The Silom Night Market will be closed by the end of the month because of congestion and rubbish, leaving vendors and tourists to wonder: "What do we do now?"
Chan Srirapong returns home each day at 4 am. He wakes up before 7 am to see his two children off to school. Sometimes he goes back to sleep, but often visits various wholesalers to buy the products that he sells at the Silom Night Market.
"The way things are, I barely make enough to support my wife, my kids and my parents," the vendor said. "I work seven days a week to get by and now the officials are trying to close my only means of living."
Chan's story is not unlike the 600 other vendors operating at the market. Their stalls light up and occupy the pavements on central Bangkok's Silom Road with a dizzying array of goods from silkscreen T-shirts to custom-made lamps. If City Hall has its way, however, authorities will move in by the end of the month to clear the pavement and make it "walkable for pedestrians again." "We have issued eviction orders to the shops at the Silom Road Night Market," Bangkok Metropolitan Administration spokesman Vallop Suwandee said. "This is part of the BMA's plans to return the sidewalks and pavements to pedestrians and citizens."
According to the administration, there were numerous complaints and campaigns for the city to move against street vendors as they forced pedestrians to walk on the road and dumped food waste and trash on the street. Officials have already cleared out other famed local markets at Saphan Lek, Khlong Thom and Tha Prachan. According to Vallop, the only difference with Silom was that it was situated in a well-known tourist area.
Many tourists that visit the Silom Night Market, however, hope the city government does not carry through with its threat. "It should stay, it brings tourists and is a fundamental part of the Thai experience," said Khristin Meyer from Karlsruhe, Germany. "This is our first time in Bangkok and Silom was one of the roads we knew we wanted to come to experience, you do not have this anywhere else in the world." "Its wonderful, how can they get rid of such a place?" agreed Margarita and Gabriel Sanz from Alicante in Spain. "We hope this is not true because it is a reason that we will be back."
One of those who dismiss the arguments of the tourists is Oraya Sutabutr, a professor at Thammasat University and the head of the Bangkok Sabai Walk Project, which aims to improve public walking spaces in the city.
"I want to ask these people if they would have their vendors in their home country," she said. "Do the tourists want the rats and cockroaches that come with the food waste? They only come and see it for one or two days and think it's nice and unique. Would they want these vendors on the main street in Munich?"
"Yes, my campaign supports the removal of these vendors as they are illegal, they don't pay tax and capitalize public space for personal profit," she said. Oraya argues that the vendors not only dispose of their waste directly on the street, but they cause congestion "for the elderly, for mothers with children, for the handicapped." "We do not hate the vendors but we are trying to fight for the pedestrians, they already have a hard time without having to avoid these people," she said.
Vendors like Chan Srirapong are asking for a chance to discuss the changes with the BMA. "We just want to talk with the governor's office to see if we can come to some sort of resolution," Chan said. "Many of us have been here 10, 15 years and in some cases over 20 years."
Chan says the vendors just want to know why they are having their livelihoods removed and what alternatives City Hall is providing. "I wish they would postpone the plans for a while. We have a community here, we look out for one another and we look out for the tourists against scammers and robbers," he said. "I just don't know what to do if they close us down, who will provide for my family?"