As Bangkok cleans up, street vendors resist

As Bangkok cleans up, street vendors resist

A large company of thessakij city enforcement officials confronted vendors on Khao San Road and forced them to vacate the pavements last week. (Reuters photo)
A large company of thessakij city enforcement officials confronted vendors on Khao San Road and forced them to vacate the pavements last week. (Reuters photo)

BANGKOK: Vendors in one of Bangkok's biggest tourist hotspots have vowed to fight regulations preventing them from hawking their wares on the street, arguing that their livelihoods and the city's unique character are at stake.

City officials last week imposed a ban on vendors on the sidewalks of Khao San Road, a favourite haunt of backpackers for its bars and cheap hostels, which is also well-known for street stalls selling food, clothes and souvenirs.

Vendors are now restricted to a designated zone, and are only allowed to sell their wares from 6 pm to midnight.

Scores of vendors initially ignored the order, and also staged a protest march, saying they had not been consulted or given sufficient notice.

"The government won't listen to us," said Yada Pornpetrumpa, president of the Khao San Road Street Vendors' Association.

"But we will protest and petition the authorities till someone listens to us," she said.

Vendors have sent a petition to Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang and to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, asking for a reversal of the ban as it hurts their livelihoods, she said.

Authorities say they are bringing order to street stalls throughout the city to make public spaces accessible to more people.

"The new regulations will be strictly enforced," deputy governor Sakoltee Phattiyakul told reporters.

Police kept a close watch from one end of the street on Monday, and said they would shut down any vendor who defied the order.

The ban is part of a wider effort by the Thai military government, which came to power in a 2014 coup, to impose order in a city famous for its night life and cheap street food.

Authorities are also removing shanties along the Chao Phraya river to build a promenade, and earlier this year forced out a community of more than 300 people near an old fort.

Civic groups say the evictions mostly target poor residents who have little legal recourse, as they have no formal rights to the land.

It is not just Bangkok: with Asian cities trying to be seen as modern and lure investment, street vendors are viewed as a hindrance, and as usurpers of public spaces claimed by formal businesses, residents and pedestrians..

"Vendors on the sidewalk are seen as an inconvenience and a safety hazard, and it is this angle that authorities emphasise," said Sasiwimon Warunsiri at the School of Economics at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.

With city officials adamant about enforcing the new regulations, Warunsiri said hawkers are unlikely to get a reprieve.

"Vendors may not have much of a choice," she said.

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