'Tourist overload' at Si Thep
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'Tourist overload' at Si Thep

Si Thep Historical Park (photo: Pattarawadee Saengmanee)
Si Thep Historical Park (photo: Pattarawadee Saengmanee)

The Thai delegation has raised concerns that Si Thep Historical Park in Phetchabun province is ill-prepared to accommodate an expected influx of tourists after Unesco listed it as a World Heritage Site (WHS) this week.

Si Thep ancient city was proposed by the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (Onep) and the Fine Arts Department to be added to the world heritage list in 2019. The Unesco World Heritage Committee announced its listing as a cultural site during its extended 45th session in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Sept 19, making it Thailand's fourth cultural World Heritage Site.

The others are Sukhothai Historical Park in Sukhothai province, Ayutthaya Historical Park in Ayutthaya, and Ban Chiang Archaeological Site in Udon Thani.

But concerns are mounting that its newly acquired status could overstretch Si Thep Historical Park's capacity to welcome visitors, whose number is now expected to jump.

"Maintaining a World Heritage Site is harder than being declared one as Unesco will carry out an assessment every year," Jatuporn Buruspat, permanent secretary for natural resources and environment and head of the Thai delegation, told reporters after attending the session.

"Local residents and the general public have a part to play in conserving the park and preventing encroachment on this historical site," he said.

Pacharaporn Panomwon Na Ayutthaya, a history expert at Chulalongkorn University and head of the Si Thep drone lidar exploration team, warned that a sudden visitor influx could overwhelm the site.

"The site has limited basic infrastructure, and rubbish management and roads connected to the area need improving. Parking space is also inadequate," said Ms Pacharaporn.

Ms Pacharaporn pointed out that there remain some undiscovered sites within the ancient city, which may be at risk of having their artefacts looted, driven by a spike in prices of historical objects on the black market after Si Thep's listing.

"Si Thep ancient city was reported to be one of the most looted sites in Thailand in the 1970s and 1980s.

"The land boundary and zoning issues [around the site] remain unresolved, which has reportedly affected almost 300 villagers and dozens of households who have no land title deeds," said Ms Pacharaporn.

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