Field Notes: Thailand’s Pedestrian Streets and Open Markets
by Emily Huang
Last year, I traveled to Thailand to teach English. This was my second time travelling to Thailand. The first time, I was around twelve years old and only followed my parents around. This time, I observed the locals and their way of life, immersed myself into Thai culture, their tradition, and even attempted to learn some Thai and Burmese language. Thailand is an absolutely beautiful and interesting country, with nearly no traffic stops, no regulation of traffic speeds in suburban areas, and multiple dangerous jay walking experiences.
Exploring Thailand, I noticed the locals not only make great use of their public spaces, their daily lives actually require the usage of these spaces. The pedestrian streets or empty spaces of land are not only for pedestrian purposes; these streets and spaces are transformed daily into makeshift street vendors and shops selling clothing, accessories, electronics, street food and drinks. One day I went to an open market and thought the whole market was deserted! I eventually found out that these markets only run during certain times of the day and the week. These street vendors either last the whole day or only open during peak hours when workers are on break, as this will generate the most profit. Many times, I also saw locally-owned restaurants transforming the sidewalks by placing various stools and tables onto the open street. The restaurant environment extends and merges into the sidewalk, a way to create a socializing atmosphere. You also see these open air restaurants and street vendors form a bazaar-like setting, where they encircle themselves around many tables and chairs under a great rooftop. Since food is especially attractive to foreigners in Thailand, people also congregate to parks and various other green spaces to enjoy their meals with family and friends.
The crossover in these public spaces benefits many people, from the sellers and buyers top tourists and the economy. It allows tourists to experience authentic Thai culture through public space uses such as local street food vendors. On the other hand, locals depend on public spaces for income and simultaneously transform the environment into a gathering space for locals, especially to eat, as eating is never done alone in Thailand.
These communal gatherings and street vendors reconstruct the urban spaces of Thailand into communities that are created by the locals themselves, rather than by the government or private sector, touching upon the blurry territory of public space and privatized space. It seems like Thailand is becoming one of the many places where public space is used for the purpose and the benefit of the true public — everyone sharing space for business, enjoyment, leisure, and community.