8 September 2023

Japanese Students on Their Weeks-Long Journey through History, Culture, and Tradition of Thailand

Ninnart Ratanasukhon
AUN Programme Officer;

From 19 August - 2 September 2023, the AUN Secretariat, together with 18 students from the SUN/SixERS consortium, took the trip through time and the rich culture of Thailand in the 2023 AUN-SUN/SixERS Study and Visit Programme Discovery, Diversity, Dynamics (3Ds). 

The programme was delivered in partnership between the AUN Secretariat and the six Japanese universities under the “SUN/SixERS” consortium. The two-week-long study and visit programmes offer Japanese students a unique opportunity to learn and immerse themselves in the rich history, culture, tradition, and future prospects of the ASEAN region through on-site exposures, cultural workshops, special lectures, and organisation visits.

This year’s AUN-SUN/SixERS Study and Visit Programme marked the ninth return of the programme and the first one to be held on-site after a hiatus from the covid-19 pandemic from 2020-2021 and a virtual one in 2022. An occasion for much excitement and joy for the AUN Secretariat and the students indeed!

Under the theme of “To learn and unlearn: An exploration through time,” the students were in for a packed two-week trip that would take them through three provinces of Thailand in a quest to retrace the root of contemporary Thai society and re-learn the conditions of the present era as a consequence of historical reasonings while reflecting on new outlooks towards the future.

Through a visit to historic treasures, special lectures from distinguished guests, and a glimpse into the works of respected international organisations; the students received the chance to look back at the past as much as envision their paths towards the future.


The capital city of Thailand, Bangkok offers the students both the chance to look back on Thai history and to expand their vision of the capital and the country’s position in the contemporary global society.

To welcome the students to Thailand, the students were invited to ‘decode’ ‘Thainess’ at Museum Siam. The first learning museum under the National Discovery Museum Institute (NDMI), Museum Siam aims to redefine the ‘museum’ experience. At the museum, students got to explore the origin and definitions of ‘Thainess’ through 14 immersive and interactive exhibitions which explore the identity of Thailand from aspects such as: aspects of history, culture, traditions, society, fashion, etc. Through the creatively designed exhibitions, students got to see the changes Thai identity has undergone since the beginning of the early Ratanakosin period. 


After exploring the evolution of Thai identity in the Ratanakosin period, students got to hit the street and explore some heritages that are still ‘alive’ within the communities. Their first stop is Wat Pho and its traditional Thai massage school. The school was established by King Rama III to preserve the tradition of Thai medicine and massage. This traditional massage is still very much alive in Thailand and popular among foreign visitors and Thai alike. Our students got to join the master at the School and learned the much-loved traditional massage themselves!


Opposite Wat Pho is another temple which also holds a significant place in Thai history. Located on the western bank of the Chao Phraya River, Wat Arun or ‘Temple of Dawn’ is believed to be the first temple that King Taksin saw as he sailed down the river to find a location for the new capital. The King spotted the temple and decided to build a new capital around its location. His new kingdom laid the foundation for what to become ‘Bangkok’ today. Wat Arun is also famous for its 79-metre spire and elaborate craftsmanship evident in its elaborate decoration. While enjoying the beauty of Wat Arun, the students were entertained by local folktales originating among the communities along the bank of the Chao Phraya River as well.

One of the highlights of their visit to Bangkok is undeniably the organisation visits and special lectures from distinguished lecturers from institutions of regional and international importance. 

The students were welcome at the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The Commission promotes cooperation among its 53 member States and nine associate members in pursuit of solutions to sustainable development challenges. Ms. Kavita Suanandan, a Public Information Officer at the ESCAP, gave the students a welcoming remark and an overview of the mission of ESCAP. The students also got to hear presentations on the Sustainable Development Goals outlook in Asia and the Pacific and Briefing on Environmental Development and Climate Action by Sanjeevani Dilanthi Singh, Economic Affairs Officer from the Environment and Development Division as well.


Following the visit to ESCAP, students also got to visit various Japanese organisations working in Thailand to strengthen the relationship between the two countries. The students paid a visit to the JICA Bangkok Office, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and, without a doubt, AUN/SEED-Net and its Networks. Throughout the visits, the students were warmly welcomed by all the staff of each organisation and got to learn more about their international missions.



Another stop that must be mentioned is the students’ visit to the World Bank Group. One of the world’s largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, The organisation has a mission of reducing poverty by reducing the share of the global population that lives in extreme poverty to 3 percent, increasing shared prosperity by promoting shared prosperity by increasing the incomes of the poorest 40 percent of people in every country and promoting sustainable development. 


Samut Prakan

Ancient City definitely has a nice ring to it, and it definitely does! Ancient City is one the the largest open-air museums in the world with exhibitions of both the original pieces and the replicas of Thailand’s buildings and architectural structures of historic importance. The Ancient city spreads over 800 Rai in Samut Prakan, with its layout resembling the map of Thailand. It provided the students valuable opportunities to explore the varieties of Thai architecture, arts, and history from various regions and various periods of time.



The former capital of the Siamese Kingdom, Ayutthaya provides the students with a valuable opportunity to re-trace the history of modern Thailand. Sitting on an island surrounded by three rivers, Ayutthaya was a bustling cosmopolitan city with the inflow of global diplomacy and commerce from the 14th to 18th century. Now, into the 21st century, Ayutthaya still serves as a strategic industrial site for many major foreign and domestic manufacturers in Thailand. With its prime location in the heart of the country, Ayutthaya now thrives as a city of both historic past and modern industry.

Upon arrival, students got to visit Bang Pa-in Palace, a palace complex formerly used as a ‘summer palace’ by Thai kings. It was first constructed in 1632 under the reign of King Prasat Thong but fell into disuse and became overgrown in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In the mid-19th century, however, the complex was restored by King Mongkut and used as a ‘summer residence.’ Though relatively ‘new,’ compared to the historic treasures of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, Bang Pa-in Palace has become a significant historic site for royal architecture built in the 19th century period, and it is still used by royal family members as a residence and for holding receptions and banquets even until nowadays.


Another iconic site of Ayuttha is Niwet Thammaprawat Rachaworawihan Temple, a relatively ‘new’ site to the historic capital, but this temple serves as a standing testament to the internationalisation of Thailand in the 19th century. It was built by King Rama V following the style of European architecture. The monastery features a steep Gothic roof, stained-glass windows, and decorations that resemble a Catholic church.

(Photo credit: Tourism Authority of Thailand)


Venturing further back into the past, the students visited the Ayutthaya Historical Park, one of Thailand’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which features multiple ruins and historic sites from the Ayutthaya Kingdom. On this trip, the students visited Wat Chaiwatthanaram, one of the major sites in the Ayutthaya Historical Park with the central spire surrounded by eight chedi-shaped chapels; Wat Mahathat, and the Japanese Village, a historic Japanese enclave of the Ayutthaya Kingdom dating back to the 17th century.


The students also got to experience the modern side of Ayutthaya in a visit to Toyota Greentown and Yakult (Thailand) Co., Ltd., both foreign direct investment from Japan that has contributed much to the industrialisation of Ayutthaya and Thailand as a whole. Toyota Greentown is the first green learning centre founded by Toyota Motor in Thailand, with a mission to educate the Thai community and tourists on the importance of environmental conservation. The centre features five areas of learning activities: 1. Eco Forest 2. Water Conservation 3. Sustainable Transportation 4. Renewable Energy and 5. Waste Management.


Yakult is a Japanese fermented milk brand started in 1935 to reduce the number of people who are losing their lives to infectious diseases. Its Thai factory opened its doors in 1970 and has become a staple drink for many in the country as well.


Being surrounded by water on three sides, rivers play a crucial role in the development of the Ayutthaya Kingdom and the livelihood of its people. Students got to experience the people’s age-old relationship with the water in their stroll through Ayutthaya Floating Market and a visit to the Museum of Boats. The museum was founded by Mr. Phaitun Khamala, a renowned Thai boat modeler and former boat builder to preserve the country’s treasured tradition and relation with rivers. The museum features three exhibitions 1. Ancient Ship Building, exhibiting antique ships that were used in the past 2. Thai’s golden teak shipbuilding 3. Ships in everyday usage of Thai people.


Apart from trekking through the passage of time and taking a glimpse at the industrialisation of this ancient capital, the students also got to try their hands, or ‘feet,’ in Thailand’s age-old martial art - Muay Thai. Unlike boxing, as we see in the Olympics Game, ‘Muay Thai’ or ‘Thai Boxing’ utilises all parts of the body in the fight. This includes the use of fists, elbows, knees, feet, or even chin. 


After a weeks-long exploration in Thailand, the students wrapped their visit with a presentation on what they had learned during the programme and their favourite moments. Many expressed appreciation for the cross-cultural experience as they got to bond with the Thai student liaisons while also learning about the history, tradition, and culture of the country. Many found their future path open up after their visits to the international organisations operating in Bangkok.

The AUN Secretariat was delighted to be a part of the students’ weeks-long journey of exploration, communication, and growth in Thailand. Most of all, it was a joy to be able to welcome all the students again following the pandemic. The AUN Secretariat wishes the students all the best in their journey of personal growth and learning!