Thailand’s Streets Aren’t Paved with Gold

I was taking a break at work the other day when a conversation with a colleague got around to my latest holiday in Thailand. We talked about my recent trip to Chiang Mai, a place my friend had previously visited. My friend then asked if there was another South-East Asian country I’d like to see and I replied Vietnam, he suggested Singapore, my answer was ”No it’s too clean” and for a long time after I was deep in thought about why I’d made such a strange statement.

My reply didn’t in any way mean that I’d expect Vietnam to be a dirty country, far from it, I’d imagine it to be very much like Thailand, clean but a bit cluttered and tarnished. Thailand lacks certain rules and regulations which countries like Singapore and most western nations apply rigidly when it comes to littering and general safety practices. And it’s that lack of regimental rules and laws, or at least an adherence to them that make a country like Thailand even more attractive to me. Sometimes the shiny, spic and span of the western world is an ugly sight to see.

Whenever I stay in Udon Thani city I often take to the streets for a walk, be it a trip to a bank or breakfast at a western bar, I’m one of those people who enjoy walking and being wrapped in my own thoughts along the way. I always take my camera with me and on my last stay in Udon Thani I decided to take some photographs of some of the obstructions which block your way when walking the streets of Thailand’s cities and towns.

Obstructions which I assume you wouldn’t see in Singapore due to their stricter laws and regulations.

Two motorbikes, a wheelie bin and a pile of rubble blocked my way here. I squeezed past the bin and around the row of motorbikes to continue my journey.

This path’s width got smaller and smaller as the corrugated fence leaned out over the pathway. The small rubbish bin is blocking the way but it’d take a brave man to move it. It appears to be holding the fence up. I weaved around the parked truck onto the road and rejoined the sidewalk just after it.

This stack of wooden pallets was left unattended for the few days I stayed in Udon Thani city and they left you with little option but to exit the path onto the road.

There’s plenty of space to pass by the caged fighting cock but the round mat behind it was there ready for another cage and cockerel to be put in place leaving no room to pass at all. It would take balls of steel to try stepping over a fighting cock who’s been left to bake in the hot sunshine.

With advertising boards, motorbikes and potted plants blocking the way this footpath turned into a single file route.

The photographs above were all taken one morning in Udon Thani about ten days ago but the picture below was snapped in the same city last year and was what triggered my idea for this post.

If you don’t fall into the hole then there’s every chance you’ll trip over the paving stone and land head first in the pile of rubble. There was no warning sign or safety barrier in sight.

Singapore’s footpaths may be clean and bubble gum free but I much prefer walking and weaving my way through Udon Thani’s streets where you can never be sure what’s going to be blocking your route around the next corner.


I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

23 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    Hi Martyn, yes the pavements in Thailand are certainly a minefield but my biggest hazard remains the awnings from stalls and the guide ropes for them. Not a problem for the average Thai but well placed to garotte must foreigners of medium height whose attention might be elsewhere 😉

  2. Martyn says:

    Mike I forgot about about the market stall guide ropes, it’s the ankle height ones that get me and Wilai’s comment gets me too.

    ”Hus…band, you dunk awn-ready. Now only ten half morning.”

    Attention elsewhere….yes…that’s normally the root cause.

  3. I don’t know why I can sense that you do care about Thailand a lot and I’m really glad about that.

    As you are in The country side, there usually are not many vehicles on the street at the same time, so you can still walk on the street instead of the pavement blocked. However, That is not a solution to the cause. Government should take care of it more.

  4. Martyn says:

    Pattaya Concierge – I do spend a lot of time in the rural areas but the pictures were taken in Udon Thani city which is I believe the fifth most populated city in Thailand. The streets in the pictures are quite busy at times.

    I think the present government have more important matters on their minds at the moment.

  5. Catherine says:

    Martyn, you and I are on the same street here. Singapore squeaks so loudly it might as well be a cornered rat.

    I wandered around Hong Kong and the city was soulless. No street hawkers (they were wiped clean) so compared to Thailand the city lacks vibrancy. I’m sure some will come in and puff that I am WRONG! but that’s how I feel. Actually, I wrote about that very same thing on my expat interview (I won’t link here).

    Note: When I’m in the west I avoid the tattered/cluttered areas of big cities but that’s because they are usually dangerous. Thailand is not.

    And to end… I just walked in from taking photos of political posters around Bangkok. They are cluttered everywhere – all along the roadsides, tucked on their sides beneath Skytrain stairs, skewed wonky in trees, everywhere. It’s a total mess and I love it.

    Not that this is about clutter but I even got to say ‘hey’ to Chuwit’s dog (story coming soon). And now I know why he built that park. It has nothing to do with staying out of prison. It’s about that wonderful dog.

  6. Martyn says:

    Catherine I’ve never been to Singapore and probably never will, it sounds too squeaky clean and expensive although I’d be interested to see what rural village life is like. Toffee wrappers blowing in the wind and wood piles burning with black billowing smoke…I’d hope so.

    Hong Kong…hopefully one day.

    I had to do some research on Chuwit+dog….never heard of him…..I found a lovely election campaign picture of him and his white dog. I wouldn’t fancy pinning a rosette on the mutt, those bull terriers look pretty mean.

  7. Lawrence says:

    Martyn, I agree with you 100%. I’ve said the same about Singapore myself. The people who whinge in the BP about things like pavement obstructions forget that it is the Thai easy-going acceptance of just about anything that makes it a great place to be. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to negotiate the pavements you show without my glasses. I guess Mike gets distracted by the same as the rest of us and that is certainly the main hazard.

  8. Martyn says:

    Lawrence like you I think the pavement obstructions help build the character of places like Thailand. If the country was all prim and proper it would lose its appeal for many of us. In many ways Thailand is for me how I’d imagine life was like many years ago in the UK, before all the rules, regulations and laws came in. You can’t sell a banana in the UK if its the wrong shape.

  9. Talen says:

    Martyn, both you and Mike have hit the nail on the head…If I’m not being garroted I am trying not to break my ankles and construction areas are the worst as they just pile crap everywhere.

    My favorite around town is instead of fixing a bad walk they fill it in with uneven sandbags to make sure broken ankles happen.

  10. Martyn says:

    Talen the beauty of Thailand is that if you do trip on one of the raised paving stones or ankle height market tent posts, there’s every chance you’ll fall into a pharmacy or the arms of a Thai beauty. The latter please.

  11. Haley says:

    I love Thailand due to its architecture with many huge construction work so I’m very sad to read this post.It reflects reality in Thailand

  12. Martyn says:

    Haley – I don’t think the post is a sad one but instead one that shows the character and relaxed feel which Thailand generates to many of us.


  13. Catherine says:

    Martyn, “I found a lovely election campaign picture of him and his white dog”… could you please email that to me? I have a post coming up (I’m writing it now).

  14. Catherine says:

    Never mind… I have it… and yes, that’s the dog I’ll be writing about.

  15. Martyn says:

    Catherine – Glad to help you out.

  16. Snap says:

    Martyn, Vietnam is like Thailand…but on steroids 🙂 I like it and am going back at the end of the month to see friends. You generally don’t have to worry about walking on the footpaths/sidewalks there, they seem to be reserved for scooters and (when the cops aren’t blitzing) for café tables and chairs. So, in many areas walking on the road is your only option.

  17. Martyn says:

    Snap I’m hoping to visit the Land of Steroids next year with Wilai but I will have to avoid seeing any of the dog meat restaurants. I’d find that upsetting.

    I’ll take your advice and look out for the scooters. Wilai’s looking forward to the trip. She’s got to get a passport and Christ knows how many photos that’s going to take for her to get a couple she likes.

  18. Martyn – I admit that I have never been Udon Thani before. If it is as you said, there will be a problem for people living there.

    However, the pavement likes that is really normal for Thai people.

  19. Martyn says:

    Pattaya Concierge – Udon Thani is well worth a visit as it’s quite a lively city but with lower prices than the tourists resorts. It’s also only 50 kilometres from Nong Khai and Laos.

    Hopefully you’ll make it there one day.

  20. Snap says:

    Yes, the dog meat cafés are not on my list of things to do, see. Unfortunately eating just about anything that moves is a popular pass time in VN. Some of the menus read like a list of zoo inhabitants. I forgot to congratulate you on the excellent photos of some of the obstacles one needs to navigate while walking around here….they certainly add an extra half km onto my walks. The ups, downs and arounds ensure I get an aerobic work out as well 🙂

  21. Martyn says:

    Snap – I was going to mention in the post the extra mileage the obstacles add to a walk, and having to nip on to busy roads from time to time. You have to keep your wits about you.

    I don’t think I’ll enjoy reading the Vietnamese menu’s, any mention of dog and I’ll move on elsewhere.

  22. I’ve never really thought about it before, but I really wouldn’t want to walk very far anywhere in Thailand. Even in Phuket there are very few sidewalks and those that are there will abruptly end or turn into a traffic lane without warning. I found Singapore a great city for walking around and just checking out what was around. It’s amazing how much you miss by driving, even as slowly as I tend to do. However I am with you, I prefer Thailand over Singapore any day. I think it feels way too organized and modern, it makes me forget that I’m actually in Asia.

  23. Martyn says:

    Lawrence Michaels – I’ve never been to Singapore and I’m sure it’s a lovely country to visit but give me the unpredictability of Thailand every time.

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