Saturday, March 31, 2007

Saying good night to Bangkok’s night bazaar


Tonight may be the last night for a Bangkok institution that ranks among the Thai capital’s top five tourist attractions.

ON TUESDAY night, a dozen expatriates gathered at a beer garden in Suan Lum Night Bazaar to mourn the uncertain death of a Bangkok institution.

The tears were for fear the popular Suan Lum Night Bazaar located in the heart of the Thai capital would be bulldozed to make way for a high-rise commercial complex consisting of a shopping mall, offices and hotel.

According to the organiser of the gathering, Nima Chandler, a 30-something American who manages the well-known Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok, the lively bazaar is one of Bangkok’s top five tourist attractions.

“There is something here for everybody – Thais, tourists and expatriates – and you can get things that you can’t find anywhere else,” said Chandler.

What you can find in the bazaar are about 3,700 booth vendors hawking products such as wallets, Thai designer clothes, fake Liverpool jerseys, pirated DVDs and papier-mache heads of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and offering services like fortune telling and massage.

There’s also the Joe Louis Traditional Thai Puppet Theatre, La Roue De Paris (French Ferris Wheel) and a beer garden with nightly concerts or sports screenings.

“This is the only proper night market in Bangkok,” declared 55-year-old Charlie Mallanoo, who owns three booths selling Thai souvenirs.

“The other night markets are not convenient.”

Nearby there’s the Patpong night market. But as Mallanoo said: “If your wife needs to go to the toilet, she would have to use the one in the naked bar (go-go bar).”

Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok’s other famous market, the vendor noted, is also inconvenient as it is too far, too crowded and too confusing. And it's open only on weekends.

That night, strolling through the labyrinth of booths and alleys, there was no indication that the animated night bazaar was breathing its last.

However, at the bazaar’s entrance, a notice states: “The Crown Property Bureau has scheduled the area to be closed for redevelopment. Any person who resides and makes use of this property is required to move your belongings and vacate by March 31, 2007, otherwise legal action will be taken.”

But most of the vendors are confident the bazaar will remain open for two to three more years.

“Nobody knows what is going to happen to Suan Lum,” said Chandler.

Though Mallanoo echoes Chandler’s observation, he’s certain the night bazaar, which sits on the largest plot of land in Bangkok’s central business district, will remain in business until the courts hear out all the suits surrounding its fate.

The parties involved in the tussle for the bazaar are the owner of the 20.3ha land, Crown Property Bureau, which manages Thailand’s royal family’s assets; Central Pattana, which operates Thailand’s largest shopping mall, Central World Tower; and P Con Development, which opened the night bazaar in 2000 after obtaining a short-term lease to develop 6.4ha of the land.

“We will remain here. I don’t think the King’s property bureau will do any harm to the people here,” said Mallanoo.

Central Pattana, which was awarded a 30-year lease to develop the land, thinks otherwise.

“We are quite confident of developing a landmark to promote the good image of Bangkok,” Nattakit Tangpoonsinthanee, Central Pattana executive vice-president for marketing, told the media last month.

What happens when Central Pattana goes ahead to builds what most people believe will be Thailand’s tallest skyscraper?

“The 3,700 (bazaar booth) owners will get together, and we are going to do something,” said Mallanoo.

If indeed tonight is Suan Lum Night Bazaar’s last night, Chandler hopes her Tuesday gathering is not its final farewell party.

“It is so sad that a place like this that draws people might not have an official goodbye,” she said.

(Published in The Star on April 31, 2007)