UNESCO Recognition and its Challenges
Si Thep Historical Park, located in Phetchabun province, has recently been listed as a World Heritage Site (WHS) by UNESCO. This recognition has raised concerns about the park’s preparedness to handle the anticipated increase in tourist numbers. The ancient city of Si Thep was proposed for inclusion in the world heritage list by the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (Onep) and the Fine Arts Department in 2019. With its recent listing as a cultural site during the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s extended 45th session in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Si Thep became Thailand’s fourth cultural World Heritage Site, joining Sukhothai Historical Park, Ayutthaya Historical Park, and Ban Chiang Archaeological Site.
Jatuporn Buruspat, the permanent secretary for natural resources and environment and head of the Thai delegation, emphasized the challenges of maintaining a World Heritage Site status. He highlighted the responsibility of local residents and the general public in conserving the park and preventing encroachment on the historical site.
Infrastructure and Conservation Concerns
Pacharaporn Panomwon Na Ayutthaya, a history expert at Chulalongkorn University and head of the Si Thep drone lidar exploration team, warned that a sudden influx of visitors could overwhelm the site. She expressed concerns about the limited basic infrastructure, rubbish management, and inadequate parking facilities. Moreover, she emphasized the need for improving roads connected to the area.
Ms. Pacharaporn also pointed out the existence of undiscovered sites within the ancient city, which may be at risk of having their artifacts looted. She referenced the looting of Si Thep in the 1970s and 1980s, which made it one of the most looted sites in Thailand during that period. The recent UNESCO listing has driven up prices of historical objects on the black market, potentially increasing the risk of looting.
Land Boundary and Zoning Issues
Another concern raised by Ms. Pacharaporn is the unresolved land boundary and zoning issues around Si Thep Historical Park. These issues have reportedly affected nearly 300 villagers and dozens of households who do not possess land title deeds. The resolution of these matters will be crucial for the long-term sustainability and preservation of the site.
Addressing the Challenges
As Si Thep Historical Park attracts a growing number of visitors due to its World Heritage Site status, addressing these concerns will be essential. Conservation efforts, infrastructure improvements, and resolving land boundary issues will all contribute to preserving the historical and cultural value of the site for future generations.