled onto public land. When the Chao Phraya Dam was completed at Chainat in 1957, it permanently changed the local rice industry because irrigation practices were altered and many markets became inaccessible (Stephens 52). The old Thai ways were ironically vanishing while national patriotism was hitting its peak.
Despite Phibun’s attempts to promote national pride and a sense of “Thai” identity, local residents felt little connection to historic sites – even former royal temples – if they lacked Buddhist clergy. Massive looting resulted when treasure was discovered in Wat Rajaburana’s crypt and at Wat Mahatat in 1957. One employee at the Fine Arts Department pointed out that even members of the local police, who were hired to protect the site, participated in plundering (Sukphisit 46). Temptation was so strong that even small, vegetation-covered village ruins in the countryside were burrowed into for hidden caches of wealth. The Fine Arts Department raced to preserve these national treasures, but their lack of funding enabled plundering to continue for decades. An Ayutthaya branch of the Fine Arts Department was established in 1959 to protect national treasures, and the Ancient Monuments Act was passed in 1961 to facilitate conservation. In the same year, the Chao Sam Phraya Museum was founded to store treasure recovered from Wat Rajaburana and Wat Mahatat.
The large scale plunder at royal temple ruins in Ayutthaya ignited the city’s first grassroots level conservation movement. Locals spread folktales about looters who went crazy or met violent deaths after thievery, and there are still many ghost stories told relating to divine retribution for looting. Governing officials tried to convince locals that more financial gains could be made by preserving the historic sites for the city’s emerging tourist industry rather seek short-term gains via plundering. The Tourism Organization of Thailand was formed in 1959, and Ayutthaya was earmarked as a prime tourist destination from the beginning.
However, it is Sumet Jumsai who deserves credit as the father of modern conservation. While working for the Department of Town and Country Planning, Sumet learned that Ayutthaya’s government planned to divide the old city and sell plots to private individuals. In 1964, he observed bulldozers flattening old chedi so that precious items could be sold. “I could say that it’s the Thai people that destroyed Ayutthaya not the Burmese,” Sumet has stated (Kloykamol 1). He later received threats from influential locals who feared conservation movements would affect their businesses; however, Sumet was successfully able to kill the construction of a road through the city. Another victory for the city’s conservation movement occurred in 1972, when construction machinery ploughed up as many as five temples near Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon for an extension of the Ayutthaya Agricultural School. Luckily, student petitions forced this destruction to stop (Bangkok Post 9-12-1972).
Protecting the city’s past has been an uphill battle. With the construction of Ayutthaya Historic Park, many squatters set up dwellings. The Bueng Phra Ram slums became a gathering place for thieves and other desirables. This encroachment continued into the 1970s when 60 families were ordered to leave so that municipal offices could be built (Bangkok Post 27-07-1970). Laws were made to protect historic zones and regulated residential expansion – including the Urban Planning Act of 1975, the Ratchaphasadu Land Act of 1975, the Building Control Act of 1979, and the Conservation of Monuments Act of 1985.
Nevertheless, the sale of stolen merchandise continued. Ayutthaya was once a main stop on a smuggling route delivering Southeast Asian antiques to Bangkok dealers and overseas markets via Singapore (Nagashima 104-109). The local craftsmen would repair damaged antiques or store them for future sale. In 1999, Thai police in Ayutthaya found “more than 500 ancient artifacts in the residence of a well known sculpture” (Nagashima 100). For a time, it was also an issue that the city’s skilled craftsmen were illegally forging counterfeit sculptures so that they could later be sold by fraud as antiques. However, it was realized that these imitations actually reduced looting because art collectors would happily purchase sculptures even if they were carved in modern times. Stone carvers were brought out of hiding and the Fine Arts Department could regulate the authenticity of merchandise (Sukphisit 86). The ability to profit legally on their craftsmanship has cut down on the degree of theft.
In more recent years, the protection of the city’s environment and wildlife has become an important issue. In the strong push to quickly modernize the city much damage has been done to the canals and rivers that once earned Ayutthaya its reputation as the Venice of the East. The closure of canals for modern roads has badly damaged the natural habitat of some local wildlife. For example, nearly 100,000 fish died in Bueng Phra Ram in 1982 due to the lack of oxygen after a feeder canal had been buried. Officials saved the remaining fish by pumping in water from the Chao Phraya River (Bangkok Post 20-09-1982). Blocking and burying ancient canals and temple moats may have also contributed to flooding problems that threaten historic sites – which is made even worse by the removal of monastery walls that once protected the ruins. Moreover, the closure of canals has permanently altered Thai culture and local communities. Residents have abandoned their traditional lifestyle and replaced their boats for fossil fuel guzzling motor vehicles. Having lost their feeling of being connection to the waterways, residents carelessly dispose of rubbish into every canal and river of the city. Tourists are amazed not by the “Venice of the East”, but by the large volume of plastic bags and other debris floating on the water.
Methods to Preserve Historic Sites and Protect the Environment
Ayutthaya has suffered many painful defeats while growing into a modern city. Locals have sacrificed their traditions and sense of spiritual connectedness to the city, and replaced these with the desire to live with the luxuries enjoyed by more developed countries. The city reluctantly embraces its conquered past as it races toward the hope of modernization. As a result, residents have distanced themselves from their history and forgotten what makes Ayutthaya a truly special place. Should Ayutthaya lose its World Heritage Site status as a result? I don’t think so. It should be taken into consideration that there have been many victories on the path to preserving historic sites. Conservation is a relatively recent concept in Ayutthaya, and protecting the city’s environment will be an ongoing project lasting for decades to come. Thais must accept that an enormous amount of irreparable damage has been done to their city and admit that they – and not just the Burmese – are to blame. However, it would be a mistake to punish a city without understanding the process of which it was reborn. The good news is that remedy is already available. The best medicine is for Thais to reconnect by looking within. There are many places to start:
1) Reclamation by Buddhist clergy – The key for temple preservation over the last century has been for Buddhist clergy to establish an active monastery on the site of an ancient ruin. The old structures are taken care of by monks who protect them. This can be seen at dozens of temples already (Wat Maheyong, Wat Mae Nang Pluem, Wat Thammikarat, etc.). However, this method requires a large number of monks to live on site for sustainability. Funding at the neighborhood level would be necessary.
2) Royal patronage – A large number of ruins have been revitalized due to support by members of the royal family (Wat Phutthaisawan, Wiharn Mongkhonbophit, Wat Kasatrathiraj, Wat Sam Viharn, etc.). These efforts should continue, but other influential and wealthy Thais should take responsibility for this task as well.
3) Village temple projects – The ruins that are most endangered exist in the suburban countryside (Wat Krasai, Wat Keaw Fa, Wat Wiharn Kao, Wat Kampaeng, etc.). Neighborhoods often develop around these ruins, which can ultimately result in major damage. There needs to be more effort to convince these villagers to protect them and help with general maintenance. For example, the United States has a program for prideful groups to adopt highways and to provide services such as clearing away garbage and cutting away unwanted vegetation. Incentives could be made such free publicity or awarding special prizes for top maintenance. This strategy would require that a community place more attention on nearby ruins and put in physical labor.
4) Reopen canals – One serious problem is that many canals have been partially buried to create roads for motor traffic (Khlong Suan Phlu, Klong Ayodaya, Khlong Sa Bua, etc.). This has harmed the local wildlife and disconnected locals from their environment. Fortunately, many of these canals could be revived if more bridges were built and portions of soil were dug away. Water hyacinth need to be removed combined with regular dredging. Some major tourist routs would be made available if this investment was made, and it would greatly increase revenues. However, motorized boats should be prevented from using reopened canals.
5) Education – Any conservation movement is guaranteed to fail if it is not combined with education. Ayutthaya Rajabhat University could really help toward this objective by doing community outreach. More effort needs to be made to expand local libraries with works on Ayutthaya and to publish more research on the topic. There could be more effort to involve monks from the Buddhist university at Wang Noi in educating the local populace on the importance of protecting ancient sites and halting the practice of polluting the waterways with garbage. A local version of the Siam Society could be established to create dialogue and provide education-oriented tours.
6) Promote more tours in suburban areas – The more popular tourist destinations in Ayutthaya focus on ruins that formerly enjoyed royal patronage (Wat Mahatat, Wat Rajaburana, Wat Chai Watthanaram, etc.). However, a large portion of threatened sites are situated in suburban neighborhoods. These areas have tremendous tourism potential that would generate much revenue that could be used for future conservation projects. There are large chains of temples in the vicinity of Khlong Sa Bua, Khlong Takhian, and Khlong Ayodaya. These zones could be promoted as tourists destinations of their own. However, few guidebooks writer know anything about these areas, so more effort must be made to advertize them.
7) Locally-based travel agencies – The tourism industry in Ayutthaya tends to be Bangkok-centric. Travel companies from Bangkok bring tourists to the city on half day tours and shuffle them back again to the new capital. Not much revenue stays in Ayutthaya as a result. The local agencies need to be more proactive in generating new tours and convincing visitors to spend several days in the city. After all, Ayutthaya is a friendlier, safer, and less expensive place to sleep off jet lag than Bangkok – and the city is situated only 1 ½ hours away from the polluted and traffic congested city.
8) Community-Based Tourism (CBT) – There has been very little attention placed on community based ecotours in Ayutthaya. However, this city has much to offer. Tourists could visit several small villages where handicrafts and OTOP products are made, as well as small-scale farming is done (Aranyik sword making, drum production, mushroom farming, rice fields, fish paper weaving, etc.). There is major potential to develop CBT tourism on the islands Ko Chong Lom and Ko Loi, where there are already homestays available and the inhabitants still live off the water selling groceries on boats or making boat noodle soup. The bonus of CBT is that is helps to preserve traditional Thai culture before it permanently vanishes from the city.
9) Fossil Fuel Reduction – The city’s tourism industry is strongly geared for travel by motorized vehicle. This leads to pollution and long term traffic problems. More effort needs to be made to promote “green” tourism that leaves less of a carbon footprint. Ayutthaya already has many shops renting bikes, but local agencies seldom offer guided bike tours. As a result, few visitors expand their stay beyond a quick look at Ayutthaya Historic Park. Few of these bikes shops offer any information or maps about bike routes off the city island. This could be easily remedied with some community involvement. In addition, it is quite amazing that more kayaks aren’t available when Ayutthaya has so much to offer in terms of rivers, canals, and islands. Kayaks are quiet and have less impact on water-side neighborhoods, plus many of the smaller canals are inaccessible by long-tail boats.
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