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Photographers seek to sustain living heritage in Songkhla

Community gets creative boost in conserving ancient Thai seaport

For 40 years, the Silpa portrait studio in the southern Thai town of Songkhla was the go-to shop for a sitting whenever a local official got promoted. The owners, Silpa and Nuan-Ampai Chaernsawat, both in their 80s, retired a few years ago but keep their storefront open as a kind of town museum. (Photo by Runchakorn Janjumpa, courtesy of CEA)

SONGKHLA, Thailand -- In the world of tourism, the race to the bottom begins with smiles. International travelers, longing for a vanishing past, fix on some pristine island or neglected old town. Local people vend a bit of hospitality and prosper quietly. For a charmed while, change moves at walking pace.

Soon, though, the bucket-list media, investors and tourism boards rush in. The free market's invisible hand conjures up tour buses, cement, convenience stores, big hotels. Rents and prices climb, squeezing out local businesses and locals themselves.

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