Vending in Public Space: The Case of Bangkok

Gisele Yasmeen, Narumol Nirathron
  • Subtitle: WIEGO Policy Brief (Urban Policies) No. 16 - 2017 update, below

This brief reviews cultural, economic, political and other broad social foundations of vending in Bangkok's public space. It also examines opportunities and challenges and what others can learn from the specific experiences of vending in Bangkok.

Vending in Public Space: The Case of Bangkok

2017 Update to Policy Brief (Urban Policies) No. 16

Bangkok has seen a dramatic shift in its policy towards street vendors following the 2014 Thai military coup.

The legal framework described in this brief allows Bangkok’s local officers to designate vending areas and hours and to grant vendors permission to operate in these locations. This permission, however, can be easily revoked, leaving vendors vulnerable to changes in policy.

Leading up to 2013, Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) policies were favourable toward vendors (Yasmeen and Nirathorn 2013, Kusakabe 2014). However, 2014 saw an unprecedented swing towards repression. With orders from the country’s military junta under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the BMA is seeking to reduce the number of vendors under the motto “Return the footpath to pedestrians.”

The policy has further hardened under the new Governor Aswin Kwanmuang, who was appointed in 2016 following the suspension of elected governor Sukhumbhand Pariatra for corruption charges.

Growing restrictions

BMA’s new “regulating” campaign initially focused on central areas but has expanded outwards. Street vendors in Pradit Torakan community on Phahon Yothin road in Chatuchuk District, for instance, received notice of their eviction from the main road in October 2016. Under the campaign, hundreds of legal vending sites are losing their designated status. Also, vendors are being evicted from areas that have long tolerated unlicensed vending, relocations are happening on short notice at the threat of fines, and there have been bans on daytime vending.

The crackdown has focused on pavements on main roads, generally allowing vendors to shift to smaller alleys with less foot traffic.

Highly Effective

The campaign has been highly effective. By 2016, BMA had eliminated or reduced the working hours of vendors in many of Bangkok’s most iconic and historical markets such as the Pak Klong Talad Flower Market, Saphan Lek Market, and Siam Square. Official BMA statistics show a reduction in registered (i.e. licensed) vendors by almost half between 2014 and 2016, from over 21,000 to 10,700 (Bangkok Metropolitan Statistics Book 2016). The total number of affected vendors is unknown but presumed to be much larger.

In April 2017, an advisor to the governor announced that vendors would be cleared from the remainder of the city within four months. Following a barrage of international media criticism focused on the impacts for Bangkok tourism, the BMA revised its statement, offering assurances that vendors in two of the city’s prime tourist destinations would be permitted to remain and that the campaign would focus on improving hygiene and safety rather than clearance. However, the intention to evict vendors from other locations across Bangkok appears unaltered.

Sarah Reed, Bangkok Focal City Coordinator, 26 April 2017

Fredrickson, T. (2015) “Saphan Lek clearout continues as vendors plead for more time.” Bangkok Post, 21 Oct 2015. 
Kusakabe, K. (2014) Street-vending policies and practices: A case study of Bangkok. International Labor Organization
Mokkhasen, S. (2016) “Vanishing Bangkok: What is the capital being remade into, and for whom?” Khao Sod English, 5 July 2016.
Mokkhasen, S. (2016b) “Flower Market ‘Cleanup’ Conflict Continues.” Khaosod English. April  4 2016.
Mokkgasen, S. (2016c) “This is what Saphan Lek Looks like Now”.  Khaosod English. 14 July 2016.
Mokkhasen, S. (2016d) “Say Goodbye to Night Market Vendors on Silom Road.” Khaosod English. 13 May 2016
Tangworamongkon, C. (2014) Street Vending in Bangkok: Legal and Policy Frameworks, Livelihood Challenges and Collective Responses. WIEGO Law and Informality Project. HomeNet Thailand and WIEGO

This brief is part of the WIEGO Publication Series.

View list of all WIEGO briefs.

Informal Economy Theme
Occupational group
Publication Type