UPDATE (April 20): Vendors will be allowed to set up shop on smaller streets while hawkers based in two top tourist hubs – Chinatown and Khaosan Road – will be reorganised but not barred completely. (Scroll down for full update)
Street food stalls will be banned from all of Bangkok’s main roads under a clean-up crusade, a city hall official said on April 18, prompting outcry and anguish in a food-obsessed capital famed for its spicy roadside cuisine.
For months city officials have hemmed in hawkers of all kinds across the metropolis, where hitting the pavement for everything from late-night noodles to fried insects is the closest Thailand has to a national pastime.
“All types of stalls including clothes, counterfeit goods and food stalls will be banned from main city roads,” said Wanlop Suwandee, a chief advisor to Bangkok’s governor.
“They will not be allowed for order and hygiene reasons,” he added.
Officials insist the city’s street vendors clog the foot paths, leaving little space for pedestrians and littering the streets.
But many Bangkokians say this chaos is part of the capital’s charm and an affordable option for all with a stick of grilled pork going for 10 baht (RM1.30) while a bowl of chicken noodles costing as little as 35 baht (RM4.50).
“If you want to clean out all the vendors it’s like you are cleaning out our culture itself,” said Chiwan Suwannapak, who works for a Bangkok tour agency.
Street dining is also a social leveller in a city cut by inequality, with everyone from business execs to motorcycle taxi drivers pulling up plastic chairs to slurp down spicy soups or dig into fried chicken at the roadside restaurants as cars whiz by.
The rich variety of foods ladled out from push carts are also a top draw for tourists, who power the kingdom’s economy.
“If they go against the vendors, that will that affect business and it will affect the charm of Khaosan,” said Sanga Ruangwattanaku, the president of a business association on Khaosan Road – a buzzing backpacker hotspot in Bangkok’s old town.
Since seizing power in 2014 Thailand’s junta has embarked on a sweeping morality and orderliness campaign.
Critics say an attempt is underway to remodel Bangkok into a Singapore-lite, enforcing regulations that have long been abandoned or skirted around by a rampant culture of bribery and a laid-back public used to picking its way through the city’s messy pavements.
CNN named Bangkok the world’s top street food destination for the second straight year in March. – Agencies
UPDATE (April 20): The governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) pushed back against fears that Bangkok was being gentrified in the image of Singapore – a city that relishes orderliness but is often characterised as tame compared to its South-east Asian rivals.
“We will keep our uniqueness. We won’t change our Yaowarat (Chinatown) into Orchard (road),” Uthasak Supasorn said, referring to a shopping district in Singapore with wide boulevards devoid of street life.
“(The plan) is not to totally take away street food from Bangkok streets, but there are some reasons and some places that will be reorganised,” he added.
Nearly two-thirds of Bangkok’s 30,000 street vendors have already been removed or relocated from pavements to open up space for pedestrians, according to city officials.
Vendors will be allowed to set up shop on smaller streets while hawkers based in two top tourist hubs – Chinatown and Khaosan Road – will be reorganised but not barred completely.
“Bangkok has some of the best street food in the world, you cannot take it away from the people of the world,” the tourist governor told reporters, adding that he was meeting with city officials to discuss how the restrictions would be enforced.
Many are hoping the crackdown will wither like many of the other clean-up campaigns launched under the ruling junta.
Tourism is a major of pillar of Thailand’s economy and has boomed despite a decade of political unrest and bad press over its dangerous roads and lax safety regulations.
The kingdom welcomed a record 32 million tourists in 2016, with revenue making up nearly a fifth of an otherwise lagging economy. – AFP Relaxnews