BANGKOK – The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has said food stalls will be banned from all of Bangkok’s main roads in a sweeping clean-up crusade in the interests of cleanliness, safety and order, in Bangkok by the end of the year.
A month after the city was named the finest street food destination in the world by CNN for the second year, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) continued its operation to reclaim the pavements for pedestrians and announced that vendors would be banned entirely from the capital’s streets.
“All types of stalls including clothes, counterfeit goods and food stalls will be banned from main city roads,” Mr Wanlop Suwandee, a chief advisor to Bangkok’s governor, told AFP.
“They will not be allowed for order and hygiene reasons,” he said, justifying the ongoing crackdown after complaints from the public.
Wanlop Suwandee, chief adviser to Bangkok’s governor, said yesterday that the internationally recognised areas of Yaowarat and Khao San Road would be the next target after they successfully cleared the pavements of food vendors in areas such as Siam Square, Pratunam, and the flea market under Phra Phuttayotfa Bridge.
“The BMA is now working to get rid of the street vendors from all 50 districts of Bangkok and return the pavements to the pedestrians. Yaowarat and Khao San Road will be our next goal in clearing out illegal vendors,” Wanlop said.
Officials say nearly two-thirds of the city’s 30,000 street vendors of all kinds have already been removed or relocated for clogging the pavements, leaving little space for pedestrians and aggravating traffic.
“I don’t think there will be any stalls on major roads … we have nullified their permission (to operate),” Mr Wanlop added, without giving a deadline for the sellers to clear out.
Yet many Bangkokians say this curbside chaos is part of the capital’s charm and an affordable food option for all in a city where other costs of living are surging — a stick of grilled pork goes for 10 baht (30 cents) while a bowl of chicken noodles costs as little as 35 baht ($1).
“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.
“You can see the people who cook, you can interact with them … you can see what the ingredients are,” she added.
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 as cars tear by.
The rich variety of foods ladled out from the push carts is also a major draw for tourists, who power a vital sector of the kingdom’s economy.
Bangkok is a fixture on established international lists for street cuisine and curious tourists are easily found picking through areas renowned for their street treats.
“If they go against the vendors, that will that affect business and it will affect the charm of Khaosan Road,” said Sanga Ruangwattanaku, the president of a business association in the backpacker hotspot in Bangkok’s old town.
Since seizing power in 2014 Thailand’s junta has embarked on a widespread morality and orderliness campaign, seeking to corral a kingdom where many revel in a spirit of flexibility, convenience and organised chaos.
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.
Many quietly hope the beautification campaign will fall flat — with the push of the horde of hungry customers who prefer a quick streetside chow down to organised food courts outweighing the city hall drive.
But for now the city hall edict has sent a shudder of dread through Bangkok’s thousands of food vendors.
Ms Jurai Saisuthiwong, 61, who sells fried bananas on Thonglor — a main drag in Bangkok’s most upmarket area — said the poor will suffer most from the clean-up.
“Authorities won’t listen to us. They just want the city to be beautiful … they will not think about the poor and how this affects us,” she said. AFP
Bangkok resident Romdheera Phruetchon said that while she agreed with the BMA’s efforts to create clean and tidy pavements, this could coexist with the preservation of city’s world-famous street food.
“The BMA should set up a zone for the street vendors, so they can keep their jobs and preserve the charm of Bangkok’s street food,” said Romdheera. “The people can benefit from selling goods, while the tourists can enjoy the unique street food of our city.”