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The revitalisation of Sam Chuk Market

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The Sam Chuk market comprised of 200 timber shophouses oriented towards the Suphan Buri River. Once it was a lively market and the rest-stop for those going to or from Bangkok by water, when rivers were the main channel of transport in Thailand. As time passed by, the market was in decline and dilapidated. It no longer attracts people to stop by, not to mention those who purposely came for shopping. Talking about Sam Chuk’s residents, the working-age people moved out to pursue their studies and careers in other big cities. Only the elders and kids were left in the community. 

Also, the residents were facing a land tenure issue, since the land belongs to the Treasury Department who only offers a one-year contract to be renewed every year. This led to the lack of incentive for residents to upgrade or revive the market and houses due to land insecurity. Moreover, in 2003, there was a plan to evict the locals to renovate the buildings and upgrade the property values.

Chawanad (on behalf of ChumChon Thai Foundation at that time) and his team found how interesting of Sam Chuk community and started running the participatory process with the residents to explore and identify interesting issues, shared values, and shared vision that they have in common. In 3 years, the market has become vibrant again under the completely self-management of community residents. 

Process and main activities

  • Food festival: The first self-attempt of the local residents to promote the old market was the food festival called “Aroi Tee Sam Chuk”, translated; Delicious at Sam Chuk. (The event has been held once a year.) The aim is to tell local stories and history of the traditional market to the visitors and also communicate indirectly to the landlord about the possibility to redevelop the area with the locals rather than get rid of them.
  • Big cleaning day: It’s been over 60 years that this place has never been cleaned up. Mops, Scrubs and brushes were handed out in market cleaning day held by the residents together with the district-municipality. After finish the cleaning, they ended up the day with huge collective home-cooking dinner. Who would have thought that such an activity would be the new beginning where they started to get a sense of togetherness from this collaborative achievement. Consequently, this good momentum also led to the establishment of several working committees in the community.
  • Living museums: From an initial idea of the locals that want to showcase their town’s history, they decided to refurbish 3-storey wooden house of Khun Chamnong Chinarak, a former Sam Chuk’s nobleman, and turned into the community museum, which filled with photos, history panels, maps, models of the community and antiques. These days, 22 houses in the market have become living museums where the owner-merchants still live in the house while the museums are operating. Those include Thai traditional herbal medicine shop, Thai ancient coffee shop, clock shop, antiques, blacksmith, etc.

At first, the community’s intention was just to revive the community market for their own next generation, but after setting up the first living museum and a lot more visitors came to visit the market, tourism aspect started to come to their mind. With a short drive from Bangkok, the market has become widely-known in a very short time due to its 100-year history, well-preserved wooden houses, the great riverside landscape, and the uniqueness of local Thai food and sweets. It is not an overstatement to say that the trend of vintage markets in Thailand in recent years was initiated by Sam Chuk Market.

Keys to success

  • Storytelling: Telling the community’s stories is something the local residents and merchants never get bored of. They’re very proud of their unique community market history and always love to share their good old days repeatedly to the visitors.
  • Active ageing: It could be said that all these community projects will never succeed without this group of active ageing residents. They’re passionate and motivated to revitalise the community. They have plenty of time after retirement to contribute, gained working experiences to work professionally and powerful connections to promote the events. That’s how it works.
  • Rebranding by new generation: Many local businesses are inherited to the young generation who played a significant role in the transition of the market. They have rebranded and developed many kinds of old-fashioned local products to be alive again, which creates a new vibe to the market.


  • In the third year of the revitalisation project, a lot of young-gen local residents quit their jobs in big cities and returned home to do businesses in the community market. They realize that this way they can earn a lot with much less living costs. They can also have a quality time with their families in their hometown so they could not ask for more!
  • The landlord realized the values of the community’s history and economic potentials of the market, they eventually extended the land tenure to 15-year lease instead of one-year lease.  
  • The surrounding poor communities also benefit from the growth of Sam Chuk market as the market creates a number of job opportunities. The people from nearby communities can also bring their local products to sell at the market in a short distance instead of transporting to big markets in Bangkok. This proved that the market obviously drives the economic growth in the town and surrounding areas.
  • From selling community souvenirs together with donations to living museums, the community committee earns a bunch of money to set up the community revolving fund. This fund is mainly used for lending to local residents to renovate their houses at low-interest, improving public infrastructure, and supporting business startups for new blood local entrepreneurs.
  • In 2009, Sam Chuk community received the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for the outstanding restoration and conservation of the community which has a major impact in raising awareness about grassroots heritage conservation and be a role model for empowering other historic communities in Thailand. Now, Sam Chuk community market is a well-known case study of a great market and a learning center that welcomes the study visit groups from all over the world.

Today’s challenges

  • The community market has already done a great job in promoting the values out to the world. Now, it’s time to get back to the community and reconnect the people in the neighbourhood. The new challenge is to maintain and to re-focus on the sense of community from collaborative actions and pass on this spirit to the new generations.
  • As the community never expected to become this famous, they don’t have a proper plan to handle the extreme scenario. Thus, the fast-growing market led to several consequences regarding management, such as insufficient public facilities, waste management.
  • Even though the locals will be prioritized to run the shops in the market, there are a lot more outsiders come in. They rent the shophouses and rent out at a higher price. And in many cases, they don’t follow the community’s rules which is an issue that the market committee has been working out.


Do's & don'ts


  • Connect the people who realize the community values and work with them.
  • Encourage the community to work and make their own decisions as much as they can. Collective decisions are powerful to connect people.
  • Better to use soft power when it comes to problem-solving.


  • Don’t look through the lens of any principles or frameworks, rather looking for people’s interests, values, and concerns by observing and talking to them. Amazing ideas usually came from that moment. Just go with the flow.
  • Don’t talk too much. Too long meeting and aggressive discussion might lead to conflicts. Get your hands dirty, make it happen and learn from it.
  • Don’t create too strict common rules, make it more flexible. Fewer conflicts will occur.  


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