The Commodification of Public Spaces on Khao San Road

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Parisa Musigakama


This study focuses on the mechanisms and institutions for the governance of public spaces on Khao San Road, Bangkok. Khao San is a small road famous for tourism. It is located near major attractions, and is full of budget accommodations and street vendors. This street is known among the locals and foreign tourists as one of Bangkok’s most vibrant and lively.

Furthermore, Khao San offers immense opportunity for vendors, as it is crowded with tourists all day. This factor is of utmost importance to the success of businesses. Therefore, competitions for prime vending spots on the road have been going on for years. Under these circumstances, public spaces are transformed into private goods that can be traded, transferred and deprived in reality. With the qualitative method of grounded theory, this paper reveals the process of Khao San Road’s commodification as well as the mechanisms and institutions involved in the process. Qualitative data collected using three methods: non-participant observations, in-depth interviews, and document studies were triangulated and analysed. The findings suggest that both external and internal mechanisms have stimulated the commodification of public spaces on Khao San Road over the past decades. The external mechanisms are tourism and multinational capitalist economy. The internal mechanism relates to community norms on the de facto individual rights over public spaces. These mechanisms have developed unofficial rules to work at an operational level with official rules supervised by officials. A critical outcome of these mechanisms and rules is the determination of the right to access and use public spaces by various groups of stakeholders.

In conclusion, the paper discusses the relationship between the commodification of public spaces and the inequality problem. Public spaces as private goods are not different from other private possessions that can be excluded through price, authority, and policy mechanisms. Collaboration between mechanisms has resulted in only a small number of people having the opportunity to indeed access and utilise the resources on the street. People whose opportunity is denied need to bring themselves into the patronage system to ensure the survival of their businesses.


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Musigakama, P. (2019). The Commodification of Public Spaces on Khao San Road. Nakhara : Journal of Environmental Design and Planning, 17, 81-96. Retrieved from


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