Street vendors on Khao San Road in Bangkok are calling for state agencies to come up with tourism campaigns to attract many more foreign visitors to return to this famous backpacker street after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Khao San Road in Phra Nakhon district is on Rattanakosin island, which is the old town centre of Bangkok and home of its main attractions. The road and its surrounding sois are home to low-cost accommodation, making the road popular among foreign tourists.
Bars, cheap open-air restaurants, market stalls, street food carts and travel agents are also located along the road.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic started nearly three years ago, the government had issued strict travel restrictions for travellers around the world, making it more difficult to enter the country.
Khao San Road was no exception, as the number of foreign tourists visiting the road dropped sharply.
Operators of bars and open-air restaurants were required to comply with strict measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and had to close their businesses because of a sharp drop in foreign customers.
Street vendors dependent on these foreign tourists also felt the pinch with some shutting down their businesses.
Thailand has fully reopened for tourism since Oct 1, cancelling travel restrictions, quarantine requirements and Covid-19 vaccination documents to allow tourists to enter the country.
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However, some vendors on Khao San Road interviewed by the Bangkok Post said the number of foreign tourists visiting the 2km road has not increased as much as expected despite the fact the government started easing travel restrictions to curb Covid-19 mid-year and reopened the country for full tourism last month.
“We’re still waiting for them…. come back to Khao San. We still need all of you,” Somwang Charoensuk, 58, a clothes street seller said.
“There are few foreign customers today,” Ms Somwang added.
Asked what the government should do to draw more foreign tourists, she said more tourism campaigns should be created to promote travel to Khao San Road and certain places on Rattanakosin island.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration should work more closely to make travellers know they can now travel to Thailand and find affordable accommodation on Khao San Road, she said.
Ms Somwang said the location of Khao San Road is ideal for foreign tourists as it is close to many key tourist destinations such as the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo and shopping places like Bang Lamphu.
It is also close to the Chao Phraya River. They can hang out at chic restaurants and coffee shops along the river and Tha Phra Chan Road nearby.
“Before the pandemic, I earned around 5,000–6,000 baht a day, but now I earn just 1,000–2,000 baht a day,” she said.
“After the pandemic, most foreign tourists are more careful with spending. It’s even harder to close a sale each time. They want me to give them a big discount,” said Ms Somwang, who has been selling clothes for almost 30 years on the road.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, she closed her business for two years and had to subsist on savings.
Khwanthip Jungthong, 39, a street cart vendor who sells phad Thai and a variety of cold energy drinks, soft drinks and bottled juice, said she was glad to be back to this road again after leaving it two years ago when the pandemic started.
“I earned 6,000-8,000 baht a day before the pandemic, but now I earn just 3,000 baht a day. I work from 1pm to almost midnight every day,” she said.
Ms Khwanthip said state agencies must help create campaigns and promotions every weekend and during big festivals like Songkran, Christmas and New Year to attract foreigners.
“We have not celebrated the New Year and the Songkran festivals together for two years. So, the government must organise these two big events next year and should regularly promote events every holiday to encourage tourists to visit,” she said.
Ms Khwanthip, who has been working on this backpacker road for 13 years, said she moved back to her home town in a northern province of Phetchabun right after the pandemic.
“My life was terrible during the pandemic. I used up all my savings. I earned a little money from selling food at a flea market there. But it was not enough for the whole family,” she said.
Famous street food
Pau Rodriguez, 28, a company employee from Spain, said he opted to travel to Thailand during his holidays because the country has a wide range of tourist attractions.
He said he decided to stay at a hotel on Khao San Road because the room price was reasonable and the road offered many things for him to explore, especially a wide range of street food.
“This is my first time on Khao San Road. A lot of people go out at night to party while it is a good place to walk during the day. I can find good food and fruit here. I recommend it,” Mr Rodriguez said.
Mohamed Makhlouf, 41, a plumber from France, said he liked visiting Khao San Road because it was convenient to walk to many temples nearby.
“This is my 25th time visiting Khao San. My first time was in 2001. It is also easy for me to find street food, especially phad Thai,” he said. Mr Makhlouf said he has visited Thailand 55 times.