We took a walk on Soi Thong Lor (Sukhumvit Soi 55) last night to see how many vendors were observing the new law banning street food in their ‘hood.
The law took effect on Monday, which was part of the Songkran holiday and the one day of the week when vendors were prohibited to sell anyway. We thought we would find at least a few vendors that weren’t observing the law and had set up their stalls with the intention of moving quickly if the police showed up. Instead, we found… nothing.
Strips of the main street that are usually so congested with food stalls that you have to walk around them into dangerous traffic were deserted.
Most of the people we approached seemed unaware of the new law or perhaps still sleepy from the long Songkran holiday.
Many said, “Oh no! There is no new law. They are just closed on Monday.” When we pointed out that it was Tuesday, they either looked confused, shrugged, or said that the vendors must still be on vacation. But, it’s easy to be confused on the first day back to work after a long holiday that includes a Monday. Those Tuesdays always feel like Mondays.
We can understand that some vendors may yet be meandering back from their hometowns after the Thai New Year, but every single one?
Pipe, a third-year university student that lives in Nana, often hangs out in Thong Lor. He was the first person to look around in a surprised way when it was pointed out that the vendors were not missing because it was Monday since it was, in fact, Tuesday.
He said that he eats street food four or five times a week and would be pretty unhappy to see it disappear completely. “I think it’s not appropriate. Street food is part of Thai culture, but if you ask me if it’s right or wrong, I can’t say it’s wrong. I think the law needs to depend on the area.”
Pipe, a student, eats street food several times a week.
Mook, a barista at The Coffee Club in Thong Lor, had not heard about the new law. She also thought the vendors must be straggling back from their Songkran holidays.
Seino, a Japanese man who has lived in Thong Lor for 20 years, was the only person strolling down a section of the street that is usually so occupied by food, ice cream, and cold drink vendors that pedestrians have to walk into the traffic to get through the mess. He said that he rarely eats street food and that, if it didn’t return to his neighborhood, he would not be too upset since it was easier to walk. However, he was adamant that no new law had been passed. He said, “Come back at the weekend and I’m sure this street will be full of food vendors again!”
Seino walks down a section of Thong Lor usually overflowing with vendors.
Sara Gabai is an Italian expat who has lived in Thong Lor for 7 years. “I’ve seen a lot of changes in this area. Before, when we didn’t have The Commons, international chains and global brands here, the stalls were the only places where you could meet your friends for food and a beer after work.”
“Now, we’re here at Sit and Wonder because it takes the street food concept indoors. It’s almost the only place left for this kind of food around here. It’s affordable for every day. The prices for a lot of the places around here now are as high — or higher — than Europe. But, my concern isn’t for us,” she said referring to herself and her friends, “it’s for the workers in this neighborhood. Where are they supposed to eat?”
Sure they can eat food from the convenience stores that litter the street, but Gabai said she thinks a convenience store diet can’t be healthy for eating every day. “You know, it sounds crazy, but some of the street food on this street seemed pretty healthy. Like balanced food that you can get nutrition from every day when you don’t have a lot of money. I know it saved me many times when I had to watch my budget.”
“What scares me is that this is going to end up as a street with only luxuries [and] big hotels, and I don’t know what will come of the locals.”
Nui, a woman who spoke nid noi English and was handing out massage flyers on the street, knew about the law but was not concerned. She said she used to frequent the food stalls but now “I’ll get something at 7 [Eleven],” she said as she fanned herself with her stack of flyers in the hot Bangkok night on the largely deserted street.