By Kanchalee “Kelly” Jitjang
During the catastrophic floods of 2011 in Thailand, the walls of the 17th-century Chaiwatthanaram Temple (also known as “Wat Chai”) were overwhelmed, inundating the site with several feet of water. Wat Chai’s central platform became an island for several months. This extreme weather phenomena illustrated the dilemma that climate change posed to Thai cultural heritage.
Wat Chai lies in the Ayutthaya Historical Park north of Bangkok. Since the floods, the Wat Chai conservation project has been the largest project undertaken by the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation in Thailand. To date, Embassy Bangkok has provided more than $1.8 million in grant funding for temple restoration and public diplomacy outreach.
Embassy Bangkok’s commitment has been a 10-year investment, elevating the understanding of climate change on heritage, and growing sustainable skills and concepts in local communities. Conservation measures focus on early water management planning and implementing a conservation process meant to better protect the archaeological ruins against more severe and frequent monsoons. The measures have also sought to build local capacity through managerial policy changes and hands-on training for local technicians and conservators.
In parallel with the physical conservation project at Wat Chai’s towering structures, Embassy Bangkok supports a comprehensive educational initiative, featuring Thai university student internships, classroom lectures, hands-on conservation workshops, and engaging academia to create educational programs on climate change and its impact on heritage. As a result, Wat Chai has become a classroom environment for change in many ways.
“The impact of AFCP goes beyond the conservation of Wat Chai,” said Cultural Affairs Officer Lydia Barraza. “This project has set new standards for conservation that are being adopted as institutional practices in Thailand. At the same time, the project is training a new generation of leaders to preserve Thai heritage and expand the cultural relationship between our two nations.”
Kanchalee “Kelly” Jitjang is the senior cultural affairs specialist at Embassy Bangkok.