Bangkok’s red light district is arguably the most infamous in the world. The main sex and sin area is centered around Patphong Road, just off Silom Road. There are also sex and entertainment places in New Petchburi and Ratchadaphisek. Many discos, cabarets and nightclubs are found in the large hotels. In recent years, the area around the corner of Soi Langsuan and Soi Sarasin (north of Lumphini Park) has become very trendy with locals and expatriates. It boasts numerous restaurants, cafes, food stalls and nightspots.

There are lots of bars, cheap restaurants and Internet cafes in and around the backpacker areas of Khao San Road and Banglamphu. Elsewhere in the city are bars and cafes with blaring music used by locals. The shopping areas and night markets (see below) are also fun. More upscale places are found around Sukhumvit Road (which becomes Rama I), Silom Road, the Phloen Chit-Ratchadamri District and I and around the fancy hotels like the Peninsula near the river.

Concerts and performance of classical music and dance and Khon, traditional Thai masked dance drama, are regularly performed at the National Theater (Ratcini Road near the Grand Palace). There are also daily shows of classical Thai music and dance at Vimamanek Palace. Free temple dancing can be seen at Erawan shrine (Rama I Road) and Lak Muang Temple behind the Grand Palace near Sanam Luang. Thai puppetry is performed at the Joe Louis Theater and Siam Niramit Theater. Many restaurants in Bangkok feature shows with Thai dances and classical music performed by dancers in exquisite, traditionally-embroidered costumes. There are many cinemas in the Silom Road area. Multiplex can be found near the major shopping malls.

The Oriental Hotel features Thai dance performances in its dinner theater. The city government puts on a variety of free shows at Santichaiprakarn Park near the budget hotel district on Khao San Road on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The performances include everything from jazz to classical Thai dance. Major Western acts like Oasis and have performed in Bangkok.

Rest and recreation areas include gardens such as Suan Luang Rama IX or Benchasiri Park. For children there are zoos,, including Dusit Zoo, Siam Ocean World, and Safari World, a planetarium, and theme parks such as Dream World and Siam Park. Movie houses, karaoke lounges, and even bowling alleys can be found at department stores, and the night entertainment places in Thong Lo and Ekamai, off Sukhumvit Road. The Khao San Road area never seems to sleep.

A calendar of events can be picked up at tourist offices and major hotels. Also check out local entertainment magazines, the Thursday and Friday entertainment supplements in English-language newspapers like the Bangkok Post, and posters put up around town. The Bangkok Post has an entertainment supplement called Guru magazine You can also check the Lonely Planet Books and other guidebooks. Entertainment Websites: BK Magazine Online bk.asia-city.com;
Time Out Bangkok timeout.com/bangkok;
Bangkok 101 bangkok101.com

Theaters and Culture Shows in Bangkok

Siam Niramit features an enormous stage with advanced special effects and over 150 performers with 500 costumes, Siam Niramit’s world-class cultural performance—A Journey to the Enchanted Kingdom of Thailand—is absolutely a must-see in Bangkok. This stimulating Thai arts & cultural heritage is now listed in the Guinness World Records. Aksra Theatre has unique and colourful combination of exquisite Thai puppetry and other forms of entertainment such as orchestral performances and classical dances, Aksra Theatre is another place to enjoy a rare elegant Thai traditional performance in Bangkok.

National Theatre is located next to the National Museum near Sanam Luang Ground, the theatre is under the administration of the Fine Arts Department with a main objective to stage performances of khon, a Thai mask dance drama and other forms of Thai theatrical art such as lakhon, another type of Thai classical dance drama. Sampran Riverside (Thai Village Show) is held amidst a peaceful garden in the west of Bangkok, the main attractions of the Sampran Riverside are its daily cultural shows like traditional Thai dances, ancient sword fights and Thai boxing.

Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre hosts masked dance drama to foreign visitors. English subtitles are available on screen above the stage and the explanatory notes of the movements and masks are displayed on film prior to the showtime. Thailand Cultural Center is a fully integrated venue for social education and cultural activities in Bangkok, therefore, it is an ideal place to view all forms of cultural performances, both national and international. Symphony orchestra concerts are also held here regularly.

Muay Thai (Thai Boxing)

Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand. Once a skill that was essential for survival in battle, Muay Thai is now one of the most popular fighting sports in the world. Fighters from all corners of the globe travel to Thailand to train in Muay Thai, and it is no longer uncommon for Muay Thai fights in Bangkok or the countryside to feature foreign fighters on the fight bill.

Muay Thai is a fighting style steeped in tradition, as fighters in the ring perform a ceremony known as a “wai khru” prior to each bout. The pre-fight ritual is performed to pay homage to the fighters’ teachers, the spirits, and the art of Muay Thai itself, and is conducted while a live band plays traditional Thai music. The music continues throughout the five round Muay Thai fight, altering its tempo in line with the action. At live venues betting on Muay Thai is nearly as feverish as the fights themselves and in large open air bars across the countryside villagers gather to shout at televisions cheering for their home town favorites.

Lumpini Stadium ( Rama IV Road, Tel: 66(0)2-252-8765) hosts muay thai fights on Tuesdays and Fridays from 6:30pm, Saturday 5:00 - 8:00 pm and 8:30.. Prices for foreigners: 500, 1,000, 1,500 (ringside). Ratchadamnoen Stadium (Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue, Tel: 66(0)2-281-4205) feayures muay thai fights on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays, from 6:30pm. Prices for foreigners: 500, 1,000, 1,500 (ringside). Channel 7 Stadium (behind Mo Chit Northern Bus Terminal, opposite Chatuchak Park Tel: 66(0)2-272-0201) hosts muay thai fights on Sundays, from 1:45pm and on the third Wednesday of every month from 12:00. Price: Free.

At the bouts there is a lot of cigarette smoke and betting. In addition there are a number of schools where you can learn Muay Thai. Rangsit Stadium (Pathumthani, north of Bangkok) has two rings: one for male fighters and one for female fighters. Lots of male and female fights take place Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8:30pm onwards. Rangsit Stadium is home to the Muay Thai Institute and courses varying from a single day to three months are available for foreigners. Ticket Prices are 110 Baht for female bouts and 220 Baht for male bouts. Contact: Rangsit Stadium, 336/932 Prachathipat Road, Rangsit, Pathumthani, Tel: 0-2992-0099

Lumphini Stadium itself is interesting. Named after Buddha's birthplace and built in the 1940s, it is a two-story circular building with seating for 10,000 people. Most people sit on wooden plank bleachers that are separated by a chain-link fence from the expensive orange plastic seats at ring side. The exterior is decorated with bas-reliefs depicting kick boxers, wrestlers, matadors, swordsmen, chariots and war elephants.

Kite Fighting can bee seen at Sanam Luang, the large park next to the Grand Palace, and Lumphini Park in March and April.

Patphong Road and Sex Tourism in Bangkok

Patphong Road (off Silom Road) is the center of Bangkok's sex and sin district. Here you will find massage parlors, hostess bars, karaokes, nightclubs with live sex shows, and sidewalk hustlers, who attempt to direct men in their clubs, where they are entertained by girls blowing ping pong balls, nerf frisbees and fire out of their private parts. In many cases while the men are distracted by the show, they are surrounded by a dozen or more girls with drinks in their hands, which the men are supposed to pay for. It is not unusual for a man to spend 20 minutes in one of these clubs and walk out $200 poorer.

Ultimately Patphong Road is a very sad place. Many of the girls are barely into their teens, and men who patronize them are very unappealing. AIDS has made the sex industry less vigorous than it once was. In recent years, Patphong Road has been taken over by conventional tourists. Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza are other sex districts. Lumpini Park is popular with prostitutes. In the Patpong sex show scam, touts outside a bar say free sex shows and drinks for only 100 baht each. Visitors can end up paying a bill in the thousands. Stay clear if you are alone as they can turn violent if you refuse to pay. Another trick is to lure customers into a place with a young, good-looking girl and then suddenly make her unavailable and substitute an older, less attractive woman is the customer wants sex.

Prostitution, like gambling, is officially illegal and frowned upon in Buddhism yet Thailand is filled with brothels, prostitutes and customers for both. Many hotels have resident prostitutes. There are entire district—such as Patpong in Bangkok—devoted to sex, with brothels, sex shows, bar girls, pimps and porn shops. By some estimates sex and gambling account for 10 percent of Thailand’s GNP. One study estimated the total value of sex industry is $4.3 billion a year. Other say it is more like $20 billion.

Many prostitutes operate out of bars, karaokes and massage parlors Many mid-range hotels rent rooms by the hour. Some even have secluded basement parking lots that make staying in a room unnecessary. When a customer enters a boy runs out and pulls a curtain to hide the car. There are two kinds of massage parlors: ones that offer traditionally Thai massage and sex houses with numbered women in “viewing rooms.” At the sex massage parlors women wear shirts or vests with numbers such as 107, 299 and 130. According to one survey in the early 200s there were 103 such massage parlors in Bangkok, each employing 100 to 500 women. So there is no confusion the other kind of massage parlors have signs that read “Absolutely no sex.”

Fortune-telling in Bangkok

Joel Gershon of CNN wrote: There are a range of maw du in the city: Palm and face readers; those who interpret tarot or playing cards; zodiac astrologers; handwriting decoders; and other sixth-sense seers. High-end fortune tellers command prices as high as 10,000 baht per hour, though on the street it’s possible to book a fortune telling session for as little as 40 baht. The highest concentration of maw du in Bangkok are located around Tha Prajan pier off the Chao Phraya River. Here, dozens of maw du meet with clients at cramped makeshift stands inside a covered market area on the rickety pier. [Source: Joel Gershon, CNN September 10, 2009]

Bangkok's fortune-teller plaza has the city's highest concentration of seers. Banchobe Thepphachan has worked in a remote corner of the Tha Prajan ‘fortune-telling plaza’ for six years. He earns up to 1,000 baht per day, and says about 80 percent of his customers are women, the majority of inquiries he receives relating to love and romance. Cases aren't always straightforward. Banchobe recalls the time he had to tell a disappointed lesbian threesome that his cards revealed one of them would soon need to exit the relationship.

Across the river, in the winding Wang Lang market, people line up to see 52-year-old Pa-ob Prabnarong. She charges 150 baht per person, though if a customer asks about the fortune of another person, she charges an extra 150 baht, a fee structure that can earn her up to 10,000 baht per day. Pa-ob says she is often asked how her clients’ children will perform in school, or what day might be best to get married, buy a car or take a trip. She admits that occasionally she gets something wrong or doesn’t have an answer, recalling the time when a woman wasn’t sure which of her two boyfriends got her pregnant.

Spas and Thai Massage

Spas and Thai Massage are enjoyed by both Thais and foreigners in Bangkok. Thai massage is not necessarily sexual. There are numerous small massage parlors in Bangkok that offer traditional muscle-rubbing and joint-cracking massages for $5 to $10 an hour. Nonsexual massages are usually described as "traditional" or "ancient" massage.

The best spas are said to combine modern services with ancient Thai wisdom. Thai herbs, traditional Thai massage, foot massage, reflexology, herbal compress massage, herbal bath, holistic food and Asian healing and exercising methods such as yoga and acupuncture are combined to restore the body’s inner balance, without any chemical components. A massage with coconut oil or using an herbal compress is an adaptation of Thai local methods. Tourists can learn about the principles and methods of massage at Wat Pho, where it is said the traditional Thai massage originated.

The spa business in Bangkok has grown rapidly and comes in diverse forms. Customers can choose to get brief services lasting an hour or two if they are pressed for time, or take a course of several days. Many spas also provide their clients instruction in traditional Thai massage, meditation, and the preparation of holistic food. For hygiene and safety, these health spas require certification by the Ministry of Public Health. Both Buddhists and non-Buddhists are encouraged to practice meditation in order to enhance their concentration and emotional balance. In Bangkok, there are several meditation institutions in peaceful surroundings. Some also teach in English.

The massage school Wat Pho near the Royal Place is famous. Massages here are only $5. The Oriental Hotel offer "jet lag massages" for $45. Recommended places include: 1) Makkasan Thai Traditional Massage (recommended by the Hyatt, includes a sex joint); 2) Winwan Clinic (advertised in a tourist magazine); and 3) Buathip Thai Message, near Winwan;

Sylvia Hui of Associated Press wrote: “Massage parlors and day spas are a dime a dozen here, but locals and travel guides alike gush about Ruen Nuad, a homely, unpretentious two-story shack tucked away in a quiet courtyard in the busy Silom area. If you're sweaty from shopping, hop back to the hotel for a quick shower before heading here - there are minimal amenities and rooms are as spartan as a monk's quarters, though everything is sparkly clean. Enjoy an aromatherapy oil massage that costs as little as $17 an hour amid the soothing white interior, or go for the Thai massage if you're up for stronger healing hands. Ruen Nuad is at 42 Convent Road - exit BTS Skytrain Sala Daeng station towards Patpong, then turn left away from the main Silom Road into Convent Road when you see the California Fitness Center. The spa is five minutes down the road, across from the BNH Hospital. It does not appear to accept credit cards, so remember to bring cash. [Source: Sylvia Hui, Associated Press, September 3, 2006]

The Divana Spa is a more luxurious choice but just as good value. A 10-minute walk from the BTS Asok station, it's a haven tastefully decked out in chocolate wood, rustic Thai furniture, and dimmed lighting. Guest rooms are large, soothingly dimmed and fitted with a steam room for one, as well as a small bathtub. It's immaculate, and service is impeccable. Guests are welcomed with a scented cold towel and lemongrass tea upon arrival.

Medical Tourism and Convention Centers in Bangkok

Medical Tourism has become one of the draws of Bangkok. A large number of foreigners seek medical services in Thailand, both for diagnosis and treatment. Thailand’s hospitals, which are equipped with up-to-date medical technology, are staffed by physicians known for their expertise, many of whom studied in the United States or Britain. The best hospitals provide excellent services, some comparable to five-star hotels, in comfortable medical centers, and at lower costs than similar treatments elsewhere.

Bangkok’s hospitals—most notably Bumrungrad Hospital— are known for their efficient, English-speaking physicians and the latest medical equipment. There are also specialized units such as cancer centers, brain and nerve centers, respiratory system centers, heart disease centers, and dentistry centers. Moreover, Bangkok offers cosmetic and reconstructive surgery by experts. Medical professionals in Bangkok are well-trained in both medical discipline and language skills, facilitating their communication with foreign patients.

Convention Centers in Bangkok have hosted a number of important meetings and conferences. The strategic location of Bangkok, served by various types of transport and with diverse choices of accommodation, means that it is ideal as the site of major functions such as seminars, exhibitions, and conventions. Bangkok is able to provide the necessary infrastructure for events, in terms of location, services, and transport, thanks to the convenient road system, mass transport, and Suvarnabhumi Airport. On top of this, the creative ideas of Thai companies hired as organizers and operators, using new technologies in light, color, and sound, result in more interesting and productive seminars and conventions. The main venues for the biggest events are Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Center (BITEC) in Bang Na, and IMPACT Exhibition and Convention Center in Muang Thong Thani.

The Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau, or TCEB, has been set up to promote and develop conventions and exhibitions in Thailand, working jointly with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thailand Incentive and Convention Association, Trade Exhibition Association (Thai), Thai Hotels Association, Thai Airways International, and various other organizations in government and the private sector to provide services and support each stage of preparation and operations, in a concerted effort to develop and upgrade conventions and exhibitions in Thailand to an even higher level.


There are more than 50,000 places to eat in Bangkok or roughly one for every 125 residents. Bangkok is filled with so many restaurants it is difficult to know where to begin enjoying them. Thai food, Chinese food, Italian food, Malaysian food, Japanese food, Korean food and other international cuisines are all available in Bangkok. There are also McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and pizza places. Tourist offices and major hotel can provide you with suggestions for restaurants. Newsstands in areas frequented by tourists usually sell restaurant guides in English. Also check lists of restaurants in the local entertainment magazines, newspapers, the Lonely Planet books and other guidebooks.

Many of the most famous restaurants in Bangkok are located in the large hotels. A typical $40-per-head meal offered at a hotel like the Mandarin Oriental features crispy fried catfish with green mango, Thai dumplings filled with crabmeat, banana blossom and shrimp salad and duck satay with peanut butter sauce. The Mandarin Oriental, Peninsula, Shangri-La and Hilton are all situated near the Chao Phraya River, which used to be the heart of Bangkok but now is more on the tourist fringe. Among the hotels are some excellent on-hotel restaurants with good food and views of the river, which are particularly good at night when many buildings and sights are lit up.

There are lots of bars, cheap restaurants and street food in the backpacker areas around Khao San Road and Banglamphu (especially around Prah Athit Road) and at the night markets (see below). There are also good cheap restaurants around Sol Ngam Duphil, Hualamphong, Siam Square, and Sukhumvit Road. Chinatown is known for its restaurants and street food.

Many of Bangkok’s shopping malls have air-conditioned food courts. Noodle shops and food stands are everywhere. Many people say the best street food is available behind the stock exchange on Witthayu Roads and the business district around Silom Road. The Sala Sabai Rivernight Market near the Sheraton has a nice atmosphere and good barbecued seafood, soups, stir-fry and snacks served from food stalls. There are also restaurants that specialize in bird's nest soup, and delicacies such as liquid essence of chicken and cuttlefish-flavored peas.

Because of Bangkok’s lax zoning laws, some fine restaurants can be found in warehouses and former homes. Small streets like Soi Convent are filled with trendy restaurants. One of the most popular restaurants with foreign tour groups is Cabbages and Condoms, whose profits help fund a Thai birth control and health program. MBK Food Court (on the sixth floor of the MBK shopping mall) was ranked No. 8 of 791 things to do in Bangkok by Lonely Planet traveller. The expansive food court features vendors selling dishes from all over Thailand and many other countries too. The food offering include cassually-tossed-together-but delicious papaya salads, coconut broth soups with shrimp and chicken, pre-packaged sushi sets, deli-style salads and a variety of noodles. There is a dining area called 'Kou Asian' with an interesting menu, which includes vegetarian fare. Here you can either sit down for a quick bite or take home a neatly-wrapped item from the bakery, or something from the fruit or dessert stall. For many purchases you buy tickets first and use the tickets to purchase what you want. Any tickets you don’t use can be refunded at another desk.

Royal Dragon Restaurant: World's Second Largest Restaurant

Royal Dragon Restaurant (Mang Gorn Luang, Bangkok) was the world's largest restaurant according to the Guinness Book of Records. Opened in October 1991, it covers 8.35 acres and has seating for 5,000 customers. It is so large that the 550 or so waiters and service people roller skate between the kitchen and the tables. In 2002, the title of world's largest restaurant was claimed by the Bawabet Dimashq (Damascus Gate) Restaurant in Damascus, Syria, which has just over 6,000 seats.

Located in the outskirts of Bangkok on an parcel of land the size of eight football fields, it employees 1,200 people (including 322 chefs), and offers 1,000 different seafood, Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Western dishes. Almost 1,000 kilograms of seafood is used everyday in a kitchen that has 24,500 plates and 21,500 bowls. During peak times on the weekend 3,000 dishes are cooked an hour. Designed an by an ethnic Chinese architect, the restaurant is modeled after the Imperial Place in Beijing. At the center of the of the main dining area is a pond with swans and fishes, and a bridge with nine turns that is supposed to bring good luck to anyone who crosses it. The second largest restaurant in the world is the 6.9-acre Thai Palace, also in Bangkok.

Bangkok Restaurants Win Two Michelin Stars for First Time

In 2019, two restaurants in Bangkok were each awarded two of coveted Michelin stars, the first time the leading guide had awarded the accolade to local establishments offering Thai cuisine. AFP reported: “The restaurants Sorn and R-Haan were upgraded from their previous one-star rating in the third edition of the "Michelin guide in Thailand".“Sorn celebrates traditional techniques and recipes from southern Thailand, where it sources from a network of small producers. At the helm of R-Haan, Chef Chumpol offers food inspired by products from all regions of the kingdom. [Source: AFP, November 12, 2019]

“No establishment won three stars in this 2020 edition, but three others retain two — the French restaurants Le Normandie and Mezzaluna, as well as that of German twin brothers Suhring. This year some 29 establishments in Thailand received stars. Gwendal Poullennec, international director of Michelin Guides, said the ratings showcased "Thailand's rich diversity and high quality of local produce".

“Thailand is already famed for its street food and Bangkok's curbside crab omelette standout Jay Fai retained its one star. Despite criticism over its alleged Eurocentrism and focus on pricey restaurants, the red guide, created in 1900, remains a key reference in the world of the gastronomy. Out of some 20,000 restaurants listed worldwide, only about one hundred have achieved the highest distinction of the "three stars". Michelin covers Asia in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Macau, Shanghai, Seoul, Singapore, Taiwan and Bangkok.”

“The following are some places that received one Michelin Star in the debut Bangkok guide in 2017 along with their reviews: 1) Bo.Lan: Thai cuisine: “The chef-owners Duangporn Songvisava and Dylan Jones grow their own vegetables and serve them in a renovated Thai house that hopes to have a zero-carbon footprint by 2018. All dishes, which change quarterly but have included local favourites such as panang curry and spicy wing bean salad, are served at the same time. 2) “Nahm: Thai cuisine:“Located in the Como Metropolitan hotel, Nahm is a Thai restaurant run by the Australian-born chef David Thompson. The dishes are authentic and do not shy away from the heavy doses of fresh chilli loved by Thais. Michelin said the flavours are “intense yet perfectly balanced”. Thompson’s London branch of Nahm was the first restaurant in the world to receive a Michelin star for cooking Thai food. 3) Suhring: contemporary German cuisine: “Run by the twin chefs Thomas and Mathias Suhring, the first German fine-dining restaurant in Bangkok gained quick recognition. Its 12-course tasting menu is filled with homely German flavours and includes multiple wine pairings.[Source: Oliver Holmes. The Guardian, December 6, 2018]

”Gaggan with progressive Indian cuisine won two Michelin stars “Owned by Gaggan Anand, this is one of the most well-known restaurants in Bangkok, winning first place in the prestigious Asia’s 50 best restaurants list two years in a row. Gaggan has been praised for his playful food and culinary wit, expressed in a 25-course tasting menu.”


In 2017, CNN named Bangkok as the city with the world's best street food for the second year in a row. Lale Arikoglu wrote in Conde Nast Travelers: “There are few places that rival Bangkok when it comes to its street food. So much so, that its street-side vendors are considered a destination unto themselves, and cities the world over strive to recreate the chewy sweetness of a perfectly grilled satay or a hawker’s fiery wok-fried noodles for twice the price. [Source: Lale Arikoglu, Conde Nast Travelers, April 21, 2017]

Among the busiest street vendor areas are Chinatown’s Yaowarat and Khao San Road. Hannah Beech wrote in the New York Times: “The coconut wood pestle hits the mortar, and the chili fumes rise in a cough-inducing haze. The lime rind bruises. Salted crab releases its funk, along with bits of claw and carapace. Shreds of green papaya are tossed in, bathed in a blast of fermented fish paste tempered by palm sugar. The smell is alive and dead, asphyxiating and alluring all at once. More than anything, this green papaya salad, made in a street cart by a woman who has been wielding her pestle for three and a half decades, provides the perfume of Bangkok. [Source: Hannah Beech, New York Times, December 14, 2019]

“The sheer variety of food on Bangkok’s streets is astonishing — soups fortified with lemongrass and pork blood, glutinous rice dumplings stuffed with chives, roti rich with condensed milk and bananas. There’s pad thai, too, tangles of wok-charred noodles laced with tamarind and palm sugar.”

Louise Palmberg wrote in the New York Times: “What struck me more than anything was the mobility of the various food operations. At the Maeklong Railway Market in Samut Songkhram, about 40 miles southwest of Bangkok, an active rail line slices a clean path directly through the vendors’ stations; their awnings and umbrellas are retracted, with mere inches to spare, each time a train arrives and departs. [Source: Louise Palmberg, New York Times, June 1, 2020]

“The aromas here are rich and pungent — smoked, cured, dried and fresh seafood, along with many forms of meat, both raw and cooked. The awnings over the stalls create a shadowy atmosphere that’s punctuated by thin streaks of dancing light.

“The markets here draw a fair number of tourists. But they’re also essential to local restaurateurs and chefs. It’s common to see departing tuk-tuks and motorbikes that are fully laden with vegetables, soon to be featured as fresh ingredients on plates and in bowls throughout the city. At the Khlong Toei market, one of Bangkok’s largest and most trafficked, I lost my way in a maze of tiny alleyways — and, despite spending several hours here, I experienced only a small fraction of what was on offer. “Observing the vendors themselves is breathtaking: their poise, their efficiency, the fluidity of their movements. I watched, transfixed, as one woman fried spring roll wrappers on a large skillet, expertly crafting three at once. The dexterity and precision of her movements were truly mesmerizing...Lately I find myself thinking back on all the moments of closeness — squeezing through alleyways in a crowded market, or sitting atop brightly colored plastic stools in narrow street stalls, or drinking beers alongside new acquaintances.”

'Queen of Thai Street Food' Wins Michelin Star

Jay Fai’s shophouse, run by Jay Fair and known for its crab omelette, won a Michelin Star in 2018. Oliver Holmes wrote in The Guardian: “A 70-year-old Thai street food seller who makes wok-fired dishes has been awarded a Michelin star at the launch of Bangkok’s first guide. Jay Fai, or Auntie Fai, is known for her scorching portions of noodles with prawns and crab, cooked over charcoal fires. The eccentric chef wears ski goggles to protect her eyes from the hot oil sloshing around giant woks in her tiny shophouse. “I was excited from the very first step I made in here,” said Jay Fai as she accepted the award at the five-star Grand Hyatt hotel, dressed in a white chef’s outfit. Her restaurant, an open kitchen with tiled walls and metal stools that spill out into the street, also sells rich, yellow crab curries. [Source: Oliver Holmes. The Guardian, December 6, 2018]

“Open daily in the old part of the Thai capital, the restaurant was one of 17 awarded stars, decided by Michelin after months of secret inspections. The other awardees consisted mainly of French haute cuisine restaurants, such as Le Normandie, where a jacket is “compulsory for gentlemen during dinner”, as well as upscale Thai restaurants. Chawadee Nualkhair, a Bangkok-based street food blogger, said: “Jay Fai is like the queen of Thai street food. She could have done anything with her fame: chain restaurants, street food branches, a fancy secondary location, but she didn’t. She stayed at her open-air shophouse with her two woks. I’m glad she’s finally getting some recognition.” The prices are, however, not in keeping with street food, which locals put down to her large portions. A Jay Fai favourite is her browned, thick crab omelette for which she charges about £20.

“The guide has 28 street food locations in it, although Michelin Guides’ international director, Michael Ellis, told the Guardian before the launch that only outlets with a physical address could be included, which excludes Bangkok’s thousands of wheeled food carts. No restaurants achieved the coveted top Michelin accolade of three stars. While Jay Fai was the only street food vendor with a star, 18 were placed in the “Bib Gourmand” category, introduced in 1955 to recognise establishments providing stellar meals for a moderate price. One is a pad thai noodle shop, Baan Yai Phad Thai, which sells the dish for about £1. “You can find the entire encyclopaedia of Thai food in street food. It’s omnipresent. We realised that street food in Thailand is not just a meal like lunch or dinner. It’s really all day long,” Ellis said.

Bangkok Threatens to Ban Street Food

In 2017, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration announced that all street vendors in Bangkok's 50 districts would have to vacate their long-held spots in the interest of "order and hygiene".“Chief advisor to Bangkok’s governor Wanlop Suwandee said officials said: “The street vendors have seized the pavement space for too long and we already provide them with space to sell food and other products legally in the market, so there will be no let-up in this operation. Every street vendor will have to move out."No exceptions." [Source: Chloe Sargeant, SBS, 19 Apr 2017]

Chloe Sargeant of SBS wrote:“Thailand's junta has run an extensive campaign to "clean up" cities and "return happiness" to the country since taking power in 2014, but previous attempts to remove food stalls have failed. David Thompson, author of Thai Street Food and the man behind both the award-winning Nahm restaurant in Bangkok says it would be a terrible blow. "It's loved by the rich and tourists, but street food is essential for the poorer part of Thailand - people who are paid a subsistance wage can't afford food in restaurants and marketplaces. And it's not only food for the poorly paid, but employment and income for others. "It will, I believe, cause unrest and disquiet. One thing I've learnt is you never get between a Thai and their food."

“In trying to create order in a "wonderfully chaotic city", the government was doing itself a disservice, he tells SBS. "I'm astounded that they are trying to reform a society of inveterate snackers." "Trying to break the habit of generations is almost impossible. I suspect that if there is a pushback - and I hope there will be - then they may decide to open the streets again."

“Bangkok-based food blogger Chawadee Nualkhair told The Guardian, "Street food was still too popular with the locals. Of course, it would make Bangkok less charming. But it also takes a big chunk of cheap options away from working Thais, and closes up an avenue of work for many. Where will shop employees, construction workers and taxi drivers eat?"

“The BMA says that the central district of Siam has already been completely eradicated of street food vendors, and streets in Thong Lor and Ekkamai received notice that they must leave their long-held positions by June 1. This deadline was then brought forward to April 16th, 2017, so all street vendors in the area have disappeared within the past few days. Signs are now posted in the area stating that permits to trade have been revoked by city hall.

Bangkok Doesn't Ban But Limits Street Food Stalls

After outcry from locals, the media and tourists, Bangkok's street food stalls were not banned after all but vendors were required to comply with far stricter regulations than before. Lale Arikoglu wrote in Conde Nast Travelers:“According to The Nation, an English-language website based in Bangkok, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has said that vendors will still be allowed to operate in designated areas and small alleys, as well as along zoned areas like Chinatown’s Yaowarat and Khao San Road, popular street food spots that were originally reported to be the next targets for the cleanup. “The BMA plans to promote Yaowarat and Khao San Road as major tourist attractions in Bangkok,” Wanlop Suwandee, chief adviser to the Bangkok governor, said at a press conference. “Street food and street vendors are still allowed in the zoned areas, as we are trying to make the areas tidy and clean, but sellers must comply with the law.” The new rules will include a ban on washing dishes street-side and vendors will have to attend compulsory training courses. Some of the city’s paving will be repaired, too, and earlier this week Suwandee said that the government's aim was to "return the pavements to the pedestrians." [Source: Lale Arikoglu, Conde Nast Travelers, April 21, 2017]

“Amid a swirl of contradictory reports, it’s unclear at this point whether there ever was going to be a ban. The Bangkok Post reported only that “street food order” was on its way or if the new restrictions are just the next stage of a cleanup that was already well under way. So far, thousands of vendors are already feeling the effects: According to the BBC, BMA officials had evicted nearly 15,000 vendors from 39 public areas in the city by the summer of 2016, and many others have already been cleared out of neighborhoods like the central district of Siam, Pratunam, and the flea market under Phra Phuttayotfa Bridge. Going forward, the stricter hygiene standards could lead to plenty more stalls being forced to close, and many will continue to be relocated to clear the way for pedestrians and congested traffic. One roadside vendor, Chaluay Thongku, told Reuters that being moved to a designated area would mean essentially re-building his business from scratch. "I disagree with this because I'll have to start all over again," he said.

“So how cautious should travelers be when it comes to chowing down a spicy snack in Bangkok in terms of hygiene anyway? When Condé Nast Traveler spoke to Andy Ricker of Pok Pok , who brought authentic street-style Thai food to the U.S., last year, his advice was not to be deterred: “Make sure to go somewhere there are a lot of people eating, because that’s a good sign the food is good and it’s a healthy place. You actually have a better chance of monitoring how clean and how good the food is eating in street-side restaurants, where people are cooking in front of you.”

“The efforts to control and regulate the street food stalls are part of a wider “clean up” operation by Thailand's military junta, which has been in power since 2014; and though the clean up shows no sign of easing, it's unlikely the street food stalls will vanish, regardless of the week's news cycle. Andrea Ross, CEO of tour company Journeys Within, which has an office in Bangkok, is confident that the demand is too high for the city's street food to ever disappear. "If you look at Thai culture and people’s day to day lives you know that street vendors are a key part of life in Bangkok and not for tourists, I think that’s the draw," she told Condé Nast Traveler. "They won’t disappear, but I believe, just be more regulated...When I lived in Bangkok you saw locals getting snacks and small meals at all hours of the day and night. This demand in and of itself is going to make sure that street food doesn’t disappear entirely." While noting that designated markets that charge vendors for their space could send some stalls out of business, Ross believes that "in the end this will be a good thing as sidewalks will become safer and local, established markets will flourish."

“So while there may be fewer places to grab a bite on any given corner going forward, in the end visitors can still expect to get an authentic Bangkok street food experience just like before. It just might be a more regulated and organized one as opposed to spontaneous and chaotic—and, for some, wasn’t that part of the charm?”

Limiting Street Vendors in Bangkok

Hannah Beech wrote in the New York Times: “Street food vendors — with their pungent salads, oodles of noodles and coconut sweetmeats — have lately become the target of some of the capital’s planners. To them, this metropolis of 10 million residents suffers from an excess of crowds, clutter and health hazards. The floods, the heat, the stench of clogged canals and rotting fruit, the pok pok pok of that pestle — it’s all too much. [Source: Hannah Beech, New York Times, December 14, 2019]

“They prefer an air-conditioned Bangkok, with malls, ice-skating rinks and Instagrammable dessert cafes. They want the street food vendors gone. Already, the number of areas designated for street food has decreased from 683 three years ago to 175, according to the Network of Thai Street Vendors for Sustainable Development.

“Sakoltee Phattiyakul, the deputy governor of Bangkok, dismissed fears that street food would be gone from Bangkok this year. “No, no, no, we’re not going to ban to zero,” he said, stressing that a local government initiative to clear the city’s sidewalks of clutter was “just a plan that we have had for years.” Others within the government bureaucracy have sent a different message, though, leaving vendors spooked. Earlier this month, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said the sidewalk cleanup campaign was moving ahead.

“And so Somboon Chitmani, who has been making green papaya salad in the streets of Bangkok for 36 years, waits. By the end of this year, she has heard, street cooks could be cleared out of central Bangkok. “If they want to get rid of us, we can’t do anything to protest because it’s the law,” Ms. Somboon said. “But Bangkok to me is about street food. Without it, it wouldn’t feel the same.”

Importance of Street Food in Bangkok

Hannah Beech wrote in the New York Times: “For some Thais, street food is about survival. Nearly 15 percent of Thailand’s citizens live in Bangkok, and many cling to the fringes of one of the world’s most unequal societies. The capital’s notorious traffic forces long commutes, meaning it’s often impractical to return home to eat lunch, or even dinner until late. Besides, many people rent lodging without kitchens. [Source: Hannah Beech, New York Times, December 14, 2019]

“A study by the Beyond Food project, which researches the socioeconomic impact of street food in Bangkok, found that if street food consumers were forced to switch to food courts or convenience store fare, they would have to work an extra day each month at minimum wage to afford the increased prices.

““This is not just food for the poor, it’s food for everyone.” said Jorge Carrillo Rodriguez, a Venezuelan social anthropologist, who founded Beyond Food. “Even in Thai slums, people are incredibly picky about what they eat because they are used to a mind-blowing diversity of food.” But even people with middle to high incomes eat an average of 8 to 10 meals per week on the road, the group’s research found.

“The value of the capital’s street food was underscored in another way when the Michelin guide began recognizing street stalls alongside restaurants offering foie gras emulsions and truffle ice cream.For three generations, a dim alley in Bangkok’s Chinatown was home to a rice porridge stand opened by an immigrant from southern China. Then, in 2017, the street stall was included in Michelin’s Bangkok edition.

“Jok Prince, as the eatery is known, has since traded its spot in the alley for walls, a roof and insistent fluorescent lights. The porridge, smoky and studded with meatballs, remains the same. “With the new restaurant, “we’re safe,” said Sarunpraphut Unhawat, the granddaughter of the original porridge vendor. “But I wonder, if street food is cleared out of Bangkok, then what will be the city’s selling point?”

“What’s more, any crackdown by city authorities on Bangkok’s street food would disproportionately affect women; about 80 percent of Thailand’s street food purveyors are female, said Raywat Chobtham, of the Thai street vendors network. “Hundreds of thousands of women support their households with their cooking from a cart,” he said. “Do we want to take these jobs away?”

Street Food Vendor in Bangkok

Hannah Beech wrote in the New York Times: “ Sopa Hojkham came to Bangkok from Thailand’s northeastern heartland to work at a public relations firm. When the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997, she lost her job. So she called home and asked her mother the secret to her green papaya salad. “Each day, Ms. Sopa, who wears oversized red-framed glasses to shield her eyes from chili vapors, goes through 66 pounds of green papaya and 132 pounds of chicken wings (about 30 and 60 kilograms), bought at 3 a.m. at a wholesale market. [Source: Hannah Beech, New York Times, December 14, 2019]

“Buckets of chilies are arrayed around her — some like tiny torpedoes named in Thai after mouse droppings; gangly ones roasted a deep crimson; peppers that have a fruity finish and are known in English as birds’ eyes. “Without spicy food, Bangkok would be too calm,” Ms. Sopa said.

“Street food is also a family business for Nitisak Trachoo, whose parents have pushed a pair of food carts across Bangkok for 27 years. Mr. Nitisak, 28, once worked as a bellboy but two years ago, when his parents asked him for help, he returned to the streets. Each day, as demure office workers and tourists in short shorts watch, he pours streams of green batter into a mold for tiny cakes fragrant with the vanilla-like juice of the pandan leaf, a common flavoring in Southeast Asia. On a recent afternoon, steam wafted from the griddle, adding a syrupy note to the humid air. “Being a bellboy is a lot easier,” Mr. Nitisak said, mopping away sweat. “But when my parents asked me to help I came right away because it’s the Thai way.”

“Across town, Ms. Somboon and her husband pounded papaya and grilled fish and chicken in a barrel converted into a grill. A small, golden deity sat on a glass case filled with tomatoes, limes and gangly herbs. A tropical tree shaded the stall. When the couple first claimed this stretch of sidewalk more than three decades ago, they planted the sapling, barely knee high. Now, pots and pans hang from its trunk, and its arc of leaves takes the edge off the heat. The line of customers includes college students, construction workers and housewives with the chill of air-conditioning still clinging to their clothes.

“Sometimes, Ms. Somboon’s daughter, who works in a law firm, orders takeout from her parents’ stall. A motorcycle delivers plastic bags of their food to the building. Ms. Somboon’s son lives in Colorado. He studied computers in Illinois, and he isn’t going to sweat it out on the streets of Bangkok for a living. “I taught him how to cook before he left,” Ms. Somboon said. “I taught him how to survive.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2020

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