Bangkok's 'Dark Market' to become latest casualty of junta's cleanup

The curtain is set to come down on Khlong Thom night market, one of Bangkok's largest street markets which dates back over three decades.

After tomorrow, the market - highly popular with street shoppers, as it has every kind of goods, either brand-new or second-hand, all at bargain prices - will be known only for what it was.

Khlong Thom is a "casualty" like other public places that have been subject to crackdowns by the Prayuth government such as beaches cluttered with deck chairs and people renting umbrellas, plus street hawkers.

The government has said its intention to crack down on street hawkers is to return footpaths to pedestrians.

But in the case of Khlong Thom, it is not just footpaths, because every Saturday night vendors block cars from entering nine streets in the inner city - so they can be turned into shopping venues as dusk or night falls.

The market continues on from Saturday night till Sunday night.

On December 8 last year, Bangkok Metropolitan Adminis-tration advisor Wallop Suwannadi delivered an order that struck down the market, declaring that traders would be allowed to sell only till the end of last year.

The BMA will on Monday dispatch 600 police, soldiers and municipal police to ensure shoppers comply with the order.

The nine streets that make up Khlong Thom market are Charoenkrung, Worajak, Sua Pa, Plabplachai, Mahachak, Yommarajsukhum, Chao Kaorop and Srithammathirat in the Pom Prab Sattru Phai district of Bangkok.

More than 2,000 traders display their goods fully on the roads and footpaths.

Some shophouses on these streets also take the opportunity to trade as thousands come to shop for inexpensive goods in this street market.

Khlong Thom is also known as the "Dark Market" because goods are laid down on streets and alleys that are not brightly illuminated.

Shoppers carry torches to shine a light on items while shopping. That is why it has also been called the "Torch Market".

Others believe that the name "Dark Market" derives from the fact that some items sold there came from robberies and thefts, such as motorcycle and car parts.

This is another reason police crack down on the market and vendors - to try to reduce the chance of thieves selling stolen goods.

For shoppers this market presents thrills and challenges, because if they are lucky they can get valuable items at a bargain price.

Most of the goods sold are second-hand products such as clocks, watches, toy cars, mechanic tools, clothes, shoes, electrical appliances.

What are most sought after by shoppers are antiques, plus old and rare items.

Debate has raged on social media as to whether the market should be shut down with opponents and supporters arguing over the plan to shift shoppers at Khlong Thom elsewhere.

Before the curtain came down, traders called on the BMA, on December 23, to allow them two more months.

The BMA has said that they can sell their goods under the expressway across the capital (but only on Sunday), plus other markets such as the old Southern Bus Terminal, the Tha Din Daeng Market, Ratchadapisek Market, Soho market, Thon Buri market and the Saithong Property's markets.

Chatchawal, 37, who sells snacks at the Khlong Thom market, said the BMA refused to talk or assist the traders and dismissed reports that the BMA had helped find other markets for traders. He said he depended on this market for his livelihood for over 20 years.

"We do not know what to do - we cannot protest because martial law is in force. I am very stressed out, as I do not know where can I make a living. Most traders in shophouses can hardly make sales on weekdays," he said.

A shopper identified only as Muay, 35, said she was mesmerised by the market - the massive variety and amount of cheap goods available, as well as just viewing. She had shopped there regularly for more than 10 years, she said.

"Where can we find a market that you can buy goods at such a bargain price? I felt so saddened by the demise of this market.

"I wonder why the big fuss about closing it down when the market only opens one night a week. Now where can I go on Saturday night?" she said.

Another shopper known as Too, 24, said he was a big fan of Khlong Thom. He took every chance he had if he was free on Saturday night to shop at the market.

"I was shocked upon hearing the news about the market closing. I love shopping for toys like cartoon characters, as I collect them. Goods here are so cheap - where else can you find things this cheap?'' he said.

However, Por, 30, a former resident whose house was at the heart

of Khlong Thom market, voiced delight at hearing news that the market would close.

She said every Saturday night she could not sleep because sellers put on loud music to try to lure shoppers. It upset her so much, she decided to buy a new house in the suburbs and move out.

It remains to be seen if tonight will be the last night of the Dark Market.