The Living Heritage Museum

Created on August 10, 2016 By Areerat Worawongwasu

Learn more about Mahakan Model, a community project to empower the Pom Mahakan residents through a “Living Heritage Museum."

In the center of Bangkok’s historical Rattanakosin Island sits the charming community of Pom Mahakan, or Mahakan Fortress. Renowned for its antique wooden architecture and its local handicrafts such as traditional wooden bird cages and clay khon (traditional Thai performance art) head statues, Pom Mahakan is an important heritage site for Bangkok. It is one of the two surviving forts from the 14 built in the old city of Bangkok King Rama I’s reign. However, despite the air of harmony and community spirit that permeates Pom Mahakan, it is in grave danger. For decades people of Pom Mahakan have been facing forced eviction orders from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), who want to demolish the area to build a public park. If this happens, the people of Pom Mahakan, who have lived in the community for over six generations years, will be torn away from their homes. Not only that, but the community’s many cultural contributions and rich history that traces back as old as Bangkok itself will be erased.

Mahakan Model is a development project started by a group of youth citizens to empower the Pom Mahakan community through a “Living Heritage Museum.” The project aims to be a model for urban development that is sustainable for both the environment and the community, finding appropriate and viable solutions for all stakeholders. Through community-based tourism, the people of Pom Mahakan can take control of their own narratives, correcting negative assumptions about their neighborhood that people may have. They can also share their history and local wisdom to travelers. Proceeds go towards improving the Pom Mahakam community through initiatives such as renovations of public spaces.

Visiting Pom Mahakan myself, I was struck by the friendliness and sense of community that permeates the place. For instance, at Pom Mahakan, there is only one place where everyone hangs laundry to dry, to save space. Throughout six generations, not one piece of clothing has been stolen. Community members also help each other gather clothes when it is about to rain, and if a piece of clothing gets scrambled with another pile, it is always returned. Pom Mahakan’s strong sense of community is what drives this project. 

At the Living Museum, visitors can take hour-long tours by local guides. The project also trains “makutet noi,” or young guides, school-age children from the community who volunteer to show visitors around and teach them about the history and culture of Pom Mahakan. Buildings chosen by the community members have plaques on them with information from university research about their importance. Visitors can also learn about local arts and support local businesses such as a traditional birdcage shop and Thai massage parlor. The project also plans to host performances and events with other organizations regularly, so watch this space!

Mahakan Model’s Living Museum, the very first in Bangkok, is open to visitors from 9 AM to 4 PM daily. If you would like to take a tour by a local guide, they are available during the weekend. Discover the history, culture, and the people of Pom Mahakan. Listen to the stories of the local people and contribute to their livelihoods. Come to an understanding of why this small area is so important and can be a model for big-city development.

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