Visiting historical parks and museums may well have been boring in the past. Well, not any more. Visitors cannot only look at ruins of palaces and temples or ancient artefacts, but they can also have fun learning about the history from well-trained guides and multimedia presentations, share opinions, ask questions, and grasp what the old sites were like in ancient times.
Certain historical parks, like Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, even boast signs showing the ancient sites reconstructed by a team of academics. At various national museums, modern presentations and technologies have been applied to make the display of ancient artefacts more interesting.
At Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park, a well-spoken archaeologist fluently explained to a group of visitors about the sites and ancient artefacts. He first took them to tour the information centre, equipped with a lot of models and multimedia displays, with one of the highlights being a small glass box featuring a simulated bicycle tour of a few teenagers in the park. Later, he led the visitors to a buggy car to ride and explore the ruins of some temples within the park.
One of several masterpieces on display at Kamphaeng Phet National Museum is a bronze sculpture of the god Shiva, which stands 210cm tall, and found at the God Shiva Shrine in the ancient town of Kamphaeng Phet. It is in the Ayutthaya art style. The base has an inscription in Thai characters which says that Chao Phraya Si Dhammasokkaraj, the ruler of Kamphaeng Phet, built this statue in 1510 to protect four-feet and two-feet creatures in the city and dedicated the merit to two Ayutthaya kings — Ramathibodi II and Phra Arthittayawong.
In Sukhothai, at Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, a museum official brought smiles and laughter to the visitors when talking about the water pipes and monks' stone lavatories excavated from Sukhothai Ancient Town. And he made it fun and easy for the group to learn about the outstanding features of Buddha statues of each historical period.
"We need to understand the level of cultural background visitors have, but should not adjust ourselves to tourists," Pirapon Pisnupong, director of the 6th Fine Arts Office Sukhothai, said. "Those visiting this place are well-qualified. Thais are ranked first in terms of arrivals, followed by French, Italian, German, English and other European tourists, who have very good knowledge of the historical and cultural background [of the places]."
The historical and artistic value is not just limited to books, historical parks and museums. It can be extended to everyday life.
According to the article "Sukhothai Historical Park: Creative Cultural Economy", Sukhothai is rich in art and culture. The heritage, both tangible and intangible, has not only been conserved, maintained and passed on but also expanded in line with a government policy to add social and economic value to the cultural capital. The way of life, art, culture and local intellect can be used in creating jobs, products and services, which can then be turned into cultural industries. Tangible heritage includes ancient establishments and the environment, while the intangible includes traditions, performing arts, and music.
"It [cultural heritage] has been developed and applied to the way of living. For example, traditional dance costumes were reconstructed by academics who studied sculptures in a tunnel of Wat Si Chum. However, they had to guess what the colours were," the director added.
Sukhothai Dance is among the five archaeological dances besides Dvaravati, Srivijaya, Lop Buri and Chiang Saen dances, created in 1967. Costumes for this dance were designed based on motifs around the Lord Buddha's bronze footprint, while hairdos were reconstructed based on drawings found at Wat Si Chum. Musical instruments and dancing postures were designed in harmony with the stone inscriptions and the walking posture of Buddha images as well as god statues from the Sukhothai period.
According to Pirapon, local villagers also diversified the forms of Sangkhalok (Thai ceramics) into the god Ganesh and Buddha statues.
"We support them to reproduce Sangkhalok ware. It's better than searching and stealing original ones from archaeological sites. Selling 100 reproduced items may bring an equal sum of money to selling one stolen genuine item, so they won't do wrong for fear of being arrested."
A visit to a historical park or museum is no longer dull with the use of modern technology and imaginative presentations
Other new designs include vases and coffee mugs with handles that look like an elephant's trunk. In addition, historical information can be adapted to be cultural traditions and activities, such as Sukhothai's Loy Krathong festival, which is celebrated annually on the full moon of the 12th lunar month at Sukhothai Historical Park. At night, people float their beautifully decorated krathongs (lotus-shaped vessels made of banana leaves) on the river, canal or pond. Fireworks and fire crackers are lit. and there are folk games, parades and Sukhothai Dance to reflect the province's way of life according to the stone inscriptions. Also, light and sound shows depicting the glory of Sukhothai Kingdom is on hand.
On Dec 12, 1991, Sukhothai Historical Park was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco as part of the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns.
About 550km north of Bangkok, Si Satchanalai in Sukhothai province has continuously been occupied since prehistoric times since it consists of the plains along the Yom River and the hills which are abundant and strategic locations. Si Satchanalai Historical Park comprises 45.14km2, covering three tambons (sub-districts) of Si Satchanalai district, and there are 281 historic buildings in the park. The historic town, however, is located in the village of Ban Phra Prang, Si Satchanalai sub-district. The city walls are made of laterite and about 3.5km long, surrounding the four sides of the old town in an almost rectangular shape. The eastern wall runs parallel to the Yom River near the Kaeng Luang area
Archaeological excavations at Wat Chom Chuen, Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat and Wat Chao Chan in Si Satchanalai Historic Town uncovered evidence indicating the existence of pre- Sukhothai activities and buildings in the surrounding areas. The evidence suggested initial human occupation in these areas dating back to 3rd century AD. Other evidence includes 15 burial sites dating back to the 5th-6th centuries AD. While the remains of at least two brick buildings are believed to date back to the 10th-11th centuries AD. Also, there are traces of brick buildings and ceramic roof tiles in the Bayon art style. This style was popular among the ancient Khmer and is comparable to that of parts of Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat Chalieng, which dates back to 12th century AD.
Wat Nang Phaya is located inside the city walls of Si Satchanalai. Its main chedi (stupa) is in the Sri Lankan style, supported by a high base, that was once decorated with elephant sculptures similar to those found at Wat Chang Lom. One of the highlights include very fine stucco reliefs in the Lanna art style used in decorating the exterior of the chapel, which is made of laterite blocks.
Sangkhalok refers to ceramics made in both Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai during the Ayutthaya period. The name is believed to have come from Sawankhalok, the name that people in the Ayutthaya period called the town of Si Satchanalai. Back then, ceramic items were glazed in different colours, such as brown and pale blue, with a transparent coating over decorative designs. They were exported to Ayutthaya, the South of present-day Thailand, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and more. Sawan Woranayok National Museum in Sawankhalok district, Sukhothai province, have displays on Sangkhalok ware and various kilns.
Wat Phra Si Iriyabot is in the Aranyik area of Kamphaeng Phet, north of Wat Phra Non. Its main mandapa (pillared outdoor hall) is large and has a porch on all four sides, while niches positioned at each wall of the mandapa enshrine stucco Buddha images in four different postures — walking in the east, reclining in the north, sitting in the south, and standing in the west. The standing Buddha image is in the best condition while the other images disintegrated
Wat Chang Rop is situated in the highest part of the mound in the Aranyik area of Kamphaeng Phet. Its large main chedi (stupa) is in the shape of a bell and surrounded by 68 stucco elephant sculptures in the style of Sukhothai art. The head and front feet of the elephant sculptures project from each side of the lower square base, and each figure has a laterite core, as well as ornamental motifs around the neck and legs.
Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo is situated inside the city walls of Si Satchanalai and is opposite Wat Chang Lom. Its nam means the temple with seven rows of pagodas because there are many subordinate pagodas here. In fact, there are more than seven rows. These pagodas are in various art styles, such as Sri Lankan and Pagan. Its main chedi (stupa) has a lotus-shaped top, which reflects the art and style of the Sukhothai period.
Wat Mahathat is in the centre of the ancient town of Sukhothai and built in the ancient Indian Mandala style. It boasts a main chedi (stupa), a vihara (chapel), mandapa (pillared outdoor hall) and ordination hall, as well as 200 subordinate pagodas. The main chedi is in the shape of a lotus bud, the typical style of Sukhohai art, and is surrounded by eight other chedis. The four chedis, with one at each corner, are in Hariphunchai style, while the other four positioned in-between have prasat-shaped bodies topped with spires in Sukhothai style. They are adorned with stucco reliefs in the style of Sri Lankan art, including the front one, which depicts the birth of the Lord Buddha. The base of the main chedi is decorated with stucco reliefs of Buddhist disciples walking with their hands clapped together in salutation.
There are two types of Sangkhalok kilns: a round updraught kiln with holes at its bottom for ventilating heat vertically, and a cross-draft kiln in a tortoise-shell shape with an outlet for ventilating heat horizontally. Most of the Sangkhalok kilns in Sukhothai were made of bricks often found in hard soil, while some kilns in Si Satchanalai were slab kilns dug into the ground. In Si Satchanalai, there are two major groups of kilns: Tao Thu Rieng Ban Pa Yang, and Tao Thu Rieng Ban Ko Noi. The first consists of at least 21 kilns along the west banks of the Yom River, about 500m from the historic town. These kilns can be divided into two main groups: Tao Yak, which mainly produced pottery and ceramic sculptures, and Tao Tukkata, which produced small human and animal figurines. Tao Thu Rieng Ban Ko Noi kites are located along the banks of the Yom River, about four kilometres from the first group. Two groups of kilns have been excavated and turned into site museums. Kiln Group No.61 consists of four underground kilns dug into the river banks. They mainly produced large jars for storing water and dry materials. Kiln Group No.42 is comprised of 19 kilns, which can be divided into two major types: updraught and cross-draft. The earliest type of kilns at Ban Ko Noi dating back to the 11th-12th centuries looked like round holes dug into the river banks. There were no fired walls to separate the firing chambers from the fuel chambers, and they produced both glazed and unglazed ceramic jars as well as bowls. The glazed ceramics of this period are olive green in colour. The second type of kiln at Ban Ko Noi is the ground type, which is much larger and was built directly on top of earlier kilns. They mainly produced olive green glazed ceramics of various shapes and sizes dating back to the 14th-15th centuries, when Sangkhalok pottery from Si Satchanalai was well-known and exported to countries as far as Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The Ramkhamhaeng National Museum in Sukhothai displays many ancient artefacts ranging from prehistoric items to Buddha images, traces of the ancient dyke called Sareedpong, and monks’ lavatories dating back to the Sukhothai period.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Kamphaeng Phet has been occupied since prehistoric times. The area was a flat plain on the east bank of the Ping River, stretching across the Yom River and Nan River valleys in Phichit and Phitsanulok provinces. The city was enclosed by a 2.2km-long wall and had 10 gates, as well as a 30m-wide moat beyond the city walls. The centre of the town has two important ancient sites: Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Phra That. About 500m north of the town wall is the Aranyik area with 40 temples. Temples in Kamphaeng Phet were mainly made of laterite blocks; the use of huge blocks of laterite for pillars and bases of buildings reflects the high level of sophistication of construction in ancient times. There were laterite quarries in the area itself. Most of the ancient structures in Kamphaeng Phet are temples dedicated to Theravada Buddhism, adopted from Sri Lanka and date back to the 13th century during the reign of King Lithai. Another unique feature was the way each temple had a well and the bathing area in front of its grounds, adhering to Sri Lankan tradition.
Wat Phra Non is located in the Aranyik area outside the northern wall of the ancient Kamphaeng Phet town. Its vihara (chapel) housed a reclining Buddha image, which has now disintegrated, leaving only his two feet. Another outstanding feature is the huge lateriate pillars supporting the roof. Each is a single block of large size about 1m wide and four to five metres tall.