We love fresh food open air markets. Who needs the antiseptic quality of grocery stores and the often less fresh quality of the produce they offer (volume drives out good too often)? And, yes, much of the wealthy world now shops that way, but there is a zest and perhaps an old-time appeal to shopping the way the rest of the world does, namely in the local open air market. In France, we hardly ever went to the grocery store unless we had to.
And today we found the exact kind of place we would love to visit often, a wholesale market tucked in the non-tourist part of the city. We just happened on it in the middle of a long walkabout in Chiang Mai to get some exercise and see what we could find. And we were the only non-Thais there. Closer to home, within the old city walls, another retail market offered many of the same items and also appealed to us. Sadly, we have no way to cook here or store/transport much; otherwise we would be at these places over and over again.
Speaking of markets, all over the U.S. there are a variety of ways to shop, from big malls to imitation villages to local shops and convenience stores, as well as high end commercial areas. But zoning keeps things so much more orderly than the chaotic juxtaposition of shopping points within Asian cities. Even the jumble of American Chinatowns or Little Koreas doesn’t come close. New York City looks positively barren in comparison.
You’ll never walk down an alley-like street, as we did in Bangkok, and find a used car parts/recycler with mounds of axles, motors and stray parts right next to a produce seller. Nor will you find a mall like the Chinatown of Bangkok, where you’re literally channeled into two foot wide lanes with hundreds of other people, while you dodge and weave past permanent stalls jammed with goods. And that’s not even counting the stray scooter trying to get through. Most malls try to trap you or entice you into staying there; in these markets, you can’t wiggle out if you want to.
It’s all very intense, no more so than the famous night markets of these cities, which usurp the sidewalk and lanes with their own jumble of goods and tempting foods. In an unsurprising twist where tourists collect, most night markets are now iimitations of the ones that locals frequent, pitched not to daily life’s needs, but the superfluous demands of the foreign visitor. We saw more ridiculous t-shirt stalls in the night market near us than useful goods.
It’s the bane of touring, alas. The more we look for the authentic, the more the fake swells to meet the demand.
Side note: While we write this, we’re sitting at a bar – the My Place Lounge – in the funkier street near our hotel. Aside from food and drink, it’s a free wi-fi site with nice and fast connection speed. It is so much better than being shut in a hotel room to connect and with great people watching right on the street. After ordering some tall drinks to relax, we met the owner and we found out he was from LA. He told us how much he hated LA, etc., but the place has all these enormous movie posters. Turns out he was the executive producer of those movies, with some name stars like Stallone, Dennis Hopper, Ryan Phillipe and Benicio del Toro His name is Russ Markowitz and he has lived here far away from the movie biz for seven years. You can’t keep a movie person on ice for long; he now has a project he’s working on. Time for a pitch!