Catholics pray for the return of tourists

Catholics pray for the return of tourists

A northeastern community hopes its unique Christmas festivities will ignite a return of much-needed tourism

Community leaders in the country's largest Catholics community are helping to revive a local tourism industry battered by Covid-19. The Tha Rae community has almost 13,000 Catholics and they live about 30 minutes away from Sakon Nakhon city in this northeastern province.

This French-Vietnamese colonial mansion is one of many architectural delights awaiting visitors to the Tha Rae Catholic Community in Sakon Nakhon’s Muang district.

Established 136 years ago to the north of Nong Han Lake, Tha Rae draws visitors who like to explore the community and admire St Michael's Cathedral as well as the area's old French-Vietnamese-style buildings and houses.

Adul Trakulma, the community leader tasked with spearheading the tourism promotion, says the cathedral was founded in 1884 by a group of 150 Vietnamese who migrated to Sakon Nakhon and settled in Tha Rae. It has been transformed from a small thatched roof church to its present concrete structure and can accommodate up to 1,000 people. Tha Rae also has four smaller churches for visitors to enjoy.

Each weekday morning many small children ride their bikes to these churches to listen to teachings and sermons from Catholic priests.

Mr Adul says Tha Rae is also famous for its unique Christmas celebrations, when residents decorate their homes with star-shaped lanterns and organise a Christmas Star parade. This year the festivities will take place on the night of Dec 23 and 24 in the community and on Christmas Day in Sakon Nakhon city centre.

"It's worth visiting the community, the street parade is brilliant and a lot of local residents will take part in it," said Mr Adul. "Visitors will be able to enjoy so much going on in Walking Street and there will be a traditional Christmas nativity play."

Many houses will be elaborately decorated with star-shaped lamps and glittering Christmas trees, said Mr Adul, and the village will be a star-lit spectacle during Christmas celebration.

"We welcome all tourists and travellers everyday ... come and see our culture and way of life and you will go back home with a good impression and happy memories,'' he said.

Tourism in Tha Rae has dwindled since March when the government announced that Thailand had entered its first wave of Covid-19 infections and asked communities around the country to comply with preventive measures to slow it spreading.

During the first wave, residents were asked to stay at home, only go out to buy essential food or for healthcare reasons and banned from travelling to other provinces. Office workers and bureaucrats were asked to work from home, schools shut and restaurants were ordered not to allow sit-down dining and limit sales to takeaways and home deliveries.

"Tourism here has been heavily hit by the coronavirus. Residents who earned money from it such as restaurants, coffee shops and homestays have a cashflow problem. Many are broke because they have not had any income from tourism and sales of Otop (One Tambon One Product) to tourists,'' he said.

Mr Adul spoke on behalf of the community to Class XI students from the King Prajadhipok Institute at a forum "A Wide Range of Ethnicity, Nationality and Religion at Tha Rae Catholics Community".

The forum was jointly held by the King Prajadhipok's Institute and Tha Rae Catholics Community and its goal was to create mutual understanding for happy co-existence. Culture and community-based tourism has been a major part of activities local residents had relied on to make a living.

Mr Adul went on to say that the community also still has 25 homestays, boutique resorts and plenty of coffee shops and restaurants offering Vietnamese and northeastern food.

A colleague, Aiyakarn Jamparach, said was still hosting water tourism at Nong Han lake, where visitors can enjoy a beautiful day cruising and dining at its many waterside restaurants.

"Our Tha Rae community is still perfect for those who want to escape from their busy towns to enjoy a quiet and peaceful holiday,'' Mr Aiyakarn said.

He also mentioned that Tha Rae has several historical buildings, which have long been popular places for visitors to admire the architecture and take scenic photos.

Somrit Kairach, owner of a French colonial mansion named "Udomdetwat" built in 1933, said Covid-19 had changed everyone's lives and its effects might still be felt next year.

Before the coronavirus took hold, many tourists visited his community and his house. "We expect that many tourists will come back on post-coronavirus holidays,'' he said.

However, Tha Rae Catholics community leaders all agreed one thing needed remedying: state agencies should make more of an effort to help support their culture and community.

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