Bangkok Purge on Street Food

I was sad to read recently that the Bangkok Municipal Authority (BMA) was proposing to ban street food vendors throughout the city. I consider street food to be one of the major highlights of Bangkok, so a ban on street vendors would be a mistake, in my opinion. I’m not alone. Apparently, CNN has recently deemed Bangkok to have the best street food in the world.

An article in the Bangkok Post on 20th April indicated that the reason for the purge was to ‘ensure order and maintain food hygiene and cleanliness’. Understandably, there had been an immediate backlash in Bangkok, as people feared that street food vendors would be banned altogether. The article reported that, following the public backlash, the BMA said that it would allow street vendors to continue to operate in the touristy areas of Yaowarat Road (Chinatown) and Khao San Road, but other popular street food areas would be not be so lucky. These areas include Thong Lor, Victory Monument, Siam Square and Sukhumvit.

 

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Very touristy Khao San Road
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Khao San – street food or McDonalds?
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Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road
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Street vendors line both sides of Yaowarat Road

If street food vendors are restricted to only Yaowarat and Khao San, that would be a great shame. Khao San is a heavy tourist area that I only visited once during the six weeks that I spent in Bangkok during 2016. Similarly, I only visited Yaowarat Road once during that period. Conversely, I probably ate street food every day of my visit in other areas – primarily in the Sukhumvit and Thong Lor areas. It is impractical to expect people to travel to Yaowarat or Khao San to experience street food from street vendors.

The mobile street food vendors set up their carts and stalls on certain streets around Bangkok. Some serve lunch, some evening meals and some do both. Those side streets come to life at night when the food vendors are present, as locals and tourists take advantage of their delicious food at low prices. Each vendor serves different types of food, so customers can peruse the offerings and decide where to order from. One of my regular eating spots was on Soi 11, off Sukhumvit Road. It would be a real shame if these mobile vendors are banned from the area.

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Street vendor on Soi 11 cooking on the roadside
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Mobile food carts on Soi 11, Sukhumvit

Fortunately, a wide array of street food can be purchased from vendors who have more permanent locations. Across the city, there are small areas that are like Bangkok versions of mall food courts. Different independent vendors rent space in those ‘food courts’ and can be found in the same location each day. I am assuming that they will be less affected by the BMA clamp down, as they are not operating from mobile carts that set up on sidewalks across the city. So, even if the mobile vendors continue to be restricted to two locations, it will not be the death of Bangkok street food.

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Entrance to a ‘food court’ area on Thong Lor
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Sidewalk food vendors outside the Jatujak Market
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Street food vendors in a roadside area next to the On Nut BTS station

Of course, beyond tourist concerns, the clamp down has a significant impact on Bangkok residents and the vendors themselves. Many of the low-income residents rely on the street food vendors for affordable meals. And the vendors themselves rely on their income to support their families.

I’m hopeful that the Bangkok authorities will scale back their decision. Having had their  livelihoods threatened, the street food vendors may be more amenable to stricter controls over food hygiene and keeping the roads and pavements clean, if it means that they can resume their businesses. Hopefully, a happy compromise can be achieved whereby the BMA can exert some level of control and everyone can continue to enjoy inexpensive and delicious Thai food.

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