High hopes for new landmark
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High hopes for new landmark

Up to 40,000 to visit tunnel daily, but improvements needed

People take photos with a map of an old area of Bangkok inside the newly-opened Na Phra Lan tunnel near the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul
People take photos with a map of an old area of Bangkok inside the newly-opened Na Phra Lan tunnel near the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul

The Na Phra Lan tunnel near the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) is becoming a tourist attraction on Rattanakosin Island, also known as the old town in Bangkok, with up to 40,000 tourists expected to visit the tunnel each day.

The pedestrian tunnel, located on Na Phra Lan Road in Phra Nakhon district, is situated near historical attractions such as the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, the City Pillar Shrine, National Museum and Sanam Luang royal grounds.

During its Jan 1 debut, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) said the Na Phra Lan tunnel was built to reduce road accidents at crossings along Na Phra Lan Road, to commercialise the area and also to create a new landmark.

The project was partially completed last February and the Maharat Road tunnel part has been in operation since, but the Na Phra Lan tunnel remained under construction until the start of this year.

The 6.6-metre-deep, 96m-long tunnel begins near the temple's Mani Nopparat Gate on the Na Phra Lan side and leads to four locations: the City Pillar Shrine, Fine Arts Department, Na Phra That Road and Sanam Luang Road.

The Na Phra Lan tunnel features waiting areas, 21 male toilets and 51 female toilets, two elevators, a staircase and three escalators at each of the four entrances.

Tourists expected

Kittipong Phuwijarn, director of Building Control Office of the Department of Public Works of the BMA, who oversees the tunnel project, said the Na Phra Lan tunnel has been in operation for about one month.

About 45,000 Thai and foreign tourists visited the tunnel on its opening day on Jan 1, he said, adding after that, about 6,000 tourists have visited the tunnel on weekdays and 10,000 on weekends.

"We expect the number of tourists visiting Na Phra Lan tunnel to reach up to 30,00-40,000 people after the pandemic," he said, adding that before the Covid-19 pandemic, about 35,000 people visited Ratanakosin island daily.

Tourists go there every day to take photos, he said, noting the highlights include the photographs and paintings of Bangkok's landmarks that line the tunnel walls.

Deputy Bangkok governor Wisanu Subsompon estimated that monthly electric ityfees for the tunnel will amount to about 28 million baht.

He said the city is planning to "engage in commercial development to generate additional funds to cover maintenance costs".

Mixed reviews

Jiraporn Arunchit, 47, a tourist, said he specifically came to the tunnel to "see the artwork".

"I like the atmosphere here; it's like peering into the past of the old city, and I'm thrilled," she said.

Ms Jiraporn said she heard about the tunnel in the media and friends told her about it when it opened. She said she couldn't visit at the time of the opening but to her, it was worth the wait.

"It was not disappointing after seeing the real place," she said.

Suth Vitoon, a 29-year-old tourist, said the tunnel is "beautiful, comfortable and allows you to get to many places".

However, while some seemed to enjoy the spot, others like Conny Sjoqvist had mixed feelings.

Although the space is huge and comfortable for resting after a long walk, the architecture is "not special" and not "Thai", he said, adding "it is very common, and you can easily see architecture like this in Europe".

However, the 83-year-old Swede said the tunnel, along with the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, was likely to bring a large number of Asian tourists, "particularly Chinese or even Thai tourists".

He said he enjoyed the place and would recommend it to others.

Issues remain

Despite some praise, tourists have also expressed dissatisfaction with access to the tunnel. The entrance near the temple is said to be difficult to locate.

Ms Jiraporn said the BMA did not publicise the entrance well enough.

"I had no idea where it was when I arrived this morning," she said.

A 60-year-old Thai tourist who went by said she had the same problem at another location.

"I can't seem to find the entrance near the City Pillar Shrine," she said. "It's a long walk from City Pillar Shrine to here; perhaps it's not finished yet."

"I'm not sure why they built the tunnel in the first place," she added.

According to Mr Wisanu, the BMA has been inviting companies to submit bids to conduct tunnel administration work, which is currently ongoing.

The move is expected to improve signage and services.

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