Doi Suthep stupa may collapse

Earthquakes, rain damage ancient site

By Cheewin Sattha & Theerawat Khamthita

The ancient Phra That Doi Suthep stupa may be in danger of collapse in the future after frequent earthquakes in the region, a study has found. It is feared future earthquakes may bring down the frail structure of the stupa located atop Doi Suthep mountain.

Sahawat Naenna, director of Chiang Mai's fine arts office, said the stupa is located on soft ground and on a steep slope of 45-50 degrees.

It may subside and collapse in the future given the number of frequent quakes and heavy rainfall.

An initial budget of more than 200 million baht will be required to strengthen its foundations to protect against possible subsidence and collapse.

Mr Sahawat said the Fine Arts Department had commissioned the Asian Institute of Technology and Chiang Mai University to examine the structure of the famous 600-year-old stupa from 1997-1998.

The study found the Phra That Doi Suthep temple and the stupa are located on soft ground. Part of the area where the stupa stands had been land-filled.

It was also found that underground water levels beneath the temple are 20 metres high and the study said there could be a landslide triggered by heavy rain. If the underground water becomes level with the surface, the stupa may collapse, according to the study.

Mr Sahawat said some of the bricks that make up the structure of the stupa are also very soft and had nearly turned to mud. This is because the stupa is wrapped in brass sheets. When water vapourises from the ground, the bricks hold water, get wet and are unable to dry since the brass sheets seal in all the humidity, he said.

The granite slabs used to make floors at the temple are also getting wet because of the underground water that cannot be drained, he added.

In Chiang Rai, conservation groups found that ancient sites in the province remained intact following the 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Sichuan province in China last Monday.

Nikorn Laowanich, head of the Rak Chiang Saen group, said the earthquake prompted the group to conduct a survey of ancient sites in the Yonok Naknakorn ancient area of the province.

All 72 ancient sites inside and 53 outside the old fort were all intact.

Bangkok Post