Bangkok’s night bazaar defies deadline to close

By Viparat Jantraprap BANGKOK, Reuters

Shopowners at Bangkok’s Suan Lum Night Bazaar plan to defy a Monday deadline to pack up and leave while a court decides the fate of one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations.

“We will stay. We will not leave,” a giftshop owner Wanwisakha Chansorn told Reuters outside her tiny stall in the sprawling market of 3,000 shops, a handful of restaurants and a Thai puppet theater.

“Nobody plans to leave and we will go along with the majority,” she said of her fellow vendors who sell everything from flip flops, fake watches and other tourist trinkets to handmade furniture and silk art.

Shopkeepers like Wanwisakha can generate sales of 10,000-20,000 baht per day while paying a monthly rent of 5,000-8,000 baht.

“Most of our customers are foreigners. Nobody wants to leave at a time when they are making money,” she said of a major stop on Bangkok’s tourist map with busloads of foreign visitors, mostly Asian, visiting the night market each day.

Suan Lum’s days have long been numbered.

The large site next to Lumpini Park, downtown’s green lung, a subway station and a major intersection — is a prime piece of real estate owned by the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the royal family’s assets.

In February, the CPB signed a long-term lease on a large chunk of the site to mall developercentral Pattana, which may build Bangkok’s tallest building as well a hotel and shopping facilities, according to Thai newspapers.

The bureau is considering other developments, including an embassy row.

Critics have questioned whether Bangkok needs another hotel/shopping complex and whether such a development fits King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s sufficiency philosophy, which espouses frugality.

But Central Pattana’s executive vice president for marketing, Nattakit Tangpoonsinthanee, said in February: “We are quite confident of developing a landmark to promote the good image of Bangkok.”

However, the CPB must first wrest control of Suan Lum back from a property company, P. Con. Development, which was granted a short-term lease on the site of a former military college in 2000. It opened the night bazaar a year later.

P Con refused to leave after the lease expired in 2004 and according to the CPB, ignored lease extensions intended to give the shopkeepers time to leave.

The CPB set a final deadline for April 30 and went to court.