Videos

Inside the Thriving World of Bangkok's Semi-Legal Street Vendors

A beautiful video tour of two lives lived in the city's informal economy.

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NextCity.org

In the below mini-documentary, a one-time company man in Bangkok narrates his attempt to leave the country's formal business sector for one of its most famous informal ones amid the city's throng of street vendors. Ae sells earrings, and he tried at one point to do so from a brick-and-mortor shop inside a mall. But the rent was too high, he explains.

"The people are on the streets," he says. "So I set up a stall on the street." To his surprise, he was up and running in five days – "no contract, no deposit." Today he makes nearly as much money vending jewelry as he once did in a managerial job.

As is the case in many developing countries, the line blurs in Bangkok between the formal and the informal, between those activities that are technically legal (like holding an office job or renting a home) and those for which there are few systems, laws or protections in place (like street vending, or building a makeshift home). This video – along with another on a community of slum-dwellers in Bangkok – was created as part of the Informal City Dialogues project in partnership between the Rockefeller Foundation, the Forum for the Future and our friends at Next City.

Ae's story is woven together with that of another man who credits his survival to the sale of sugar cane juice. Their vastly different backgrounds suggest that Bangkok's informal economy isn't simply a story about the city's poor. It's also a smaller piece of a much larger story throughout the developing urban world about these "grayish middle grounds" where so many people live. These two narratives, in particular, are also beautifully told.

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.