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Unanticipated Tourist Tsunami Floods Thai Historical Park! Why Was UNESCO Site Unprepared for its Newfound Fame?

The declaration of Si Thep Historical Park in Phetchabun as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has triggered widespread interest, leading to an enormous rise in the number of tourists flocking to the site. However, the unanticipated surge in visitors caught the provincial administration off-guard, triggering worries about the park’s capacity to accommodate such large crowds and calls for expedited measures to safeguard its delicate historical treasures.

Chatchaval Benchasiriwong, the Deputy Governor of Phetchabun, acknowledged that the province had floundered in its duty to manage the swelling number of tourists. Although the monument was first proposed as a potential addition to the UNESCO’s tentative list back in 2019, efficient plans to cater to the rising interest were unfortunately overlooked. And today, the once tranquil historical monument that attracted about 300 visitors a day has to now deal with a staggering 7,000!

This dramatic increase hasn’t just added a strain on the park’s resources, it has also led to a plethora of complaints about inadequate facilities like parking spaces, food options, lack of local accommodation, and shortage of hygienic sanitary facilities. To mitigate this immediate crisis, the governor has called for mobile toilets to be set up, and the provincial executive committees are presently brainstorming for better solutions.

The deputy governor went on to express his regrets, questioning why the province hadn’t capitalized on the four years they had to prepare for the projected tourist boom. A remedial meeting is in the offing with other high-ranking officials from the Ministry of Culture, the overseeing body of the park.

Stretching across a sprawling 867 hectares, Si Thep Historical Park is home to three major cultural spots: the ancient Town of Si Thep, Khao Klang Nok, and Khao Thamorrat Cave. The remnants of these sites serve as a window into the Dvaravati period, a time when the kingdom was at its peak, between the 6th to the 11th century. The site first underwent excavation in 1978, carried out by the Fine Arts Department (FAD).

Visibly, the park’s newfound fame has its downsides. The site has observed a significant surge in tourists, with approximately 30,000 visitors descending on Khao Klang Nok, an ancient ruin spanning 64 metres in length and 20 meters in height, in just a weekend!

In light of safety contingencies, the FAD has temporarily restricted access to the ancient monument, permitting tourists to only capture its magnificence from the base. The Minister of Culture, Sermsak Pongpanich, after his recent trip to the Si Thep Historical Park, expressed his apprehensions over tourist safety and possible damage to the historical site. Consequently, he has called for the FAD to partner with Phetchabun and local authorities to chalk out a robust plan for better site management.

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