Read pretty much any travel guide about Thailand, and food will be right at the top of the attractions — especially street food. In fact, just last month Bangkok was listed by CNN as the world’s top destination for street food for the second consecutive year. But that’s soon likely to change.
The city’s authorities have announced that all street food vendors will be swept off the streets of Bangkok by the end of the year in a bid to improve cleanliness and safety. The decision could end up putting thousands of vendors out of business.
The Nation newspaper reports that authorities have already begun clearing certain regions of Bangkok but that their focus now will be on the major tourist attractions of Chinatown (known locally as “Yaowarat”) and Khao San Road.
The authorities are “now working to get rid of the street vendors from all 50 districts of Bangkok and return the pavements to the pedestrians,” Wanlop Suwandee, chief adviser to Bangkok’s governor, said, adding that clothing stalls and those selling counterfeit goods would also be banned.
The move has sparked an outcry from the public and business owners. Sanga Ruangwattanaku, the president of a business association on Khao san Road, told AFP: “If they go against the vendors, that will affect business and it will affect the charm of Khao San.”
Just last week CNN wrote glowingly about the city’s street food scene in its list of the 23 best cities for street food. “It’s impossible to avoid street food in Bangkok, where sidewalk vendors in different parts of the city operate on a fixed rotation.”
The crackdown on street vendors is a marked shift from Tourism Authority of Thailand’s 2015 ad campaign dubbed “Pray for Anna,” which put a central focus on the international draw of the country’s street food. The ad ends with food roasting over an open flame and the promise: “Enjoy millions [of] flavors in Thailand 24 hours a day.”
Tourism makes up an estimated 15 percent of Thailand’s economy, with food and particularly street food serving as a major attraction for tourists visiting the southeast Asian country.
But there may be some hope on the horizon, with one report from a local paper quoting a district chief in late March saying that vendors with pushcarts and those who set up away from the sidewalk may be allowed to stay.