Mahidol UniversityThai Cultural Heritage into the Modern World

Thai Cultural Heritage into the Modern World

Whilst tourism is an important part of the Thai economy on a national scale, the power of tourism to transform local communities is often underappreciated. This transformation occurs not only through the economic opportunities which tourism can provide to small businesses, but also through the increased sense of pride and shared cultural heritage. With this in mind, Asst. Prof. Aphilak Kasempholkoon, of the Faculty of Liberal Arts, has been experimenting with how to transform intangible cultural heritage into tourist attractions.

This research is centered around the Thai poet and writer, Sunthorn Phu, who is famous for writing Nirat epic poems, a genre of Thai literature which focuses on journeys using themes of separation and longing. Sunthorn Phu’s epic poems, written through the early to mid-19th century, remain popular to this day, and offer an excellent opportunity for locals and foreigners to learn more about Thai history and culture. Sunthorn Phu’s work Nirat Phra Phrathom is set in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces of Nonthaburi and Nakhon Pathom, close to Mahidol University’s main campus in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom.

The project aimed to use Sunthorn Phu’s Nirat Phra Phrathom to create tourist routes which can provide sustainable income for local communities, preserve the cultural heritage of Sunthorn Phu’s literary works, and support a sense of pride and shared identity in the local area. Four tourist routes were established, including three boat trips and one car trip, which can be taken individually or combined to make the full journey of the Nirat.

One example of how this project has effectively used the cultural capital of Sunthorn Phu’s works to help local businesses create value added products is Ms. Sa-Art’s Sweet Shop. Ms. Sa-Art produces traditional Thai sweets, available in many places around Thailand. However, she now collects together the sweets which are mentioned in Nirat Phra Phrathom to create ‘Sunthorn Phu’s Snack Box’, which is popular with visitors who want to recreate the journey and experiences of the poet.

The project has also involved erecting information boards at temples and other places along the route which are mentioned in Nirat Phra Phrathom, to help visitors learn more about the history of the area, as well as Sunthorn Phu’s life and writings. These boards have also incorporated modern technologies to enhance the experience of tourists. Using a smartphone, they can scan a QR code and take part in an Augmented Reality (AR) experience.

Ms. Sa-Art said that working with Asst. Prof. Kasempholkoon has helped her to learn more about the history of the area and the works of Sunthorn Phu, which helps her to engage with visitors and bring more people to the area. She said “the more we know about our history, the more we love our community.”

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