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May 27, 2017

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Thai riverside market still bustling after 100 years

Suphan Buri, Thailand -- Tekming Sae Chang, a Chinese immigrant from Swatao, Fujian Province, moved to Sam Chuk market with his family in 1950 to open the Sil Thammachat (Natural Art) Photo Shop.

His wife Nguang Hong Sae Aeab, 81, and daughter Suri Eampichairit, 61, still run the shop today, doing a booming business in taking old-fashioned portraits of tourists with an antique Voightlander studio camera.

The photos, which cost 100 baht (US$3) each, are sent to customers via snail mail.

"In the old days we only took photos of people living in the neighborhood," said Suri. "Nowadays we take pictures of people from all over Thailand and even from overseas."

Suri and her mother are part of the living history accessible for a friendly chat at the Sam Chuk market, which on December 11, 2009, was granted an Award of Merit by UNESCO for cultural heritage conservation.

The market was opened more than a century ago at a juncture of three waterways in the then-sparsely-inhabited wilderness of Suphan Buri, about 100 kilometers north-west of Bangkok.

Enterprising Chinese and Thai merchants pioneered the remote outpost, setting up a market to buy rice and jungle products that were then transported by boat down the river to Bangkok.

Business was good until 1967 when the government built a new road between Suphan Buri and Bangkok, making river transport unnecessary.

With new more modern markets cropping up along the Suphan Buri highway, the Sam Chuk market, comprising about 250 wooden shop-houses on the bank of the Tha Jeen River, eventually fell off the merchant map.

In 1999 the Treasury Department, which owns half of the land on which the market stands, decided to build a new commercial building on the property and opened negotiations with the tenants and the community to persuade them to knock down their shops.

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