BANGKOK — For all the hopes or bad juju sent floating on the Chao Phraya last night, one group sought to honor the river with a very unique krathong.
On Wednesday, members of Friends of the River gathered in Santichai Prakan Park to send a symbolic krathong into the river representing the 14 billion baht the junta wants to spend building concrete promenades they and others dismiss as one of the ugliest, most expensive and wasteful things that could be done to the river.
Some said the project was not well thought out, most agreed it infringed on the rights of the river communities, but most of all, they urged the government to involve the public and allow public hearings before taking further action.
“There should be a lawful public hearing,” said Yossapon Boonsom, a landscape architect who started the movement. “They should listen to public participation and study each aspect,” all of which require different areas of expertise, prior to rewriting the specifications for the project.
The lack of any input in the massive project, which would transform both sides of a seven-kilometer stretch and possibly much further, was the biggest complaint about the project.
Aorasri Silapee is 83 and has spent all those years living along the river in the Banglamphu neighborhood. She said the “one-size-fits-all” promenade would destroy the unique charm of each riverside community by burying them under concrete.
In May, the interim cabinet approved 14 billion baht for the first phase – between the Pinklao and Rama VII bridges – of what would be eventually line 70 kilometers of the river, meaning the construction of 140 kilometers of concrete boardwalks.
The junta said it wants to create a “new monument” for the capital city and touted features such as possible bicycle lanes.
Earlier this month it was announced the project was on indefinite hold because all but one company had dropped out of bidding on conducting the feasibility study.
Pichai Wongwaisayawan, an architect involved in the project, said city hall ignored advice and input twice given by the professional architecture association when it wrote the previous project specs, called the Terms of Reference.
Kwansuang Atibodhi, an independent academic, said Thais historically live in riparian communities, and the first people settled what’s now Bangkok along the Chao Phraya, and that was the city for a long time before it expanded in the modern age. The notion that these neighborhoods are “public space” to be seized or razed by the government, he said, does not make sense.
“The prime minister said it’s a small group of people blocking the public’s area,” Kwansuang said. “He wants to make it looks like the Han River in South Korea, but the character of both our river and our people are different.”
Junta chairman and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has cited the 1980s redevelopment of the Han River for his inspiration.
Kwansuang said that river is more than twice as wide, and after Bangkok adds roads alongside its river, Chao Phraya’s width would be further reduced to 170 meters from 200 meters.
A prominent archeologist, Srisakra Vallibhotama, said it was up to city hall, and the ministries of culture and tourism to stand up to the junta chairman and protect the river.
Not that Prayuth should be blamed for intending anything harmful, Srisakra added.
“We can’t put the blame on him, he has goodwill,” he said.
An ice sculpture was created Wednesday in Santichai Prakan Park at an event held by ‘Friends of the River’ representing 14 billion baht the junta wants to spend building concrete boardwalks along both sides of the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok.