Bangkok’s street food will not be remodeled after Singapore’s: tourism chief

Photo: Laurel Touhy/ Coconuts Media
Photo: Laurel Touhy/ Coconuts Media

Bangkok’s street food culture will survive a crackdown on vendors, Thailand’s tourism chief vowed Thursday, assuring travelers that a city renowned for its chaotic charm was not being remodeled into a Singapore-lite.

City Hall stunned Thais and tourists alike this week with plans to bar the capital’s world-famous food stalls from all main roads to reclaim pavements for the public.

On Thursday, the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) pushed back against fears that Bangkok was being gentrified in the image of Singapore — a city that relishes orderliness but is often characterized as tame compared to its Southeast Asian rivals.

“We will keep our uniqueness. We won’t change our Yaowarat (Chinatown) into Orchard (Road),” Uthasak Supasorn said, referring to a shopping district in Singapore with wide boulevards devoid of street life.

“(The plan) is not to totally take away street food from Bangkok streets, but there are some reasons and some places that will be reorganized,” he added.  

Nearly two-thirds of Bangkok’s 30,000 street vendors have already been removed or relocated from pavements to open up space for pedestrians, according to city officials.

Vendors will be allowed to set up shop on smaller streets while hawkers based in two top tourist hubs — Chinatown and Khaosan Road — will be reorganized but not barred completely.

“Bangkok has some of the best street food in the world, you cannot take it away from the people of the world,” the tourist governor told reporters, adding that he was meeting with city officials to discuss how the restrictions would be enforced.

Many are hoping the crackdown will wither like many of the other clean-up campaigns launched under the ruling junta.

Tourism is a major of pillar of Thailand’s economy and has boomed despite a decade of political unrest and bad press over its dangerous roads and lax safety regulations.

The kingdom welcomed a record 32 million tourists in 2016, with revenue making up nearly a fifth of an otherwise lagging economy.

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