Chiang Mai will get Unesco World Heritage listing 'only if Thailand pushes for it'
UnIque strategy, publIc effort needed for Northern cIty to quell negatIve Image
IF THAILAND wants to get one of its culturally significant locations listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, it will need a unique strategy and the orchestrated effort of the whole country and the government, a recent seminar was told.
The Fine Arts Department last year pushed for Chiang Mai city to be included onto Unesco’s World Heritage List, but the goal still seems to be a long way off.
Kreangkrai Kirdsiri, deputy dean for planning and research affairs at the Faculty of Architecture of Silpakorn University, said it may not be easy for Chiang Mai to get on the heritage list because it was perceived as a city of conflict between local people and its business community.
The topic was raised during a seminar entitled “A world heritage necklace in Southeast Asia” held by the Centre for Contemporary Social and Cultural Studies, Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology at Thammasat University.
Kreangkrai is a lecturer and authority on world heritage sites in Southeast Asia. His studies have involved five countries – Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia – in order to create a body of knowledge on world heritage sites in the region. He also wanted to determine if there was potential for developing tourism through the sites and their communities.
In his study, Kreangkrai found that a smart strategy could help the nominated sites to be included on a world heritage site list faster and easier.
For example, Myanmar made its first entry on to the world heritage list in June, with the inclusion of its first site, Pyu Ancient Cities.
Myanmar used cultural links
Pyu and the historic city of Bagan – which contains more than 2,500 Buddhist monuments – have been on the tentative lists since 1996, but Myanmar opted to push for Pyu because it was little disturbed by humans and there was no argument about its authenticity, he said.
“Myanmar used its cultural links to get onto the list the same as Thailand did for the Historic Town of Sukhothai and associated historic towns,” he said.
Pyu’s recognition as a world heritage listing was also in line with Myanmar’s new open-country policy. Foreigners from other countries can take the opportunity to flock to Myanmar under the auspices of cul
tural preservation, he added.
Myanmar would need to fight hard for Bagan to get on the list, while Thailand would face the same problem with the nomination of Chiang Mai “because we don’t have the right tools to explain the importance [of the listing] to local people,” he said.
He suggested that agencies should nominate Chiang Mai city, its adjacent cities and surrounding historical sites, such as Lamphun and Lampang provinces and Chiang Saen in Chiang Rai province and ancient Lanna city Wiang Kum Kam in Chiang Mai province to Unesco as “serial” nominations.
“That would represent the Lanna culture as well as sharing its natural and potential resources. It would also be easier to be included on the list than if it was proposed as a single city for a cultural heritage site”, he said.
He believes the capital city of the North is still far from being included on the list unless the whole country joins together to create a strategic management plan.
Four tentative sites in Kingdom
Thailand already has four sites on the tentative lists: Phimai, its Cultural Route and the associated temples of Phanomroong and Muangtam; Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan in Nakhon Si Thammarat; Phuphrabat historical park; and Kaeng Krachan forest complex.
To nominate Phuphrabat historical park in the cultural landscape category would make it easier to be included than if it was proposed as a cultural site, which would have many nominations, he suggested.
Kreankrai also found there was conflict between the sites in Asean countries. He pointed out the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple.
Instead of creating a common learning and cultural experience for Thais and Cambodians alike, the World Heritage temple found itself at the centre of a dispute between international communities, he said.
Other Asean countries could learn a lesson from the dispute when they want to nominate sites as transboundary heritage sites, he said.
However, Tiamsoon Sirisrisak, a lecturer from Mahidol University’s Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia, said it was an idealistic thought.
“It was almost impossible [for Asean countries] to nominate at the [transboundary heritage sites] level, like the Preah Vihear temple and disputed areas, because Thailand and Cambodia have no political cooperation,” he said.