Street vendors are back on Khao San Road, but foreign tourists are yet to return in expected numbers.
Street vendors on Bangkok’s Khao San Road are urging state authorities to develop tourism campaigns to entice many more foreign visitors to return to this famous backpacker street in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Khao San Road in Phra Nakhon District is located on Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok’s old city center and home to the main attractions. The street and surrounding sois are home to budget accommodation, making the street popular with foreign tourists.
Bars, cheap open air restaurants, market stalls, street food carts and travel agencies are also found along the street.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic almost three years ago, the government had imposed strict travel restrictions on travelers around the world, making it difficult to enter the country.
Khao San Road was no exception as the number of foreign tourists visiting the street fell sharply.
Operators of bars and open-air restaurants have had to comply with strict measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and have had to close their shops due to a sharp drop in foreign customers.
Street vendors who depend on these foreign tourists also felt the pinch, as some closed their shops.
Thailand has fully reopened to tourism since October 1, lifting 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 have been surveyed by the Bangkok Post said the number of foreign tourists visiting the 2km road has not risen as much as expected, even though the government began easing travel restrictions in mid-year to try to contain Covid-19, and the country resumed last month open to full tourism.
“We’re still waiting for them… come back to Khao San. We all still need you,” said Somwang Charoensuk, 58, a street vendor.
“Today, there are few foreign customers,” added Ms. Somwang.
Asked what the government should do to attract more foreign tourists, she said more tourism campaigns should be launched to encourage travel to Khao San Road and certain spots on Rattanakosin Island.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration should work more closely to let travelers 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 major tourist destinations such as the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew and shopping spots such as Bang Lamphu.
It is also close to the Chao Phraya River. You can hang out at chic restaurants and cafes along the river and near Tha Phra Chan Road.
“Before the pandemic, I was making around 5,000-6,000 baht a day, but now I’m only making 1,000-2,000 baht a day,” she said.
“After the pandemic, most foreign tourists are more cautious about their spending. It’s even harder to close a sale every time. They want me to give them a big discount,” said Ms. Somwang, who has been selling clothes on the street for nearly 30 years.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, she closed her business for two years and had to live on savings.
Khwanthip Jungthong, 39, a street cart vendor who sells phad thai and a selection of cold energy drinks, soft drinks and bottled juices, said she’s glad to be back on this road after leaving it two years ago when the pandemic began.
“I was making 6,000-8,000 baht a day before the pandemic, but now I’m only making 3,000 baht a day. I work from 1 p.m. to almost midnight every day,” she said.
Ms Khwanthip said government agencies must help create campaigns and promotions to attract foreigners every weekend and during major festivals such as Songkran, Christmas and New Year.
“We haven’t celebrated the New Year and Songkran festivals together for two years. So the government needs to organize these two big events in the next year and should promote events regularly every holiday to encourage tourists to visit,” she said.
Ms Khwanthip, who has been working on this backpacker street for 13 years, said she returned to her hometown in northern Phetchabun province right after the pandemic hit.
“My life was terrible during the pandemic. I’ve used up all my savings. I made some money selling groceries at a flea market there. But it wasn’t enough for the whole family,” she said.
Famous street food
Pau Rodriguez, 28, a company employee from Spain, said he decided to travel to Thailand during his vacation because the country has a wide range of tourist attractions.
He said he chose a hotel on Khao San Road because the room rate is reasonable and the street offers him many things to explore, especially a wide variety of street food.
“I’m on Khao San Road for the first time. Many people go out at night to party while during the day it’s a good place to walk. I can find good food and fruit here. I recommend it,” Mr. Rodriguez said.
Mohamed Makhlouf, 41, a plumber from France, said he likes to visit Khao San Road because it’s convenient to walk to many temples nearby.
“This is my 25th time visiting Khao San. My first time was in 2001. It’s also easy for me to find street food, especially phad thai“, he said. Mr Makhlouf said he has visited Thailand 55 times.