Features of great variety are spatially concentrated in the eastern region. One example is its topography, with cross-sections from some of Thailand’s highest mountains, with hills, river valleys and plains alongside, reaching down to the sea shore. Another example is the melting pot of ethnic groups, including people who are Thai, Chong, Khmer, or descendants of Annamite, Lao, Malay, Chinese and Kula immigrants. The interfacing of cultures has resulted in shaping a distinct eastern population whose members preserve diversity in commonality. Above all, in historical perspective the area was contested between the ancient kingdoms of the Khmer and the Thai. Eventually, the Thai retained control and used it as the base to rally forces, upon the fall of Ayutthaya, for the resurrection of Siam. They ultimately repelled the occupation of the region’s southeastern part by the French colonial empire. In short, the eastern region has attained symbolic significance for Thailand’s territorial integrity. Geographically, the coastal area between the mouths of the Chao Phraya River and the South China Sea is a vast plain, interspersed with some mountain ranges and rolling hills. Of considerable height are the mountains of the San Kamphaeng Range, which separates the Khorat Plateau to the north from the Chanuan Thai Plain to the south, and the mountains of the Banthat Range which run in southeastern direction, in parallel to the Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia. The region’s long coastline facilitates contacts across the sea, far beyond the Gulf of Thailand. Its proximity to historic empires in eastern Mainland Southeast Asia explains the traces of those cultures.
The present-day shape of the region, both in regard of Thailand’s boundary with Cambodia and in terms of its subdivision into provinces, largely corresponds to watersheds and river basins. Looking at the headwater areas in the north, and proceeding from there toward the southeastern tip, the largest basin is formed by the Prachin Buri River, which itself merges with the Nakhon Nayok River. From their confluence onward, the downstream section is known as Bang Pakong River. The many tributaries, which flow from the eastern central highlands and empty into it, form the Bang Pakong River Basin. The Bang Phai, Yai or Rayong, and Prasae rivers run parallel in north-south direction. The Tanot, Chan-thaburi, Phra Phut, Welu, Khao Saming and Phrom Hot rivers flow from the mountains in southern direction. Some rivers running eastward from the Chanuan Thai Plain, in which parts of Prachin Buri and Sa Keo provinces are located, and from the eastern flank of the Khao Soi Dao Mountain Range form part of the Tonle Sap Basin, which itself is part of the Lower Mekong River Basin. From its northern reach to its southeastern tip, the coastal sea is dotted with islands, large and small.
Owing to the fact that the navigating on rivers, in coastal waters and along sea routes was the major means of communication and transportation, Thailand’s eastern region has become an area where ethnic groups, religions, and cultures met and fuelled a process of remarkably smooth assimilation and acculturation. The result is integration, underpinned by territorial integrity, which is enriched through diversity as much as it is based on commonalities.
PREHISTORY AND EARLY HISTORY
The earliest traces date from the Sosoic Period. They are eleven, differently sized footprints of the dinosaurs named Carnosaurus , imprinted on a large sandstone rock, at the edge of the Sai Yai River in Prachin Buri Province. Evidence of prehistoric human habitat was found at two sites. The shell mound named Khok Phanom Di in Chon Buri Province, excavated by archaeologists, is twelve metres high at its top and covers more than four hectares. Findings include human skeletons, polished stone tools, pottery, ornaments made of sea shells and semi-precious stones, all on a layer of sediment consisting of cockle shells. In neighbouring Rayong Province, the laterite hill called Khao Wong has 86 interconnected grottoes, where fragments of earthenware, knife sharpening stones, animal bones and shells were found.
Among the remains of early history, three sites are of outstanding significance. In the region’s northern plain, there in present-day Prachin Buri Province, is the site known as Mueang Si Mahosot. Its ruins of sanctuaries are part of an ancient city of the Suwannaphum Realm, which flourished beginning some 2,300 years ago. Archaeologists consider the site a historical place where architecture, art and lifestyle are marvellously tangible. This ancient city was laid out in rectangular shape, with the sides measuring 700 and 1,550 metres, thus covering an area of more than one square kilometre, and enclosed by walls and moats. Inside are the ruins of a sanctuary dedicated to Indra and a statue of Vishnu as Harihara sculpted from one large block of sandstone. Places of worshipping situated outside the city walls, particularly many Buddha images in different postures made of sandstone or laterite, are an indication that there existed a large, prosperous community of Buddhists. All evidence points to continuity until into the Dvaravati Period.
The site named Khao To Mo and located in Trat Province is shrouded in mystery. It has the appearance of a gigantic, ancient ruin. A coneshaped mound with slabs of rock, called Saen Tum, forms an octagon with a diameter of 12.2 kilometres. It seems, indeed, covered by a hundred thousand (saen in Thai), dark brown stone columns (tum in Thai). Their shapes vary between square and nonagon, with their lengths ranging from 30 to 150 centimetres and their weight from 10 to 100 kilograms. When beaten, some resound like a gong. While some geologists argue that these strange-looking basalt rocks result from natural erosion, archaeologists assume that this is a site where stone columns were cut, since very early in history and until the time of Khmer dominance in the area. This assumption is supported by findings in a five-kilometre radius from this spot. They include various prehistoric artefacts, stoneware, earthenware, a mortar, remains of a place of worship and an ancient Buddha image. Such evidence indicates that the area is the site of an ancient settlement. In 1988, it was registered as an ancient monument. In Chanthaburi Province is the location known as Nang Kawai, named after a legendary queen and the centre of her realm of the same name, which was conquered by a Khom ruler from Nakhon Thom, near Angkor. There, inscriptions in the Khom language were found which are deemed 2,400 years old. The most important finding is a sandstone slab (49 cm wide, 47 cm high, and 16.5 cm thick), inscribed in ancient Khom letters which convey a text in the Sanskrit and Khom languages. This stone inscription is now kept at the Vachirayan Library in Bangkok. In the 2nd century1 the ancient centre was seized by the ruler of Suwannaphum. It remained the seat of local power until 1384, when it was abandoned due to severe flooding.
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 7TH UNTIL 8TH CENTURIES : EXAMPLES OF THE DVARAVATI CULTURE
At the ancient site of Mueang Si Mahosot in Prachin Buri Province, originally a centre of the Suwannaphum Kingdom, a large Buddhist community flourished in the Dvaravati Period. Further to earlier known artefacts, especially numerous Buddha statues, the more recent discovery, in February 1986, of the largest and oldest footprints ever found in Thailand strengthens the evidence of a Buddhist community in the Dvaravati Period. The precious relic was discovered near the pond named Sa Morakot. The Pair of Lord Buddha’s Footprints is carved on the natural laterite floor. It is situated near the pond which was built several centuries later. Each foot is 1.3 metre wide and 3.5 metres long, with the Wheel of Dhamma in the middle of each sole. The Pair of Footprints is dated as of the 7th to 8th centuries.
The likely most ancient Buddha statue in the area, an image in the Dvaravati style of exceptional beauty and refinement, said to be 1,200 to 1,300 years old, is housed in the Ho Phra Phanasabodi, the shrine of the “Lord of the Forest”, located in Phanat Nikhom District of Chon Buri Province. Carved out of a finely textured, black rock, it rests on a pedestal which features a composite garuda, cow and swan image.
MONUMENTS AND ARTEFACTS TRACED TO THE 7TH UNTIL 13TH CENTURIES : EXAMPLES OF THE KHMER STYLE
Spectacular ruins of sanctuaries built in the ancient Khmer style are concentrated in the northern part of the eastern region. Sa Kaeo Province has two important sites. The one called Prasart Khao Noi, in Aranyaprathet District, comprises of three towers, prang, on a hill, with 254 steps leading up to its top. These towers were built from brick and surrounded by laterite walls. The central structure with a height of 80 metres is in better condition than the two other ruined ones. Inscriptions and objects indicate that the sanctuary was built in the 7th to 8th centuries. Hindu inspired decorative motifs, some lingas, sandstone lintels and statues found at the site are displayed at the Prachin Buri National Museum. Another ancient Khmer-style sanctuary, Prasat Sa Dok Kok Thom, comprises of an ensemble of sandstone towers, prang, surrounded by laterite walls. Important findings at this ancient site are two stone inscriptions, now kept in the National Library in Bangkok.
To the southeast of the ancient city of Mueang Si Mahosot in Prachin Buri Province, at short distance, lies Sa Morakot, a reservoir built in the reign of King Jayavarman VII [1181-1220]. It was constructed from laterite and decorated with carved ornamentation. At its northwest corner, laterite blocks of sluices are still in place. Pedestals, boundary stones, laterite lions and nagas, all found in the area, were brought together at this point. A sandstone lingam, nearly two metres high and split vertically, is still an object of worship. Nearby, a Pair of Lord Buddha’s Footprints was discovered in February 1986, which is far more ancient than the pond. Presumably, the pond was constructed near the Holy Relic.
At Nang Kawai in Chanthaburi Province, there is the ancient site called Ban Phaniat, also Mueang Phaniat, at the foot of the Sa Bap Mountain. It is 17 metres wide and 57 metres long, with walls built from laterite. While some archaeologists assume this massive structure to be the foundation of a large building, others consider it as a fortified seaport, owing to its site at a silted branch of the Chanthaburi River Estuary. There are ruined parts of an inner laterite wall and remnants of an outer earthen wall, between 1 and 3 metres high. There is consensus that the site was inhabited from the 9th to11th centuries. It is considered an important centre of civilization of the ancient Khmer Empire.
This is evident from the Khmerstyle artefacts which were incorporated into the construction of the monastery named Wat Thong Thua. Some 200 years ago, it was built over the laterite base of a large, ancient Khmer-style sanctuary which existed from the 7th to 11th centuries. The large collection of Khmer-style sculptures such as lintels, sandstone door colonettes carved in various designs and inscription stones gives vivid testimony to this cultural heritage. These ancient artefacts are kept in the old monks’ assembly and ordination hall, the ubosot. Most are of the ThalaBoriwat art style. Nearby remnants of moats mark the ancient town limit to the south. It likely is the site of the earliest town of Chanthaburi, established more than 1,000 years ago.
In the compound of the monastery named Wat Ton Pho Si Maha Phot, in Prachin Buri Province, lies rather than stands the largest and oldest Bhodi or banyan tree in the country. The seedling stock was brought over from Bodhgaya in India. This sacred banyan tree is surrounded by two circular terraces and by an octagonal open gallery. Under the canopy is a large seated Buddha statue, and various Buddha images in different postures are placed around the trunk. In the same province lies the monastery known as Wat Kaeo Phichit. With its date of construction unknown, any explanation of the exceptional combination of details in the Greek and Thai styles is still wanting. The mural paintings in its ubosot are marvellous.
CONSOLIDATION OF THE THAI POLITY
Given the date of its original construction, the monastery known as Wat Buppharam or Wat Plai Khlong in Trat Province certainly is one of the oldest Thai-style religious edifices. It was built in 1648, during the reign of King Prasat Thong [1629-1656]. In its compound stands Thailand’s oldest vihara with wooden walls, resting on a brick base of gunwale shape, constructed late in the Ayutthaya Period. The unique collection of Chinese porcelain was built from gifts by Chinese traders from the Far East and by Chinese merchants who, having fled from places in Southeast Asia at times of turmoil, war, or surge in piracy, found a safe haven in Trat. Like pieces of European porcelain, those artefacts render evidence of maritime trade relations, in the past. They are displayed in a newly built museum within the monastery.
Built toward the end of the Ayutthaya Period, the monastery named Wat Yai Inthraram, in Chon Buri Province, is an example of exquisite architecture. Both its ubosot, the ordination hall, and its vihara, the hall housing Buddha images, rest on bases of distinctive gunwale shape, resembling junks. Its mondop, a square building with a pyramidal roof, has beautifully carved wooden door panels. Located in the same province is the monastery named Wat Phra Phuttha Sihing. It is the home of a unique Buddha image made from pure silver, now preserved by the National Museum in Bangkok, with a replica at its original site. In neighbouring Rayong Province, the monastery named Wat Pa Pradu houses a 12-metre long Reclining Buddha; unlike other reclining statues, it lies on the left instead of the usual right side. Another unique, ancient Buddha image cast from an alloy of one of the baser metals and gold, created late in the Ayutthaya Period, is housed in the monastery known as Wat Thong Thua, in Chanthaburi Province. There, two Ayutthaya-style pagodas and a Thai-style wooden pavilion in the monastery named Wat Phlap date from the same period, presumably built in 1757. In the old town of Chan-thaburi, there on the west bank of the Chanthaburi River, the first Roman Catholic Church was built in 1711, through the efforts of Catholic refugees from Annam who had found refuge in Siam during the 17th century.
The area around Chanthaburi has especial historic significance as the stronghold where soldiers were recruited, a fort built, supplies stocked, equipment and weapons manufactured, and boats built to launch a military campaign under the leadership of Phraya Vachiraprakan. He successfully led his army to wrest control over the central area of Siam from the Burmese invaders, established Siam’s new capital in Thon Buri on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, and ascended to the throne as King Tak Sin [1767- 1782]. This short, decisive period of some six months is annually commemorated through a celebration at the Tak Sin Fort, a nonagon structure crowned by a steeply pointed roof. In neighbouring Trat Province, the monastery named Wat Yotha Nimit was founded during the reign of King Tak Sin. Further north, in present-day Chachoengsao Province, the monastery known as Wat Sampathuan was built during that reign.
In the First Reign [1782-1809] of the Royal House of Chakri, the monastery called Wat Thong Thua in Chanthaburi Province was built. For its construction the ruined site of an ancient Khmer sanctuary was chosen. It not only rests on that foundation but also preserves artefacts of the 12th to 13th centuries in its old ubosot. They include Khmer-style sculptures such as lintels and sandstone door colonettes carved in various designs, which are firmly integrated into the extant building, and stone inscriptions.
Strategic considerations led King Rama III [1824-1851] to order the construction of a whole string of fortifications in the coastal plains. The critical year was 1834, when work was carried out simultaneously at various locations so as to avert any designs of the ruler of Annam on Siam’s eastern region. Then the city wall of Chachoengsao Town was built.
Particularly the town of Chanthaburi was under acute threat. The entire town was relocated onto higher and safe ground, known as Noen Wong Fort. It was constructed using laterite from the wall of the old town known as Ban or Mueang Phaniat, situated at close distance in the plain below. This stronghold encompassing the military base and the town, with an already existing city pillar, lak mueang in Thai, erected in the reign of King Tak Sin and the monastery named Wat Yotha Nimit of that reign, covered an area of 43 hectares. The laterite walls were mounted with large cannons. Each side had its own rampart and defensive moat.
To safeguard against an invasion from the seaside, the estuary of the Chanthaburi River was secured through the construction of the Phairi Phinat Fort on top of the Laem Sing Hill, at 172 metres the highest elevation on the western peninsula. Facing it across the narrow channel of the river mouth, the Phikhat Patchamit Fort was built on the site which, after its alteration later on, has become known as Tuek Daeng. In the course of enhancing security, the old Catholic Church in the deserted town was demolished and a new one built on the east bank, in 1834 as well.
Four monasteries were built or restored during the Third Reign. Built simultaneously with the city wall of Chachoengsao was the monastery called Wat Mueang, later named Wat Pitulathiraj Rangsarit. It was restored after being burnt down during a Chinese rebellion in 1848. In nearby Chon Buri Town, the ubosot of the old monastery named Wat Yai Inthraram was renovated using glass-ware to adorn its gables and windows. Another ubosot, that one of Wat Phai Lom in Chanthaburi Province, was embellished with mural paintings portraying the life story of Lord Buddha, and enhanced with Chinese floral designs and scenes featuring foreigners. The monastery of Wat Yotha Nimit in Trat Province, built in the reign of King Tak Sin and fallen into disrepair, was reconstructed. King Rama V [1868-1910] had royal residences built on the mainland and on an island in present-day Chon Buri Province. At Ang Sila, a fishermen’s settlement, a Europeanstyle summer palace was built at the waterfront. On Ko Sichang, a large island, stands the summer palace named Phra Chuthathut Rachathan. It is constructed from teak wood in the gingerbread style. The octagonal edifice in mixed Thai-Western style and a pier with jetty are set in beautifully landscaped grounds. Nearby is the Mondop Roy ; PhraPhuttha Bat built by royal command, as is the sunset watching pavilion on the boulder coastal strip named Chong Khao Khat. Further south, a severe drought necessitated the relocation of the town of Chanthaburi, for security reasons shifted onto high ground and known as Noen Wong Fort, to the original site by the Chanthaburi River. In the pristine surroundings of the Phlio – Khao Sa Bap National Park, a pyramid built by royal command faces the cascades, and a chedi flanks the steep, dramatic step over which the mighty torrent plunks into a large and deep basin. Locally called PhraNang Ruea Lom Pyramid, it is a memorial in which the ashes of the Royal Consort Sunantha Kumarirat are enshrined. The inscription on the marble slate expresses the King’s sorrow for her untimely death, drowned after a royal boat had capsized in the Chao Phraya River at the Bang Pa-in Summer Palace.
Two exceptional monasteries were built in Chon Buri Province. Wat Sattahip houses in its ubosot a unique image of a revered monk cast by the worshippers themselves. Wat Tai Ton Lan is remarkable for the local craftsmanship that created the wooden instruction hall, the library in a pond built from teak wood, and the swan pillars. The floor of the ubosot is covered with old tiles from China, and stone giants guard it. During the Fifth Reign [1868- 1910], the French Colonial Empire tightened its grip on neighbouring territories, called Indochina, and posed a threat to Siam’s territorial integrity. At the turn of the 19th century, the French occupied the present-day province of Chan-thaburi, the island named Ko Sichang off the coast of Chon Buri Province [both 1893- 1904], and the province of Trat [1893-1907]. To commemorate the withdrawal of the French occupants and regaining of souvereignty over these areas, a chedi was constructed, in 1904, at the site of the Phairi Phinat Fort, built in the Third Reign on top of the Laem Sing Hill. From the Chanthaburi twelveyears when the French had subjugatedChanthaburi [sipsong pi mueafarangset yuet chanthaburi in Thai], some colonial-style structures and numerous architectural and design features are preserved. In Chanthaburi Town, the French occupation force headquarter and its arsenal are situated in the grounds of the Tak Sin Military Camp. There also is the prison tower called Khuk Khi Kai, built at the start of the French occupation, in 1893, to hold rebellious locals. It is a 7-metre high, squareshaped dungeon, built in bricks, measuring 4.4 metres each side, with walls holed for ventilation and a porous roof said to have been used as a chicken coop.
At the site of the Phikhat Patchamit Fort, built in the Third Reign, the structure was turned into a military command post and living quarters by the French. Owing to its appearance, it is known as the TuekDaeng, the red building.
In the southernmost province of Trat, the residence built by Phra Chin Pracha Bodi, the royally appointed governor, served as the residence of the French governor, after the French withdrawal from Chanthaburi and until the withdrawal from Trat, in 1907. It is known as the ResidanKampot. Since 1928, it serves as residence of the governor of Trat Province.
The likely eldest, existing monastery in Trat Province, Wat Buppharam built in 1648, was restored and enlarged by constructing buildings in the Rattanakosin architectural style. Its ubosot has mural paintings and in its vihara Buddha images in the Rattanakosin style.
The visit by King Rama V to Prachin Buri Province in 1908 is documented through His Royal Signature, Boran Sathan Lai PhraHat, on the wall of a shrine dedicated to a Hindu God in the ancient Dong Si Maha Phot Sanctuary.
The most extraordinary edifice, whose construction began in 1906 and was completed in 1909, five years after the French occupation, is the Cathedral of The Virgin St. Mary’sImmaculate Conception in Chanthaburi. It was built on the site of the church that had been relocated there in 1834, upon the demolition of the original church, built in 1711, on the west bank of the Chanthaburi River. The cathedral in Neo-Gothic architectural style is the largest Roman Catholic consecrated edifice in Thailand.
ROYALLY INITIATED PROJECTS AND BUDDHIST SANCTUARIES
The modern eastern region is an area of stark contrasts. Its coastline is dotted with fishermen’s settlements on the mainland as well as on numerous islands, with commercial ports, among them Thailand’s most modern deep-sea harbour at Laem Chabang, Thailand’s largest naval base at Sattahip, beach resorts, industry clusters, and sites of educational institutions as well as research centres, while its hinterland is partly under cash crop cultivation, partly covered by forest, including nature reserves, and partly deforested, barren and drought stricken land, home to farmers eking out a meagre living. Gradually, they, too, benefit from the impact of the Eastern Seaboard development ventures.
Royally initiated development projects are focussed on sustainable livelihood. In Chachoengsao Province, H.M. the King had a Royal Development Study Centre established in the spectacular hills named Khao Hin Son. Earlier considered an unfertile area dotted with white rocks, experimentation and demonstration of integrated crop cultivation, livestock rearing and aquaculture have yielded positive results. The project area of 312 hectares exemplifies the potential for building productive upland communities.
Long stretches of the eastern shore used to be covered with forests of mangroves and associated vegetation, the natural habitat of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. In one of the bays, located in Chanthaburi Province, the Khung Kraben Bay Royal Development Study Centre monitors the extent and degree of destruction to make room for large-scale shrimp farming, over several recent decades, develops restoration strategies, and launches rehabilitation programs. Gradually, mangrove forests are being restored, with the Royal Centre taking the lead. In this regard, the Khung Kraben Educational Mangrove Jetty has been instrumental in awareness raising and attitude change. The jetty makes accessible and visible the vital diversity of the mangrove habitat, with its trees such as Sonneratia [lamphu thale], Aegiceras [samae khao], Thai Cassia [samae san], Dalbergia [kraphi], Excoecaria [tat tum thale] and Rhizophora [kong kang], complete with their associated fauna. Upon Her Majesty the Queen’s royal initiative, the island named Ko Man Nai, one of the three islands that form the Man Archipelago in Rayong Province, has been developed into the Sea Turtle Preservation Centre. To assist refugees from the strifetorn neighbouring country, Cambodia, Her Majesty the Queen had the Royally Initiated Thai Red Cross Khao Lan Centre [Sun RachakarunSapha Kachat Thai Khao Lan] set up in Khlong Yai District of Trat Province. There, support was given to the destitute and desolate refugees so as to enable them to engage in activities conducive to sustaining their livelihood. Once all refugees had left, the centre was transformed into a plantation of medicinal herbs with species from 36 provinces in Thailand, and a museum holding implements, tools and utensils used by refugees.
A similar botanical garden exists in Rayong Province, named The Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Herbal Garden, planted on nine hectares. The Bang Kaeo Residence and Park, close to Chanthaburi Town, served as a royal home during the years 1950 and 1968, when Queen Rambhai Barni resided there. Among her royal initiatives is the revival of mat weaving from rush and related cottage industries. An avid golfer herself, she had on her estate a golf link created, one of the very first in Thailand.
The monastery named Wat Yana Sangwararam Wora Maha Wihan in Chon Buri Province, covering an area of 61 hectares, was built in 1975 to honour H.M. the King as its benefactor and two revered monks. Among its edifices are seven temples of varied architecture and interior decoration, in Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Western styles.
Chiselled into the Chi Chan mountain side using laser beams, the cliff called Phra Phuttha Rup Kae Salak Khao Chi Chan shows a huge image of the Lord Buddha in the subduing Mara posture. The 130- metre tall image is shaped in the Lan Na style. Named Phra Phuttha Maha Wachara Uttamophat Satsada, it was created in 1996 to enshrine a relic of the Lord Buddha into the natural surroundings of the countryside in Chon Buri Province.
The sea-side city of Phatthaya, Chon Buri Province, has a unique, ornamental wooden structure. It is called Prasat Satchatham and was built by joining the wooden components without using any metal, in 1981. Its construction helped to keep alive a traditional Thai craft.
CONSERVATION OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
In the largely dilapidated Noen Wong Fort and Town of Chanthaburi Province, built in 1834, a section is occupied by the Underwater Historical Treasure Research Station, built upon the restoration of the eastern part of the fort in 1973. Its work is focussed on the spotting of junks which sank centuries ago and salvaging their cargo. Objects retrieved, to date, include water goblets with lids; small-mouthed, glazed, earthen jugs; small jars; as well as human and animal figurines. These artefacts are of the old Sangkhalok style, which were manufactured in the kilns of Si Satchanalai in present-day Sukhothai and of Mae Nam Noi in Sing Buri provinces. Situated in the precinct of the same fort is the Maritime Trade National Museum. Its focus is on Thailand’s overseas trade relations throughout history. In one of its two buildings, the full-size replica of a seagoing junk is displayed, along with maps of trade routes and records of merchandise.
In the estuary of the Chanthaburi River, the Phra Chao Tak Boat Restoration Wharf, also known as the Samet Ngam Boat Restoration Wharf, comprises of several, historical basins where excavation has been going on. To date, findings include Chinese sailing junks of the Fuchian type and the rudders of boats which were 24 metres long and five metres wide. In a building at the site, miniature boats are on display.
The people of the eastern region were of several origins blended in a sort of melting pot, from which the present-day Thai population emerged. There are the descendants of the native Chong, of whom few only have retained their distinctive identity. Thai ancestors hailed from the country’s central plain. Malay fishermen established settlements on the shore. Khmer peasants made their homes near ancient sanctuaries. Refugees from Annam settled in the south-eastern coastal area. Lao captives, first, and immigrants, much later, settled in few areas. Kula or Thai Yai, also known as Shan, settled where deposits of precious stones were found. Chinese immigrants touched base along the coast, flocked to coastal towns, and moved onward to settle in towns and markets of the hinterland.
The large Lao speaking population, also known as Thai Phuan, in Khok Pip Sub-district of Si Mahosot District, Prachin Buri Province, trace their origin to people relocated from Sakon Nakhon Province in Northeastern Thailand and settled in the year 1827. Living in rather closed communities, they have preserved their ancestors’ customs.
Another such group in Chon Buri Province, the Lao Hua Thanon hailing from Vientiane and Luang Prabang, had been settled, first, at the site of the present-day Phra Pradaeng in Samut Prakan Province, in 1827. Some of them moved on to Bang Pakong and, then, Na Phra That, before finally settling down in Hua Thanon Sub-district of Phanat Nikhom District.
The highly visible evidence of concentrations of people of Chinese ancestry are their places of worship, the shrines. Some of these, of great renown are the Chao Pho Khao Yai and Chao Mae Khao Sam Muk shrines in Chon Buri Province. There, the Chinese design and artistry of highest refinement are the characteristics of the Anek Kuson Sala, also known as Wihan Sian, built in 1987, in celebration of the King’s Fifth Cycle Anniversary. It has a tall statue of Chao Mae Kuan Yin, which was made from pale jade, and an art museum. Other examples are the monastery of Wat Mangkon Buppharam, also known as Leng Hua Yi, in Chanthaburi Province, built in Chinese architectural style, and Wat Buppharam, also known as Wat Plai Khlong in Trat Province, with its rich collection of Chinese porcelain pieces, donated by Chinese merchants trading in the east as well as Chinese traders granted refuge, since the Ayutthaya Period.
The Chong are native to the southern and south-eastern parts of the region. Their almost assimilated descendants live in the plains between Sattahip in Chon Buri and Khlong Yai in Trat provinces. Ethnic Chong still live in the mountain areas of Chanthaburi and Trat Provinces. Their language belongs to the Austro-Asiatic group of Mon-Khmer. It is still spoken by approximately 6,000 people. For lack of a written language, their identity keeps fading away. It is in numerous place names where it is preserved for posterity such as Sattahip, Rayong, Klaeng, and Trat. The Catholic population of Chanthaburi Province is largely made up of descendants of Catholic refugees from Annam who had fled their native country during severe persecution and had been granted refuge in the 17th century.
The small communities of Khmer speaking people fall into two categories. There are those who descend from people at the time when Khmer-style sanctuaries were built and maintained as outposts of the ancient Khmer Empire to the east. They live mainly in Prachin Buri Province. Then, there are Khmer who are descendants of settlers during the period of the French occupation of the provinces of Chanthaburi and Trat, among them communities of the Islamic faith.
NATURAL RESOURCES AND PROTECTED AREAS
The variety of natural resources is great. While most resources do also exist in other parts of Thailand, some are rarely found elsewhere. Deposits of minerals in the category of precious stones are concentrated in the hills and mountains of Chanthaburi and Trat provinces. There, Siam rubies, also known as king rubies, of a purplish red hue without any stars, are mined, some of which are more costly than diamonds. Famous as well are the blue sapphires of a deep blue hue with six-angled crystal structure. One particular site is the only one worldwide with deposits of green sapphire, appreciated internationally as Bang Kacha Sapphire. There also are leaf-green emeralds and topaz across a whole spectrum of yellow hues. Spinelle, zircon and garnet, though inexpensive, are very attractive. Owing to the tropical rain forest climate in the southern part of the eastern region, it is one of the “orchards of Thailand”, with plantations of durian, rambutan and mangosteen, to name some highly appreciated ones.
Bamboo groves in Prachin Buri Province with an especially attractive kind of bamboo, called PhaiTong in Thai, are known for a variety of subspecies. They are Tong Yai or Tong Mo; Tong Klang or Tong Chin, or else Tong Dam; Tong Lek or TongNu; Tong Lai; and Tong Khiao. They were originally brought to Thailand by Chinese immigrants who settled at a place named Ban Huo Khot. Once successfully propagated, they have spread all over Thailand. Large patches in the coastal plain especially of Chanthaburi Province are naturally grown with a plant of the sedge family [Cyperaceae]. This rush, known as ya kok in Thai, is the raw material for the weaving of a piece of rectangular shape that is about two metres long [ one wa ] and about 50 centimetres wide [ one sok ]. Customarily, three such pieces are lengthwise sewn together to produce one mat [ suea chan ]. Also, the halfproduct is used to manufacture such things as handbags and table sets. Ang Sila, a fishermen’s settlement in Chon Buri Province, Thailand’s oldest beach resort, has remained famous for its cockle and mussel farming and its manufacturing of mortars and pestles from the locally abundant granite rocks.
Along some stretches of the shore, the natural vegetation of mangroves and associated trees, particularly of the species known in Thai summarily as samae [Aegicerascorniculatum (Myrsinaceae)] forest, have been preserved. Recognized as the main feed source for various species of marine life and its major breeding ground, other stretches are being rehabilitated. Examples are sites in Chon Buri and Chanthaburi provinces.
Several archipelagos are wellknown for their coral beds or reefs. Among the many islands [ko in Thai] of Trat Province, the Kut Archipelago and the island of Mak may serve as examples.
Nature reserves were established in mountain areas, in hilly lands, at the shoreline, and in coastal waters where islands cluster. They result in a representative cross-section that runs from the high mountain areas in the north and east to the underwater world of coral reefs in the sea. This rich diversity is preserved within the comparatively small area of the eastern region.
In the high mountains of Sa Kaeo and Prachin Buri Provinces, the Pang Sida National Park preserves diverse types of forests which, together, cover 95 percent of its area of 844 sq km. There, the Chong Klum Bon Nursery for Wildlife was established upon the advice of His Majesty the King to preserve endangered bird species such as the Siamese fireback, crested fireback, pheasant, silver pheasant, Kalij pheasant, great Indian hornbilll, green peafowl, great argus pheasant, white-winged wood duck, yellow-faced green pigeon and lineated barbet. Other protected wild animals include the gaurs, elephants, tigers, deer, common barking deer, bears, boars, giant chameleons and fresh-water crocodiles. Larger in area size is the Thap Lan National Park in Prachin Buri Province which covers 2,240 sq km. Inside this park, Thailand’s last fan palm forest is located, covering 96 sq km. In the past, young fan palm leaves were used to produce sheets, called bai lan in Thai, for the recording of eminent texts. Nowadays, villagers use the leaves to weave hats.
The Ang Rue Nai Wild Animal Conservation Area is thought to encompass the largest luxuriant forest in the eastern region. The entire conservation area of 1.030 sqare kilometres speads out across the five provinces of Chachoengsao, Prachin Buri, Chon Buri, Rayong and Chanthaburi.
By comparison very small in size yet stocked with approximately 200 species of wild animals from Asia and Africa is the Khao Khiao – Khao Chomphu Nature Reserve in Chon Buri Province. Its area of 8,33 sq km is, indeed, an open zoological park. The mountain area extending from the eastern part of Rayong Province into Chanthaburi Province, measuring almost 84 sq km, includes patches of virgin forest in almost pristine condition with a profuse diversity of vegetation. Named Khao Chamao – Khao Wong National Park, it has rosewood [ching chan /Dalbergia bariensis (Leguminosae)], pradu [Dalbergia chochin-chinensis], makha [Ormosia sp.], makha mong [Afzelia xylocarpa], ironwood [takhian yang / Hopea odorata], and eagle wood [kruesana / Aquilariaagallocha (Thymelaeceae)], as well as various kinds of wild orchids, rattan, and ferns.
The Khao Khitchakut National Park in Chanthaburi Province covers a verdant forestland of 58 square kilometres. Its vegetation is of great diversity, including virgin mountain and deciduous forests, a great variety of herbal plants and wild orchids. Its likewise rich wildlife consists of such animals as the bisons [krathing / Bos gauris], tigers, bears, Malay sambar deer [kwang /Cervus unicolor equinus], barking deer [keng / Cervulus muntjac], goatantelopes [liang pha] and numerous kinds of birds.
The large Khao Soi Dao Nature Reserve in the same province extends over 745 sq km of mostly mountains covered with forest. The highest peaks are the twin mountains of Soi Dao Nuea and Soi Dao Tai, with the latter 1,675 metres high – so high that one can “pick” [soi] some stars [dao]. Its wildlife includes elephants, leopards, tigers, Himalayan black bears, crowned gibbons, and butterflies such as the blue crow and the forest white.
The southernmost reserve in the same province is the Phlio Waterfall National Park. It is spread out across 134,5 sq km of tropical rain forest. This is the habitat of such plants as sandalwood [krathon pa / Sandoricumindicum (Meliaceae)], khanun pan [Artocarpus sp. (Urticaceae)] and phim sen [Pogestemon patchouli(Labiatae)]. The protected wildlife species include boar, monkey, silver pheasant, common iguana, goat-antelope, mongoose, tree shrew [kratae/ Tupaia sp.], Himalayan black bear [mi khwai / Ursus torguatus], gibbon, and various kinds of monkeys. Another nature reserve on the mainland is the Nam Tok Khlong Kaeo National Park in Trat Province which covers an area of 105 sq km. Given the mountain ranges and their headwater areas, there are many waterfalls.
Examples of spectacular and popular waterfalls [nam tok] are Pang Sida, Sai Yoi, Lan Hin Yai and Thapthewa in Sa Kaeo Province; Rue Nai, also known as Bo Thong, in Chachoengsao Province; Chantathen in Chon Buri Province, with torrents from August to November, most spectacularly at the fourth level; Krathing cascading across 13 steps, at most of them with a small basin, Soi Dao Nuea with 16 tiers, Khlong Narai, and Phlio – all four in Chanthaburi Province; as well as Khlong Phlu, Khlong Chao and Khlong Kaew in Trat Province, the latter waterfall with seven, equally beautiful tiers.
A littoral biotope is preserved in Chanthaburi Province, there within the boundaries of the Khao Laem Sing National Park, which comprises land, sea and island areas totalling 15,2 sq km. On the hill tops it has dry virgin forest and along the shores mangrove forest. Trees include wild santol, eaglewood [kruesana], wild almond [krabok / Irvingia malayana(Simarubeceae)],tabaek [Lagerstroemiaflos-reginae (Lythraceae)], jambolan [wa / Eugenia cumini (Myrtaceae)], and tin ped [Cerbera odollam(Apocynaceae)]. Other than birds such as pheasants, wildlife includes the crab-eating monkey [ling sen /Macaca irus)], mouse deer or chevrotain [krachong / Tragulus)], and red-cheeked flying squirrel [krarok si som / Sciurus sp.)]. The coastal waters have beautiful seafans and corals which are the habitat of such animals as sea sponges, sea kelps, top shells, oysters, sea mussels and cockles.
Many islands off the coast of the maritime eastern provinces are included in nature reserves. The Khao Laem Ya – Samet Archipelago National Park in Rayong Province comprises of the islands [ko] named Samet, also known as Kaeo Phisadan, Chan, San Chalam, Hin Khao, Khang Khao, Kuti, Kruay, Pla Tin, and Thalu. Its area of 131sq km preserves rare plants such as wild lime [manao phi / Atalantia monophylla(Rutaceae)], khai tao [Solanumnelogena], khan thong phayabat [Hippocratea cambodiana (Celastra-ceae)] and red cajeput [samet daeng/ Eugenia zeylanica (Myrtaceae)]. The islands are the habitat of wildlife such as various civet subspecies, mongoose (Mongos siamensis), crab-eating macaque, colourful squirrels, and numerous bird species. The largest maritime nature reserve in the eastern region is the Ko Chang Islands National Park of Trat Province. It spreads across an area of 429 sq km and includes most of the Chang Archipelago with its 52 islands totalling 650 sq km. Hence, two-thirds of the Chang Archipelago are protected area, encompassing part of Chang and the islands of Wai, Lao Ya, Kradat, Mak, Ngam as well as the Kra, Kut and Rang Archipelagos. Among the spectacular attractions are the coral beds and reefs.
STRATEGIC INTERVENTION FOR REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The coast of the eastern region has been undergoing rapid and, in certain aspects, radical change. Four factors are conducive to modernization. First, there is its geographical location at manageable distance from Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok. Secondly, the coast is also situated at a distance and in a direction which appears appropriate for the conveyance of natural gas from the gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand such as its largest and most productive, the Bongkot Gas Field. Thirdly, location and resource conveyance facilitate industrialization. The fourth factor is infrastructure, a necessity which was recognized as a strategic issue and resulted in the construction of highways, a railway line and a deep-sea port, as well as the transformation of a former military air field into a hub especially for air cargo and charter carriers. The oldest, modern economic sector is the hospitality industry. From Ang Sila in the north to Hat Lek in the southeast, tourism took a firm grip of the mainland coast and the numerous islands. Prominent among the beaches are those of Bang Saen, Phatthaya and Chom Thian in Chonburi and Laem Mae Phim in Rayong provinces. Of the many islands [ko in Thai], some examples are called up here. They are Sichang and the four archipelagos [mu ko in Thai] of Lan, Phai, Kham and Samae San, all in Chon Buri Province. Off the coast of Rayong are the islands named Samet, Thalu, Chan, Kuti, Kruai, San Chalam, Hin Khao, Khang Khao, Pla Tin, Man Nai, Man Klang and Man Nok. Of the 52 islands in Trat Province, some are listed here as examples, including Chang, Kut, Rad, Mai Chi, Mak, Wai, Lao Ya, Kradat, Kra, Rang Yai, Rang Lek, Ngam, Khlum, Mai Khi Yai, Man Nok, Man Nai, Phrao, also known as Sai Khao, Rayang Nai, Rayang Nok, Thian, Thong Luang, Yak, Sam Phi Nong, Mapring, Tun, and Kampan.
On the island of Sichang, Chon Buri Province, there in the grounds of a former royal summer palace built in the Fifth Reign [1868-1910], the Aquatic Resources Research Centre of Chulalongkorn University is located. In the recent past, universities were established including Burapha University and the Asian University of Science and Technology. Satellite campuses were opened by Si Pathum University and Thammasat University. The Marine Science Institute is located on the Burapha University campus. Moreover, several boarding schools were set up along the coast. All these education and research facilities are located in Chon Buri Province.
Industrialization has brought about the most radical change. It is concentrated in the area which was officially demarcated as industrial zone and named Eastern Sea Board. Off-shore natural gas fields are the main source which fuels the formation of industrial estates. Gas separation plants produce methane used as fuel in power generation and for the manufacturing sector, ethane and propane used as feedstock for the petro-chemical industry, as well as propane and butane used as fuel in factories. Condensate is a downstream product, of which most is used by domestic refineries. In the development of Thailand’s manufacturing sector, outputs of plants in the Eastern Sea Board contribute to the rapid diversification and increase in volume of such subsectors as consumer goods, component parts, intermediate or semi-processed materials, and machinery as well as capital goods. Fastest growing in the region are the petrochemical and automotive industries. The latter has made Thailand the leading producer of automobiles and automotive parts with the biggest, vertically integrated assembly industry of Southeast Asia, and a large production base for worldwide export.
An essential component of the newly created, regional infrastructure is the Laem Chabang Deep Sea Port, designed to serve Post Panamax vessels. International sea transport has, thus, been greatly improved. This container port already handles, together with Bangkok Port, 90 percent of Thailand’s import and export commodities. It is the sole port-of-call for cruise vessels.
Taken from: Thailand: Traits and Treasures. The National Identity Board, Royal Thai Government 2005.
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