Chiang Mai Design Week Presents Mobile Grocery Makeover

Benjamin Rujopakarn




Anyone who’s lived in Thailand has heard the siren song of grocery trucks: “Gab khao ma laew krub… gub khao~” (Food’s here… foood).

Though slowly edged out by shopping malls and supermarkets, the grocery truck and its smaller cousin, the grocery motorcycle sidecar, have been a common fixture in Thai neighborhoods for decades. Now, they’re getting a bit of a makeover.

Introducing “Kad Pap Pap,” a design experiment that’s bringing a holistic facelift to the grocery tricycle and shedding light on the vital role these mobile grocery stores play in Thailand.

Groceries on wheels in Thailand

A grocery truck or rod phum phuang (รถพุ่มพวง) will often provide pantry staples to residential neighborhoods that don’t necessarily have convenient access to the local marketplace or supermarkets.

You can easily spot the modified pickup trucks plodding along the streets of Bangkok and other Thai cities with hundreds of fresh fruits & vegetables, spices, and other ingredients tied hung in bags inside and off the sides of its large canopy.

These mobile grocery trucks first became a thing during the General Chatchai Choonhavan administration (1988–1991). New roads were being laid into new suburbs and when convenience stores came into the market, affecting traditional grocery stores. In the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, many Thais turned to street food stalls and mobile groceries as a way to make a living.

As the streets and alleyways narrow, the grocery tricycle or saleng (ซาเล้ง) takes over as the ultimate in door-to-door grocery services.

The saleng gets fancy in Chiang Mai

Auntie Noi and her makeover grocery tricycle, Kad Pap Pap
Source: Chiang Mai Design Week Facebook Page

The Creative Economy Agency—the Thai government’s arm for promoting the creative economy for balanced and sustainable development—joined hands with Bangkok-based alternative architectural practice Cloud-floor and local Chiang Mai grocery vendor “Auntie Noi” on a project to rethink the saleng.

“Kad Pap Pap”  (กาดแป๊ป-แป๊ป) takes its name from the Northern Thai word for market or kad and the sound of car horns used by mobile grocery stores.

Originally created for Chiang Mai Design Week (CMDW) 2021, Kad Pap Pap has continued to sell daily produce along the same route, changing the dynamics of grocery shopping for locals in the area. 

More than a makeover, the Cloud-floor website states, “We envision ‘Kad Pap Pap’ contributing to the local economy and turning Chiang Mai into a ‘Healthy City’ that caters to the needs of future inhabitants, particularly the aging people and vulnerable groups.”

Mobile groceries gain momentum

A grocery vendor handing over the groceries to the buyer
Source: tomeqs /

At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, with many wet markets suffering pandemic restrictions, mobile groceries (🇹🇭) were one of the few ways to safely provide produce. Grocery trucks and tricycles allowed people to access affordable household goods without risking large gatherings. 

As part of a suite of pandemic assistance measures, the Thai government worked with mobile grocery drivers to sell discounted groceries across greater Bangkok. The campaign extended a lifeline to local farmers who suffered from shuttered markets and food stalls.

Unexpectedly, the pandemic has accelerated the trend of food and grocery trucks, which is spilling over into other retail industries as smaller entrepreneurs seize on its advantages, such as the reduced cost of setting up a store.

Mobile groceries are an undeniable part of Thailand’s vibrant food culture, and we’re likely to continue hearing the “pap pap” of Thai grocery trucks for the foreseeable future.


Benjamin Rujopakarn

Ben has worn several hats in broadcast television and radio news programs, culminating in his role as Head of Content at Bangkok-based digital marketing agency PAPER & PAGE (Thailand) Co., Ltd. and Editor-in-Chief of Thailand NOW. Though he has extensive experience in media communications, Ben holds degrees in marine science and molecular biology from UNSW and UT Dallas, respectively.

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