The typical tourist in Thailand normally makes sure their holiday includes at least one visit to a Thai market to gather a few souvenirs to take back home and to get the feel of ‘natural’ Thailand and its daily life, but are they seeing the real deal. I know the markets of Pattaya are wonderful places for bargain hunting and colourful sights but when compared to the non tourist spots in the smaller towns and cities the former really are a glossed over affair when set against the latter and its down to earth everyday social scene.
In my early forties I enjoyed the sort of thrills and spills in the bars and hotel rooms of Pattaya that your average young man strutting around nowadays can only dream or read about. Those times weren’t gained by youthful looks or natural charisma or by what was inside the front of your shorts but by the bulge of baht in the back pocket. It would be true to say that if the bar girls of Pattaya only fell for good looks and charisma their shouts of ‘sexy man’ would echo unanswered around every empty bar and soi. Four great years that really should have been cut short at one. Thailand has so much to offer and having moved on from the nightlife of Pattaya the markets are nowadays one of my favourite places to visit.
Recent years have seen the big supermarket giants try and place a stranglehold on the food and consumer goods market in Thailand and a glimpse of their excellent car parking facilities packed full of four wheel drive trucks and brand new cars show the success and kind of clientele they attract. The above photo was taken from the outside of a Tesco Lotus store in Udon Thani and the small market (non food) shows that even the biggest players still have to concede a little ground and include one of the things that has always been a large part of Thai culture. Away from the larger cities and towns the food giants are few and far between and the market place is the hub around which rural communities and ordinary town folk revolve.
The faded colours of the giant sun beaten market stall umbrellas and the parked songthaews and saamlaws let you know that you have arrived at a typical Thai market place. The slow paced walk of the market visitors and their constant stops to talk to vendors and friends are in stark contrast to the hurly burly ways of the supermarket customers who have a get in and get out, credit card or thousand baht note on hand attitude to their shopping experience.
The supermarket is probably the one place in Thailand that makes me feel that I’m back home in the UK. The market puts a spring in my step and a strong urge to buy something and in doing so give a little bit back to the ever smiling market traders.
Real life Thailand comes alive amongst the vibrant colours of the fruit, vegetables, meats and food dishes on display in the buzzing, chatter filled box of Thai market day delights. Round woven baskets laid out on the ground or displayed on rickety wooden counters covered with aged plastic sheets lay out the fruits and vegetables on offer. The fruits are a real kaleidoscope of colour and their variety seemingly endless. Take your pick from oranges, apples, bananas, watermelon, mango, langsat (sweet and sour taste), longkong (similar to langsat but sweeter), custard apples and the ‘King of Thai Fruits’ durian.
If Colgate ever needs to put the smile back into their toothpaste TV commercials then the market sellers of rural Thailand would make a quick and easy days work for any film crew. A busy western supermarket sees the smiles of the cashiers and customers fade quicker than the umbrella colours that somehow still stand out resplendent in the Thai markets but that is definitely not the case in the Land of Smiles as each stall greets you with a grin and a flash of gleaming white teeth no matter if the crowd is thick or thin.
Some of the markets are open daily but others are weekly or twice monthly events and these can be very busy affairs. What looks like a two way passage through the stalls on either side can quickly turn into a packed four abreast throng of bustling people browsing the market wares.
The Thai market place is not just a daily chore for women, couples and the inquisitive or habitual few but a social centre that is a hotbed of social interchange where family and friends meet to peruse the stalls and catch up on the latest news and gossip. Group conversations are a rare sight in supermarkets but can be seen all around as the market place hub draws its communal folk together.
If you stay deep into the afternoon then you will see food stall vendors start to set up their carts and stalls in readiness for the rush of early evening hungry souls eager to replenish the day’s lost energy burnt away in the afternoon sun. Fill yourself with Thai pancakes, chive cakes, barbecued sweetcorn, garlic sausage, grilled chicken, noodle soup, mouth watering salted fish and a wide range of seafood. I absolutely love Thai markets and the vibrant colours and organised mayhem make them for an amateurish photographer like me a true camera clicking dream. Thailand markets really are the spice of life.
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