I first went to Bangkok in 1987 and returned in 2005 only to emigrate there in 2008. One of the greatest assets that the city held for me was the food, particularly Bangkok street food. It is among the best in the world and brings a huge positive vibe to the most vibrant of cities. The local government has recently announced that they want all Bangkok street food stalls gone by the end of the year. This is an astonishing decision and one that I simply cannot fathom.
Speaking on behalf of the government the chief adviser to the city governor, Wanlop Suwandee, remarked that officials are “now working to get rid of stalls from all 50 districts of Bangkok.” He continued, “There will be no let-up in this operation. Every street vendor will have to move out.” For heaven’s sake, why?
I lived in Bangkok for almost 5 years and ate almost exclusively on the streets. I wrote about my Top 10 Dishes in Thailand and almost all of my favourite dishes are readily available on the streets of Bangkok. It remains one of the happiest memories of my life. Incredible larb moo, khao kha moo, pad Thai, som tam, satay sticks, soups, noodles and every imaginable great dish sustained me daily. Bangkok street food is simply unbeatable; along with that in Penang, the best I’ve ever had.
One official seems to backtrack on the Bangkok street food ban.
Somewhat contradicting Wanlop Suwandee, the Minister of Tourism and Sport, H.E. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul offered his thoughts, stating, “The City of Bangkok has been very privileged to be named ‘The World Best City of Street Food’. Under the guidance of the Prime Minister, the City of Bangkok is striving for the sustainability of this significant tourist attraction. The Governor of Bangkok has instructed all relating departments to cooperatively seek with other governmental agencies, the Metropolitan Police Bureau and its Traffic Division the best and most feasible solutions. In particular, the Yaowaraj Road and Khao San Road which have been the places of frequent visits by most tourists as well as Thai patrons.”
Judging by his words, they want to keep Bangkok street food, but only in Chinatown and Khao San Road. I find Chinatown interesting but in all the years I spent in Bangkok, I went to Khao San Road ONCE. I found it pretty grim, to be honest. Hardly any of my expat mates every really went near the place.
Whatever the official line, Bangkok street food IS disappearing
In 2016 the famous Bangkok street food market on Soi Sukhumvit 38, was demolished, making way for a condo block. The pad thai and mango sticky rice vendors were given permission to sell from the basement of a nearby building. Other stalls providing terrific egg noodles with BBQ pork and crab have remained, squatting in the area. They do though feel, that their future is again being threatened.
The great vendors along Thong Lor and Ekamai were originally told that they had to be gone by June 1. That was then changed and they were told to leave, immediately after Songkran on April 16. Thong Lor is now deserted as far as Bangkok street food vendors go.
It remains to be seen whether this is a total ban or a cleaning up operation. The fact is though, that the news has reverberated across the world with newspapers reporting it as a total ban. Tourism in Thailand represents about 15% of the total economy. Bangkok is the most popular destination attracting about 18 million visitors per year. It regularly vies with London to be the world’s most popular tourist city. Almost every survey, TripAdvisor review, and blog, cites Bangkok street food as one of the best things about Thailand.
Cleaning up footpaths and making pedestrians safer is a good thing. However, surely this appears to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater on a massive scale. The city seems to be losing everything that makes Bangkok, Bangkok. Soon, I fear, it will be just another bland city, choking with traffic and offering nothing different than any other. This would be the greatest tragedy of all.