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2008 Honourable Mention

Amphawa Canal Community

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Project TitleAmphawa Canal Community

LocationAmphawa District, Samut Songkram Province,Thailand

SizeApproximately 800 metres along the Amphawa canal

CostUS$ 125,000

Responsible Party / Heritage Architect: Wannasilpa Peerapun, Siriwan Silapatcharanan and Poon Kwansuwan

ContractorNoppakhun Sriluecha

Date of CompletionApril 2005


Project Synopsis

The Amphawa Canal Community, known also as the Khlong Amphawa Community, stretches for about 800 metres along both sides of the broad and curving Amphawa Canal. The site is situated on the north side of the Mae Klong River, which is located in Samut Songkram Province, approximately 80 kilometres west of Bangkok.

The area is well established as a water-based settlement and trading area, dating back as far as the late Ayutthaya Period of the mid-seventeenth century. Amphawa is also significant for its religious associations and its royal connection with the Chakri Dynasty; two Thai kings once resided within the Amphawa District and it was the birthplace of the first queen of the dynasty. Its name translates as “mango grove”, a designation that for Thai people connects the site with the life of the Lord Buddha.

The old Amphawa community consists of a striking collection of both wood and masonry shophouses and individual dwellings, some dating back 120 years, set against a scenic river backdrop of coconut trees, cork trees and mixed orchards. The area is renowned for its “floating” market and also features a later terrestrial market located near the confluence of Khlong Amphawa and the larger Mae Klong River.

The project to conserve 17 wooden buildings in the Amphawa Canal Community was implemented between September 2004 and April 2005 under the technical guidance of Chulalongkorn University. The restored sites included the municipal hall; a 100-year-old former raft house; and several local Thai wooden houses. The renovation project has had many beneficial effects. Several of the target buildings were converted for cultural tourism purposes, such as for homestay accommodation, tourist catering services and a community information centre. Others were returned to service as residences and modest commercial establishments. The results have been hailed as a great step forward in the rehabilitation, conservation and development of the cultural heritage of the community living in the Amphawa area.

Conservation Approach

Amphawa was selected as one of three pilot projects sites of the Thailand Cultural Environment Project (TCEP), which was initiated in 2003 to conserve canal- or river-side historic settlements. The project has served as a “best practice” example, enabling local authorities in other areas to benefit from the project’s experience and to apply this experience to other conservation efforts in Thailand.

The overall TCEP goals and objectives were fourfold: first, to modify and apply the techniques developed through the Danish government’s “SAVE” and “CHIP” programmes to inventory heritage buildings and environments; second, to raise awareness of cultural heritage among local people and organizations; third, to organize demonstration projects for culture environment conservation; and fourth, to serve as a pilot project to aid in the establishment of a comprehensive cultural and environmental conservation programme in Thailand.

Between 2003 and 2005, the project team initiated several activities at Amphawa as part of the conservation effort. A first step was a meeting with local community members to explain the importance and necessity of a detailed survey of the interior and exterior of the buildings and the overall configuration of the canal community. Students from Chulalongkorn University participated in the collection and collation of the data. This survey resulted in the documentation of 88 separate structures, each of which was photographed, measured and recorded graphically. Students also collected data on the orchard system, waterways, walkways, public spaces and road networks.

The information collected via the detailed survey became the basis of a permanent inventory of cultural heritage in Amphawa. These results were disseminated through a publication titled “The Cultural Heritage Atlas of Amphawa Community”, which serves as a continuing resource for conservation planning and activities related to cultural heritage within Amphawa. It also provided the foundation for later educational and tourism-related activities. The construction phase of the project focused on the conservation of 17 wooden buildings. Initial assessments of the structures allowed for a clarification of their conditions and therefore estimations of the costs of restoration and rehabilitation.

Financing for the conservation work came from the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) with 50-50 matching funds from building owners. The project had immediate impacts. After several buildings had been restored, many more building owners applied to be a part of the matching funds scheme.

As a complement to restoration activities, “awareness raising” activities were organized on a regular basis between 2003 and 2005. These sessions targeted administrators, municipal officers, local residents and students. To encourage the local communities to participate in the restoration scheme, the project managers rented a house to function as a public relations office to inform the locals of the benefits of the conservation project not only for themselves but also for the community as a whole.

Adding to these efforts, several artists volunteered to give drawing and painting lessons to local students. Exhibitions depicting local scenes and community life over the past 100 years helped to revive an interest in local history and contributed to strengthening collective identity.

Conservation and the Community

The project has had a number of significant social and economic benefits for the community. In particular, the project has reinforced the traditional role of Amphawa as a trading and market centre. Once dwindling away, the Amphawa water (floating) market is today held three days per week and attracts both tourists and local residents. The market now generates a healthy income for the local vendors, who sell a range of locally-grown produce, traditional craft items and artwork by local artists and students. The increased profit from the market has supported the redevelopment and revitalization of the area, with part of the residents’ incomes being spent on the renovation of their dwellings.

The social impact of the revived floating market was immediately apparent. Local residents of various ages who once worked outside their community in other provinces or in Bangkok have returned home to assist their families in the growth of their small-scale businesses, which are mainly connected to the tourism industry. At the same time, newcomers have moved into abandoned properties, adding to the vitality and economic mix of the area. 

The Amphawa conservation project successfully motivated a large proportion of the community members of the Khlong Amphawa area and nearby canals to be part of a larger conservation effort. It also integrated conservation practice with community development to achieve tangible results. The project instilled a new vitality in the area through a combination of creative economic initiatives and traditional customs and traditions.

Quote from the Project Team

“The experiences in the rehabilitation, conservation and development of the cultural environment of the Amphawa community can serve as precious lessons for other communities. It is no exaggeration to say that the Amphawa community has succeeded in preserving its cultural heritage.”