Brace yourselves wanderlusting foodies: One of the most iconic food spots on every traveler’s bucket list is about to go the way of the dodo. The Military Junta — which took control of Thailand after a 2014 coup d’état — has been trying to “return happiness” to the country, and for some reason a big part of that is getting rid of the street food vendors that so many travelers consider the heart and soul of Bangkok. Feel free to shed a tear and pour out some Thai tea on the sidewalk because an era is coming to a close.
Bangkok’s City Hall wants to bring “order and hygiene” to the city’s bustling streets. To do so, they’re moving on all 50 Bangkok districts with resolve. Bangkok’s governor’s chief advisor, Wanlop Suwandee, said that “there will be no let-up in this operation. Every street vendor will have to move out.” The city government has already enforced clean sweeps in some districts and accelerated some move out dates from June 1st to right now.
From an outside perspective, this looks and feels like a situation where a government and some people in higher social classes want progress that comes at the cost of a city’s character and soul. That being said, there is precedent for this move. Singapore’s government similarly banned all street food carts in the 1950s and by the 1960s the hawker center food culture had solidified. Now there are two hawker food stalls that have Michelin stars. A similar tactic was used by the Hong Kong government in the 1970s towards the Dai pai dong street food vendors, which moved them into food centers around the city, leaving only 25 dai pai dongs today. Both incidents were met with similar disdain at the time. But it worked out in the end for them. And, let’s face it, being in a centralized and secure location is a safer forum to prepare and serve people food.
SOI 38, one of the more famous food streets in Bangkok, was cleared out last year so that expensive condos could be built. Some of those vendors moved indoors to basements areas around the neighborhood. Some are just gone. Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road and Khao San Road (where Leonardo DiCaprio used to hang out back in The Beach days) are going to be cleared out very soon according to reports. And it’s not clear where all of these vendors are supposed to go exactly.
Suwandee and the Bangkok government don’t really seem to care all that much. Suwandee said the street food vendors could stay, “if they can find a place to set up their shop without obstructing the sidewalk…or some other private building.” Which, is vague. These street food vendors are feeding an entire city and contributing to Thailand’s tourism industry — an industry that makes up 15 percent of the entire Thai economy.
On one hand it’s sad to see such an iconic part of a Bangkok go. On another hand it is an archaic mode of city life that’s being done better in Singapore and Hong Kong by moving things indoors or centralizing in outdoor food courts.
It looks like that unless you’re in Bangkok right now, you may never experience what was once the greatest street food scene the modern world had ever seen. So here are some pics in commemoration. You can play the Sarah McLachlan song yourself.
(Via The Guardian)