Si Thep’s designation as a UNESCO heritage site raises capacity concerns

At the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s 45th session in Riyadh on September 19, Si Thep Historical Park in Phetchabun Province achieved World Heritage site status, showcasing years of effort by Thai conservationists.

This accolade, however, has also sparked concerns over the site’s capability to manage increased tourist footfall due to its limited infrastructure.

Si Thep Historical Park has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site

Marking Thailand’s first cultural inclusion in the UNESCO list in 31 years, Si Thep joins Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, and Ban Chiang – which was added in 1992 – bringing the total of Thai UNESCO cultural sites to four, and the total number of Thai World Heritage sites to seven, the other three being natural heritage sites.

Thapanee Kiatphaibool, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), praised the acknowledgment, attributing it to the relentless endeavours of individuals dedicated to preserving Thai heritage and culture, conveying that she hopes this distinction will catalyse further interest and conservation efforts for the site.

Si Thep, often overshadowed by its more illustrious counterparts Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, houses Dvaravati and ancient Khmer-style remnants of ancient Phetchabun dating back to the 11th century.

As for the concerns, park head Sittichai Pooddee told AFP that the site is nearing its daily capacity of 2,000. Other areas of concern include possibilities of looting, as well as current boundary and zoning disputes affecting local residents.

Pacharaporn Panomwon Na Ayutthaya, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, also warned of the site’s unpreparedness for a visitor surge and highlighted the pressing need for essential infrastructure upgrades such as better waste management, improved roads, and parking for tour buses. She emphasised the immediate need for proactive conservation efforts and infrastructure enhancement to preserve the site’s integrity and accommodate future visitors effectively.

Located approximately a five hours’ drive from Bangkok, Petchabun province is renowned for its temperate climate and mountainous terrain which has led to it being referred to as the ‘Switzerland of Thailand’. The province was featured in the TAT’s 2018 Green Travel Guide, promoting sustainable travel to hidden gems in the lower north of Thailand.

Initiatives are underway to propose at least six additional sites in Thailand for UNESCO recognition, including Phu Phra Bat historical park in Udon Thani, backed by the Department of Cultural Promotion, and Kru Ba Sri Wichai, backed by the Department of Religious Affairs.

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