| Kazuo Nagata |
PHETCHABUN, Thailand (WP-BLOOM/Yomiuri Shimbun) — I saw the crystal clear blue sky after a long time. Here I am at Khao Kho National Park, which lies about 400 kilometres north of Bangkok.
The park, located on a plateau in Phetchabun Province, is a popular tourist spot. Endowed with the scenic beauty of mountains, the park has been dubbed “Switzerland of Thailand”. A five-faced great Buddha statue is a popular feature of the park. On weekends, sightseers flock to the area, where there are also colourful temples halfway up a local mountain.
Mountains in the area are easily accessible by car now.
But more than 70 years ago, when there were no roads leading to the area, a Thai prime minister tried to make “Switzerland of Thailand” the country’s capital.
The prime minister was Plaek Phibunsongkhram, also known as “Luang Pibulsonggram”.
Known simply as “Phibun” overseas, the field marshal and prime minister pushed through reforms such as changing the country’s name from Siam to Thailand.
In 1943, during World War II, Phibun announced a plan to relocate the capital from Bangkok to Phetchabun Province.
Thailand, in those days, was allied with Japan, and the US-British military forces were bombing Bangkok, where the Japanese troops were based.
Phibun’s eldest daughter, Jirawas, 93, recalled the situation at that time, saying: “My father was directing artillery exercise in Phetchabun when he was in the army. He decided to relocate the capital to Phetchabun, as its location in the centre of Thailand was suitable for defence, and there were many caves to hide treasures.”
Government ministries began moving to Phetchabun, and national property such as gold bullion and an Emerald Buddha statue, the principal image of the royal temple, were brought to Phetchabun. The Japanese military dispatched a reconnaissance party to Phetchabun to delve into Phibun’s true intent of capital relocation.
Historian Visan Kositanond, 55, a former member of the National Assembly elected from Phetchabun, pointed out that Phibun, who signed a military alliance with Japan, had already started to distance himself from Japan in 1943. He said Phibun must have intended to make the new capital a base of resistance against the Japanese troops in Thailand.
Various infrastructure such as electricity, telephone lines and running water were prepared in Phetchabun for the first time. However, many workers suffered from malaria in constructing roads in the jungle.
In July 1944, Phibun officially submitted a bill to make Phetchabun the Thai capital. However, the bill was overwhelmingly rejected for such reasons as, “Phetchabun is never a place like Switzerland but is a land of malaria.”
Phibun’s Cabinet was forced to resign en masse.
Visan thinks the bill was rejected through behind-the-scenes machinations of the opposition party against Phibun aimed at driving him from the post of prime minister.
After Phibun — who had declared war against the United States and Britain in 1942 — was sidelined, he distanced himself from Japan, and Thailand rapidly reached out to the Allied forces.
Thailand was exempted from having been treated as a defeated country after the war as its declaration of war was virtually unquestioned, and the treasures hidden in the caves of Phetchabun were returned to Bangkok.
The population of Phetchabun Province is less than one million now.
Besides tourism, the province is known as a production centre of the tropical fruit tamarind. Many people living in the province do not know about the capital relocation plan during the war.
Discussions about relocating the capital because of problems caused by the extreme concentration of people in Bangkok — where seven million people are living — have repeatedly arisen and disappeared in the National Assembly even in recent years.
Jirawas honoured the memory of her father, who loved the leafy scenery in Phetchabun, saying, “I would be happy if Phetchabun were selected as the capital in the future.”