food @ chinese festival in mahasarakhamLiving 

Why Thailand should regulate street food

Aaaaah! The world is coming to an end, run for the hills, hide in a bunker! Thailand is banning street food! – the outcry, when this message first surface, was huge (way bigger than when we witness the last coup d’etat here btw! Or when Rohingya refugees died on open waters, or when journalists got arrested for being to critical. Apparently food is where we draw the line). How could the street food capital of the world, Bangkok, be thinking about banning street food?

Well, first of all, they’re not really considering banning street food. Even CNN and other news outlets who first reported on the ban now got that right. It’s more or less a move towards regulating it and all the other sidwalk business that is going on everywhere you go. And I, for once, am not completely against that move. Before you now call me an entitled expat, let me tell you why.

Why it’s ok to regulate street food in Bangkok

First off I’m not on the governmental payroll (but this article leads to me getting my visa easier I wouldn’t mind) and I don’t necessarily agree with how they approach(ed) that whole street food / street vendor regulation problem (ok, now we can scratch that easier visa thing). However  I do think that regulating some pavement business (#pb) might be a step into the right direction.

Of course the argument that comes along with this discussion always is ‘but it has been like this forever‘, ‘people depend on it‘ and ‘that’s what makes Bangkok so charming‘. Let’s break that down.

It has been like this forever. Yeah. So? If we would only do things in the way they’ve been done ‘forever, we wouldn’t see any change and you wouldn’t be able to read this article online. Change is not always bad and nobody says street food has to disappear from our lives! Which leads me to the next point:

People depend on it. Of course selling street food is a source of income for many who do that. Again, nobody says they should lose their jobs. Selling their delicious street food in dedicated areas rather than on some shady sidewalk might also increase their business though which wouldn’t be a step back, but a leap forwards.

That’s what makes Bangkok charming: Do you actually live here? Probably not. Pushing your way through eating crowds on the way home or stepping in spilled beer or having it spilled on you when making your way from the BTS to your apartment is not necessarily what I would call charming. It might look nice if you only see it for a few days, if you live with it however that impression quite certainly changes. Also, let’s be honest, would you really want to eat right next to the road and all the pollution all the time?

Alternatives to street food on the sidewalk

Again, I think we all understand now that the government can not just ban every street vendor from selling their food (they probably could, but won’t) but rather wants to get some order onto the streets. Their approach, as mentioned above, could certainly be smoother (smarter?) but is in some way understandable. I read a few statements in which the government stated they would want to copy Singapore in this regard where ‘hawking’ got banned from the streets but in return those hawkers got a ‘hawker area’ where they could sell their food instead.  Sounds reasonable to me. Of course, since this is Thailand, nothing just happens smoothly. Obviously the government (or the city) would have to support the movement of the street vendors and introduce them to such an area (which I’m sure could be found in almost every district of Bangkok) in order to make them adapt quickly and settle in and start earning money. Several districts in Bangkok actually seem to do that by themselves. Abandoned areas are being turned into ‘pop up’ street markets and former street vendors move to such areas and offer their food there. If this would be supported by the city, it would certainly see even more success and acceptance and could be promoted on a bigger level.

Having street vendors organized could also help them to reduce their costs (equipment, electricity, etc.) and could lead to higher standards and, hopefully, to sustainable business and more advanced waste management. As reports showed that a huge percentage of what clocks up Bangkok’s sewage system comes from street vendors’ food, fat and rubbish, a more organized areal with a professional waste management system could do wonders not only for the quality of their food and own health but also for the whole city and it’s constant battle with enormously flooded streets.

I understand that changing the street food lifestyle can’t be done over night and would probably take lots of patience and education in regards to the ‘why’ such a change is necessary but on the long run it could benefit the vendors as well as the city and its citizens.

What do you think? 

Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at My-Thai.org
Sascha is the publisher of my-thai.org and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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  • Ellen Deveaux

    Before reading this article, I was blinded by the fact that street vendors have had an impact in my life. Now that I have finished reading the article, I totally agree that Thailand should regulate their street food. Although some people might argue that it’s a convenient way of getting food, it can truly cause major of damage to a city. In the article it mentions, “As reports showed that a huge percentage of what clocks up Bangkok’s sewage system comes from street vendors food.”

    This stood out to me because all along I knew Thailand’s sewage system wasn’t so great because of the floods throughout the years, but I didn’t realize that vendors were a major part of that reason. If these percentages keep on increasing, it can only get worse. Hopefully, Thailand can find a way to implement these regulations for the benefit of everyone.

  • Thanks for your comment. I do like street food as well and don’t want it to be forbidden but having it regulated in some form could help on several levels to make city life a bit better.

  • Um Ntrch

    I totally agreed with this article. I am that type of person who likes street foods but most of the time couldn’t deny the fact that it scares the crap out of me. Why? Because of the quality of the foods, the position where the vendor located, and the pollution from the street that could get on the food. I just low-key wish that it could improve a lot more to make Thailand looks more hygiene since street foods here are very well-known. If the problems are being solved, not only the food aspect will be better but also the organization of the country as well. Some vendors are literally on the footpath and then pedestrians have to walk on the road that could cause traffic and accident later on. I mean this could take a few years to solve and re-adjust but if it works out, Thailand will be even better to live in.

  • Thanks for your comment! I agree and as stated I also like street food but the healthy issue is also one that I’m concerned about. Here in my area of BKK they opened kinda of a ‘low-so’ market place where lots of the street food stalls moved into. Now they’re gone from the sidewalk but still easily accessible, share stools and tables and it all looks much cleaner than before. Looks like a win-win for me. Would be cool to see such solutions in other parts of the city as well and on a bigger scale.

  • Beer Suwongwan

    I definitely agree with the article above, especially the last three paragraph. I like the street vendor organization is an interesting idea of making Thailand a better places. I think it is a time that we should starts changing something that should be changed for a long time. I don’t deny that I don’t eat street food. I eat it almost every day, however I do think that if only they remove all of the street in to a right places, we would have a lot more beautiful city as it should be. It not just how tidy the entire street are, but also a big revolution of quality in Thai’s street food would be improved. Well, at least tourist from other county wouldn’t be scared or freaked out with the process of making or the ingredients.

    I don’t think the term “life style” is a good excuse for protest against the regulation rule. Because I think that it just changed the location. The vendor owner still able to sell just like before. With the improvement of quality and standard in the food people would be like “hey, I’m hungry but I don’t want to save money, let’s go to the vendor zone instead of expensive restaurant”.

    Having the street vendor organization would really makes Thailand become a better places to visit. It might take time however the result would be appreciated.

  • Thanks for your comment and well said! I also hope that we will see something like a street vendor organization / zone some time soon here in Bangkok. Tbh I would also enjoy the food more if I wouldn’t have to eat it right next to a traffic jam. Let’s hope we’ll be able to see some change in the future.

  • Saruta Maneepairoj

    I am totally agree with your opinion that hawkers should have their dedicated area for selling foods.Selling street food on shady sidewalk has been an accumulated problem among pedestrian for a long time.They’re risking their lives on street full of vehicles instead of walking safely on the footpath provided.

  • Song Sathiraboot

    As a Thai citizen, I think that this problem is an ongoing issue in which it needs to be solve. Since we’re young, we grew up in an environment where we’re surrounded by street foods. Wherever we go, there would be a bunch of street vendors that could be found. Now, if we take a closer look about this issue, there would be some people questioning and arguing on whether or not, this is a severe problems that should be taken care of. From my perspective, I felt that this is a very important case that we should be focusing on. On the other hand, because we grew up with this environment, some people are saying, as being mentioned in this article, ‘but it has been like this forever,’ ‘people depend on it,’ and so on. However, I agreed with this article in which street food should be regulated and organized. Well, firstly, I couldn’t agree more on the point that street food make things easier. But, we also shouldn’t forget the fact that it also have an impact and effect our country as well. What is shocking me the most is the fact that I overlooked something, in which it was said in this article, ‘it might only look nice if you only see it for a few days, if you live with it however that impression quite certainly changes.’ If I were to imagine living in an area that is surrounded by these environment, it would have been chaotic!

  • Kana Matsushita

    Now I really love trying street food in Thailand, but when I saw the street food for the first time in Thailand, I was curious if they are hygienically okay or not. No fence, but this can be the first impression that foreginers would have at first.
    However, this culture is needed to be exist.

  • It needs to exist but within a certain rule set. I think if you would have street food within specific street food areas it would be easier to maintain hygiene as well.

  • Catty Methayanunt

    From my perspective, I totally agree with the article due to the reason that I am the one who love trying street food because it’s cheap and easy to find. But sometimes I feel that the quality of the food is in low standard and the shop is in the pollution and dirty area. Therefore, I think the government should solve the problem in the right point. They should not banned the street food as it is the traditional things for Thailand, but they suppose to set up the clean area for selling those street food. So the seller still can earn the income and the buyer still can buy the cheap food but in better quality.

  • Thanks for your comment. Fully agree. I hope we such areas around town rather sooner than later.

  • Dakota Yuwapun

    I agree that Thailand’s street vendors should be regulated a bit more. Maybe keep the places clean and make sure they don’t do disgusting things like reuse bottles and stuff like that.

  • Pick your street stalls carefully! I have been sick many times over the years from eating un-clean food. Saying this i trust the majority of them. Some are just worth steering clear of though.

  • Panpan Auraya

    I came from Saint Joseph Convent school where is located at silom road. In my highschool life street food is very popular in people around my place, not only students but including office workers. Because of it good taste and affordable price, people enjoy to buy it instead of the expensive food in the department store. But according to the number of sellers and buyers of street food, they cause many sewages on the road and it became smelly. I think government should gradually put the revolution on street food to have more quality and clean (including food and area) to make foreigner and local people can happily servive with street food as the one of Thai tradition.

  • Agreed. I also love street food but do prefer clean stalls and hence think dedicated areas would be cooler than just on random sidewalks.

  • Completely agree. I don’t want it to disappear, just a bit more regulated and supported. That would benefit everyone.

  • Kewpla Kanchanaban

    From my view, I like to eat street food but I have to make sure its clean. As I am a Bangkokian, I always saw and eat street food. I think it is kind of a signature of Thai tourism. So, I think it should be regulated rather than make it to disappear. But the government should have more rule and have a team to check the quality of food. It can not be change by a day but I think in the future Thai street food will become more clean and high quality.

  • Completely agree and hope you’re right!

  • Mew Sorasesakun

    To the you the truth, I am the one who loves eating street food because of the taste that match with Thais preferences, as well as people can easily buy with the reasonable price.
    On the other hand, there is bad side. Sometimes, we found dirty and unhealthy dishes because of the pollution from the street.

    So I partially agree with this article. Government must take an interest with this problem. They should manage street food issue making it become cleaner and organized area.

    Though, I do not agree if the government would ban food vendors who sell food on the path because street food is selling point which tourist would come to join!

  • Sher Chayanit

    I have to admit that love Thai street food too, I mean, who doesn’t? But I have also experienced many struggles caused by street vendors. Their customers usually block my way, trash that they left cause unpleasant smell and make the footpath, which is not that clean in the first place, even dirtier. Providing the vendors new area to sell food is a good solution, but I guess it would take quite a long time due to some vendors’ reluctance, and most people in Bangkok are still used to buying street food in their daily life.

  • That’s the thing. The ‘ it’s always been that way’ attitude is probably the biggest issue to overcome.

  • Thanks for your comment. I think I stated in the article that I do NOT want street food to be banned. Simple regulations would be a step into the right direction. I think it’s true that tourists enjoy street food but lets be honest, most tourists have street food in tourist areas, not on your average Bangkok sidewalk. They have it in Khaosan, Rambuttri or maybe around Silom but that’s about it. Most tourists won’t see a crappy, smelly street food shop on a sidewalk in Saphan Kwai for example. So regulating such places could definitely help make the city more lively, in my opinion.

  • Moné Pusanisa

    I personally think that Thai people are afraid of changing and especially in this case if the government going to ban the street food a lot of people would be piss of and protest to get their area back. I totally agree with the idea of making street food be more organized as me and my friend love to have street food as our dinner sometime.

  • I think that’s one of the bigger issues. People are afraid of changing. Regulating doesn’t mean banning, but that’s what people probably wouldn’t understand.

  • Wanthida Tiwari

    This is a problem to alot of people. Like you mentioned if we lived here the idea of passing through sweaty strangers trying to eat (no offence) not a very appealing smelly food and by mistake wiping it on you as you want to go home…. aaaaa…. atleast that’s not my idea of going back to my place. Also, eating right beside the road! Inhaling all that toxic carbon mono oxide as you stop to eat… ummm, I don’t really mind people eating there. It is alot of harmful chemicals and not forgetting the not refrigerated meat thats kept out on display and then chopped infront of us and fed to us. It’s just for your information information though. I got nothing against it.

  • But but but…it’s part of the culture! :P ;-)

  • Chanittha Jiraporncharas

    In my opinion, there’ll be both pros and cons if the government regulate street vendors. The footpath will be cleaner and neater. But, some locals might be displeased since they can’t do their job anymore. To prevent this problem I think they should have regulation rules to help the locals for them to still do their shops. Because street foods are still one of Thailand’s highlights!

  • Agreed. Not banning, but regulating. Just like stated above. I just had street food in a regulated area close to my home and loved it. :)

  • Tanutcha Roongroj

    I think if Bangkok can keep the footpath cleaner, many thing will gets better because one of the important issue in Thailand right now is the vendors are selling their products on the place that we have to walk. Another problem we can see it clearly is the sellers are throwing the food on the street, which makes our environment dirty and smelly.