Bangkok's Khao San loses buzz after ban

Thai officials speaking to a street vendor in Khao San Road last Wednesday. Hawkers, who had earlier threatened to defy the ban, will keep their stalls closed till tomorrow.
Thai officials speaking to a street vendor in Khao San Road last Wednesday. Hawkers, who had earlier threatened to defy the ban, will keep their stalls closed till tomorrow.PHOTO: REUTERS

Street vendors in tourist hot spot shut stalls as new law against daytime trading kicks in

BANGKOK • Until last week, Bangkok's famous Khao San Road bustled day and night, with cheap guest houses, street food and stalls selling knock-off goods attracting tourists by the hundreds of thousands a year.

But since last Thursday, the 9m-wide, 400m-long street has become a lot quieter. A ban imposed by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), a form of city police, on daytime trading on the sidewalks has shorn the road of some 200 stalls selling street food, clothing and souvenirs.

"It was like a deserted street," Ms Nutcha Aree, a vendor who has been trading there for over 14 years, told The Nation.

She said vendors, who had threatened to defy the ban, decided after talks with Deputy Governor Sakoltee Phattiyakul that they will shutter their stalls until tomorrow. Discussions on what will be allowed after tomorrow were set to continue, she added.

The BMA had announced the daytime ban on the famously chaotic street last month "to return the footpaths to pedestrians", Bangkok Post reported. Hawkers will be allowed to operate from 6pm to midnight, but they would be restricted to allocated areas, like vendors in the Yaowarat or Chinatown area.

Officials also hope to set up zones for different categories such as food, clothing and massage, and keep one side of the street clear for ambulances and fire engines.

But besides vendors, tourists have also baulked at the measures.

 

"It's such a shame, it's a shocking idea," tourist Taisha Thompson, who was visiting from Sydney, was yesterday quoted by The Guardian as saying.

"We came here this time last year and the street was full of food and it was amazing; it was a beautiful atmosphere. I was wondering what had happened, the atmosphere is entirely different now. They are wrong if they think this is what visitors want."

Vendors have petitioned Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang and even Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to intervene.

Last Wednesday, when the ban was to have taken effect, more than 70 per cent of the vendors continued to trade in open defiance, prompting officials to threaten to fine them up to 2,000 baht (S$82) for violating the Public Cleanliness and Orderliness Act 1992, reported The Nation.

"We were willing to cooperate to help make Khao San a scenic street, but the zoning and ban would affect image and trading," said Ms Nutcha.

"Khao San doesn't have that much variety of items to offer. I think grouping food with food, or clothes with clothes would strip Khao San of its diversity and charm."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 05, 2018, with the headline 'Bangkok's Khao San loses buzz after ban'. Print Edition | Subscribe