K-pop revs up Bangkok's 'tuk tuk' industry

With Thailand's tourism industry in the doldrums, Samran Thammasa hasn't had much luck finding foreign visitors to ferry through the streets of Bangkok in his motorcycle rickshaw.

But recently, he and hundreds of other 'tuk tuk' drivers have found a new kind of passenger, despite the global health crisis: K-pop stars - or photos of them, at least.

Samran had never heard of Jessica Jung until a local K-pop fan club paid him to tie her picture - printed up on a vinyl banner - to the back of his rickshaw.

"Before the k-Pop fans came to us, it was extremely hard to make a living. We could only earn about 100 baht ($3) a day. But the K-Pop fans pay us 600 baht ($19) a month. That at least covers our electricity, water bills, and other daily expenses. It helps us a lot."

Celebrity banners are kind of a thing in Thailand.

Fans pool their money to plaster the face of their favorite star on Bangkok's skytrain and subway services.

But after a wave of political protests last year - the government clamped down on public transportation - in a bid to keep young people off the streets.

So, K-pop fan clubs decided to change up their strategy, aiming for smaller businesses, instead.

"It makes me feel better than paying a high price for just one billboard to capitalists who already have a lot. By going to the drivers, although it's not a lot of money, at least they will be able to feed their families."

Today, although many of Bangkok's Tuk Tuks are still empty, hundreds are getting paid to put up a new famous face every month, and also pick up occasional tips from young fans who spot their celebrity on the streets.

But even K-pop passion cannot drive the entire Tuk Tuk industry on its own.

There are 9,000 motor rickshaws registered in Bangkok.

And with Thailand keeping border controls tight as Covid surges in parts of Asia, there are few tourists in sight.

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