Thailand At Work – Streetwalkers and Roadworkers

Udon Thani food cart vendor

A year or so back ‘I wouldn’t get out of bed for that kind of money’ were spoken words that could often be heard in conversation here in the UK. One year on and the beds of many UK households are creaking as the occupant endures another sleepless night worrying as to whether their interview went well enough to secure the menial, minimum wage post they applied for. Recession and depression are nowadays the perfect rhyme.

Very few of us pursue a career path that is one of intention. For most the perfect occupation never materialises. I always wanted to be a sports journalist but….the kids watching the polo matches and eating the strawberries and cream on centre court used words far more descriptive than mine. ‘ The referee’s a bastard,’ was the adjective and objective in the school of thought I was dragged through.

In Thailand survive and alive are more common found rhyming partners. Shirk your work and there’s no social benefit payments to feed the hungry mouths of your family or patch up the hole in your roof before the rainy season closes in and swamps you.

Garland sellerLooking through my growing archive of Thailand photographs I couldn’t help but notice the amount of pictures that featured ladies working the streets and roads of Thailand. Working in extreme temperatures for a wage that probably beats many but one which wouldn’t withstand too many holes to a hot tin roof.

I’m unsure if the top photo is of a man or woman but I can assure you the day won’t arrive when they can dump their food cart in the nearest klong (canal) and retire to a villa in Phuket. The riches will be above Thailand’s minimum wage but also achieved through close to maximum effort.

The lady pictured on the right dodges and weaves trough the traffic each day to sell her lucky flower garlands (phuang malai) to motorists sat waiting at traffic lights. An occupation that is rich in pollution but offers no real solution to the grander trappings of life but boy did she know how to smile.

Thai lady working the roads

Seeing ladies working on building sites and in road gangs comes as a surprise to many western visitors to Thailand but the sightings quickly become commonplace. Thailand’s high number of single mothers make competition for the countries more arduous jobs just as gender competitive as London or New York’s search to fill its office and IT vacancies. Equal rights may be the way of the west but in Thailand a lass can expect to get paid a little less than the males of the road gangs.

Thai street sellerStreetwalkers selling their wares…those words add music to the ears of the cynical outsiders to Thailand. Isn’t Thailand only about sex. The streetwalkers of Thailand are the vital cog that keeps the Thai economy churning. Streetwalking in the Land of Smiles reads street walking.

For some of the street peddlers their wares are what they carry across their shoulders. Street sex to them is the cool shade and refreshing breeze that a soi (street) can offer. The baskets can contain many a thing from sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves to honeycomb straight from the bee hive. The occasional vendor has a little moonshine hidden under it all. There’s no hiding the fact of it being a long hot day with little money at its end.

The wheels of the Thai economy are turned and churned by the feet on the street. Food vendors, shoeshine boys, lottery ticket vendors and trinket girls peddle their goods in their bid to survive and keep their own small modest dream alive.

The western world can be won with the aid of benefits secured with the use of a government pen fastened tight and anchored to a counter with string. Unemployment in Thailand is for the unhealthy and wealthy.

Getting out of bed and hitting the streets to make your living in Thailand involves long hours in extreme weather. Facing blistering heat and heavy rainfall is rewarded with a wage that’s meagre or modest at best. Thailand is a tough country in which to earn a living and in a strange, bizarre twist  …a working class girl has to get into bed to earn the big bucks everyone hungers for…if she’s lucky.

© 2009, Martyn. All rights reserved.

15 thoughts on “Thailand At Work – Streetwalkers and Roadworkers

  1. The overall attitude of the street hawkers in Thailand continues to amaze me. They may be poor, but they have a lifestyle wrapped in a close community.

    Watch a street hawker throughout the day, and you’ll see a person entertaining themselves with others similar. Talking, laughing, sharing their lives.

    And all seemingly at the same leisurely pace. Unlike in the west, where it is all go, go, go, rush, rush, rush.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Jai Words: Learn Thai with More Words of the Heart =-.

  2. Catherine a very good observation and one I kind of smelt at the Floating Market. There does appear to be a close bond between the hawkers but perhaps the streets are merely their shop floors. A leisurely pace is a good way to sum up the Thai way of life as a whole.

  3. Thai’s do work hard and for the most part as you pointed out, they have to. From what I’ve seen in the village the women pick up the slack while the men are away in Bangkok or Pattaya working which means they get to do it all from taking care of the kids to sowing and harveting the rice.

    I’ve seen a fair share of Thai women who haven’t gone the sex route who have worked hard at a real business and done quite well for themselves. One owns a real massage shop that caters to tourists in Pattaya and the other owns a tattoo shop on walking street.

    It can definitely be hard for a poor undereducated Thai to make a decent living but if they work hard at it they can definitely succeed. But when they do it will most likely be working for themselves because anything else pays too little. I know one bar girl that used to be a police officer but she couldn’t feed the family in Pattaya on 3k baht a month.
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..Makruk ( Thai Chess ) =-.

  4. Talen there are plenty of Thai women running very successful businesses in Thailand from hair salons to proper massage joints and whatever lies between. The street hawkers ( I titled it streetwalkers for some hopeful keyword hits) are in my opinion a level or two down from those business people as they don’t as a rule make that great a living. The police woman to bar girl surprised me at first but then again it’s Pattaya you’re talking about so my shock didn’t last long. I’ll be popping in on your chess game post as that interests me a great deal.

  5. Martyn a good read that reflects everyday life in LOS. Many Thai people I know, mostly women, earn at best 200 Baht a day, often 7 days a week if the work is there.

    When I first moved here one of the best brickies was a women, she worked 7 or 8 hours a day for the princely sum of 150 Baht.

    Needless to say mobile food sellers abound in the small area where I live, there are also 5 or 6 shops selling take-away stuff-its fairly simple maths to figure they don’t earn much.

    That said they survive and always have a smile on their faces whatever the day might bring.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Soi Chicken =-.

  6. Mike the 150 baht a day might have moved on a further 50 nowadays but that really isn’t much. The village food sellers are two a baht and don’t make much money at all, hence all those buses heading to Bangkok. You can perhaps understand how the younger women are taken in with the dream of the likes of Pattaya and Phuket. Being a young, fat female in a Thai village won’t get too many entries on a CV but they still do tend to have a wonderful smile on their faces and a great positive outlook on life.

  7. This is a great travel blog that you have here. I’m a first-time visitor, but I like what I see. I have a travel blog myself which I want to be a top resource for those looking for information and experiences on popular vacation destinations.

    I would like us to do a link exchange to help spread some traffic around between our sites. Please let me know if this is possible.


  8. I don’t think I appreciate how easy I have it sometimes. At the back of my mind is always the tyhought that one day I might be able to be a stay-at-home something or other. I always threaten Ste that I’ll pull ‘girl’ (as opposed to rank) on him and one day stop working.

    And then there are people for whom that will never be a possibility or a reality. I guess that puts me in my place.

  9. Emm you’ve probably travelled enough to understand that these type of working ladies around the world are generally just ordinary folk but in Thailand the Buddhist way kicks in and they have a laid back approach to life and nearly always a massive smile.

    I’m sure there’s a lot of days to go before you put your feet up but if that’s what you want then I hope it comes to you real quick.

  10. Jason thanks for the look in and the kind words but….my links are just about chocker block at the moment and I really can’t take any more onboard. I had a look at your site and will do so again. I don’t think you’ll have any problem swapping links with sites a little more similar to yours. Thanks.

  11. Martyn, I really enjoyed reading this. It’s good that some ‘outsiders’ can see the reality of ordinary people’s lives here. I’m afraid Thais often don’t. But maybe it’s easier without the social baggage they grow up with.
    Nicely put together as always, too. I like the bizarre twist that takes us back to the beginning.
    Sorry, I’m sounding like an English teacher (retired)!
    .-= Lawrence´s last blog ..Celebrating the Rice Harvest in Phana =-.

  12. Lawrence thanks for the read. The twist at the end is unfortunately a sad fact and one that will continue unless investment is piled into the Isaan region to create more tourism, industry and with it more work opportunity. Whatever happens they will continue working with a smile, especially when a camera is pointed at them.

  13. Hi Martyn,
    Your well written article just shows how the other half have to live and have no choice in the matter. They have never known it any other way so for them it is normal to work this way. Looking in of course it is a culture shock. There are many far worse of like you imply, where they are incapacitated to prevent them from working. There is no room for the sick in Thailand. (So similair to Bulgarian in many ways.)
    Take care
    .-= Martin In Bulgaria´s last blog ..Working With Bulgarians For Bulgarians – And Happy To Do So =-.

  14. Thanks Martin and I’m sure the similarities with Bulgaria are quite huge. The Thai’s do seem a happy race at face value but underneath there is I’m sure a little envy and want, but isn’t that in all of us working class people the world over.

  15. @ Hoo Don

    I believe the culture and work ethic has it roots in traditions and the dogmatization of minds that often goes along with it. Parents teach the virtues of manual labour to their kids when they are quite young – and often don’t encourage them to strive further. They probably feel they can’t, so why disappoint their kids?

    So some might might be envious of other life styles, but see no way for them to attain anything slightly different than what they have.

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