Thailand's Sam Chuk Community and Old Market District along the Tha Cheen River not far from Bangkok, northwest of the Thai capital in Suphan Buri province is a bit of Old China in once rural Siam. Witness to a disappeared way of life, the distinctive river and canal-side community was recently granted an Award of Merit in the 2009 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation.
A century ago, Sam Chuk was a renowned centre for waterborne trade and commerce, when rivers and canals were
Passed by the new ways of life, Sam Chuk was deteriorating, falling into ruin. Old wooden houses and buildings were decaying as a result of termites and accumulated damage from rain and old age.
Realizing the changes taking place, local residents formed a Sam Chuk Market Conservation Committee. Rather than pulling down the old buildings, they organized to preserve what they received from their ancestors and restored 19 local buildings, adapting the old style architecture described in Thai as Khanompang Khing (ginger bread) style, into a contemporary market, welcoming to traditionalists and those with new style taste as well.
Local homes have been converted into welcoming shops, cafes and museums, where visitors can get a glimpse – touch, taste and feel the past – a sense of what it was like a century ago when the market was really bustling.
As a venue for its mouthwatering rare traditional dishes and old style desserts, Samchuk Market has attracted visitors and habitués from all walks of life, particularly those Thais who are known for crossing cities or towns just in order to taste local delicacies.
"I’m very impressed by this place. I will definitely come back and will take my friends here next time," said one enthused tourist.
However, the road to success of the community was not easy. The Sam Chuk Market Conservation Committee’s members worked hard to restore the town.
"I’m glad. It has been over 10 years we have done this together. I’m so happy to see what it’s now become," said a local pharmacy owner.
"After I heard the news [of the UN award], I was thrilled and very pleased. We have seen Sam Chuk since we were young. We have helped each other to revive it, make it a tourist attraction. It took a lot of time and effort and we faced so many problems, so that our town being honoured by the UNESCO is beyond our expectation," said a local resident.
The old market community would not have been restored to life if the locals neither had seen the value in their traditional way of life, nor put real effort into conserving the town’s soul.
"No matter what you do, when it comes to an old market, you have to know what you want or how you want it to be. You have to think what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it with your 'social capital', so you don’t have to invest more," said another resident.
"I think it’s best to consider that. It is better than to create a new identity of the town. Everything that has happened and been conserved at the Sam Chuk market is really because of the participation of local residents in our community," said Pongwin Chaiwirat, mayor of Sam Chuk sub district.
Being honoured with recognition by the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards derives from the accomplishments of local individuals and organizations within the private sector, and public-private initiatives to effectively preserve the legacy of old architecture and heritage in the region.
The revitalization of eligible projects must have been done within the past decade and the projects themselves must be over 50 years old, with buildings in use for a minimum of one year from the date of the awards announcement.
The awards are divided into one Award of Excellence, three Awards of Distinction, four Awards of Merit, and four Honorable Mentions. Sangiin Dalai Monastery in
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