I can’t even. I have literally lost the ability to even.
Bangkok is one of the best cities in the world for street food. CNN says it’s the best. Unquestionably it’s one of the best places now for both high-end and cheap eats, with food vendors all over the city on the streets and avenues with different places offering breakfast, food available throughout the day, and late night carts as well.
There are so many things to eat that are cheap in Bangkok and fantastic. But the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration wants to ‘reclaim sidewalks for pedestrians’ and promote “cleanliness, safety and order” as well as “beautify” the city.
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.
To be sure, there are amazing restaurants in Bangkok both at the high end and real cheap eats. Cross the Chao Phraya river from the boat dock next to the Mandarin Oriental (a ride across on a public boat is 20 baht). Walk straight about 100 yards and the first restaurant on the right has very spicy Northeastern Thai food, the papaya salad pushes my limits.
And there’s still plenty of street food-like places inside of restaurants. It’s not that you won’t get good food.
But the vibrancy of the city is going to be lost somewhat. The barriers to entry serving food will rise, and that will mean less competition and less creativity.
In Singapore they’ve moved from dispersed food stalls to hawker centers, land set-asides where the government has created spaces for vendors. Bangkok’s administration claims they ‘already do that’ but not in the same way or to the same extent, or in as many places.
Many clusters of food vendors have already been displaced by development projects, and while the military junta has sought numerous ‘clean up’ projects pushing street vendors aside raises the prospect that the government is collaborating with developers.
Some vendors may be allowed to stay if they pay rents to set up in front of retail stores, rather than using public space.
Previous such attempts have been less than successful. And indeed, there’s not obviously a shared vision for pushing out vendors across all levels of Bangkok government.
There has been confusion about how the policy will be implemented. The area’s district chief, Boontham Huiprasert, said push-cart vendors who could move around would still be tolerated but larger semi-permanent stalls with seating would have to go.
“Or if they can find a place to set up their shop without obstructing the sidewalk, such as behind the railing of the Thong Lor police station or some other private building, that would be OK too,” he said.
Nonetheless Bangkok’s planned exit from its title as the street food capital of the world creates huge opportunities for nearby capitals, such as Kuala Lumpur and its suburbs.