Though the term “world heritage” towns and UNESCO sites are part of our everyday travel lexicon and many desperately want their home towns to be stamped with the approval, do most people know exactly what this means? I think most only hope being titled as such will eventually bring revenue and money for their families, but I believe there is more to consider. Without the support of the UNESCO, some amazing places that are culturally rich with deep histories and natural beauty are more apt to be degraded or worse, completely lost without the proper funding needed to properly preserve them. States, party to the UNESCO, contribute the necessary financial and intellectual resources to protect World Heritage sites.
The “world heritage” topic has been a big issue in Chiang Mai now for some time. Some people who live in Chiang Mai are trying to get Chiang Mai recognized on the map at the same level as the ancient capitals of Sukhothai and Ayuthaya. It’s as if World Heritage sites can only be monoliths from our pasts, where there are more ruins than there are people living there. But to these people, Chiang Mai is more of a living and breathing monument.
Associate Professor Dr. Bunyasurat Woralan of Chiang Mai University has always supported and pushed for Chiang Mai’s coronation to World Heritage site. She argues it is extremely hard to attempt this feat alone because the process is much harder than it looks such as the research, proof, and debate for making a plan to the UNESCO that also comes with the qualifying the city to such distinction. Participation from many is needed to make the best case that will eventually be handed in to the people of UNESCO for consideration.
So what does this world heritage status mean? Who benefits from it? I believe the world would benefit from this renaming of Chiang Mai. I believe the Lanna culture of the Northern Thailand would benefit better being preserved and passed on to future generations. UNESCO evaluates sites for their suitability for conservation and continued maintenance, and the Rose of the North is in my humble opinion, a perfect candidate.