Fight to keep iconic signs on Khao San Road

FILE PHOTO: What would Khao San Road be without the flurry of signs hanging above it?

Khao San Road is legendary as the backpacker hub of Thailand. It was once teeming with street vendors and bars spilling out into the streets, aggressive tuk-tuk drivers and ping-pong show advertisers. A barrage of sights and sounds and smells for fresh young backpackers to be overwhelmed by as Khao San Road stretched under snarls of metal signs hovering above the street, squeezing in markers for the hundreds of businesses lining the streets.

And Khao San has remained close to that original hot mess, despite numerous attempts in recent years to remodel and revamp, to gentrify the backpacker heaven. In the latest attempt and tidying up the neighbourhood, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is attempting to pull down all that mesh of signs above the streets of Khao San Road.

business owners along Khao San Road have asked the Interior Ministry to coordinate with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to delay the removal of their shop signs and arrange a meeting to find a solution to this issue, according to Matichon newspaper.

The President of the Khaosan Business Association stated that these signs have been there forever and are part of the unique charm of the street for tourists. Foreigners like to take photos of them, and they are iconic – able to be recognized instantly by anyone who’s been to or seen Khao San Road.

These shop signs do not cause any inconvenience to the public or obstruct traffic and are necessary to attract people’s attention because the stalls block the shop fronts.

Owners are complying with laws and paid billboard taxes, with many having paid the tax in advance. They agree to conditions being imposed on the sign installations to certify their sturdiness and make sure they are not a safety hazard.

The business association president argues that dismantling the shop signs would affect local businesses. Entrepreneurs are concerned that removing these signs would destroy the popularity and the easily identifiable visual of this area, just as tourism is beginning to recover.

After the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly 95% of entrepreneurs have resumed their operations. Income is back to nearly 70% of what they were pre-pandemic. As a result, cash flow is now approximately 15 million baht daily.

The total number of tourists has recovered to 80%, of pre-Covid, with Westerners forming the majority of visitors, and Asians starting to arrive as well.

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.