I love street markets because they are entirely unpredictable. Eager saleswomen call out to me, they drape scarves around my neck and give me slithers of fruit to taste, cajoling me to buy this, or this, or maybe this?
I would begin my night market wanderings at the first signs of pink and orange in the sky. With a dollar mango pineapple fruit smoothie in my hand, I’d take my time and pass an eye over stalls crammed full of trinkets and statues of Buddha. I’m spoilt for choice with all the mountains of pretty beaded sandals and bracelets of a million colours. How can a girl choose?
There were flawed real silk scarves and beautiful fake silk scarves, and ‘real’ silver necklaces that turned my skin sea green. I couldn’t help but browse piles of pirated DVDs of shocking quality, surrounded by hazy steam from wok fired spicy noodles.
I couldn’t ignore the food for long, of course, and I would try everything; chewy tamarind sweets, fiery penang curry (despite requesting mild), lemongrass ice-cream and simple but scrumptious chicken kebabs. I loved Southeast Asian food unconditionally.
Sometimes I played the game serious business of bartering, even though both the seller and I knew how the transaction would end, we would still go through the motions of taking turns to offer prices, each pretending to be offended at the counter offer.
The real treasure troves are found in the stalls run by the artisans themselves, the woman who made and sold intricately detailed soap flowers in Chiang Mai -Thailand, or the Cambodian student selling his artwork on the weekends.
Years later and I still have much from these market wanderings; $6 Vietnamese War propaganda poster prints from Hanoi, a $2 recycled landmine bangle from Vientianne, Laos, an elephant print from Chiang Mai night market for $12. My slouchy elephant pants long ago fell apart, I wore them so much. Some bloggers advise against buying souvenirs, but I wholeheartedly disagree – find small but unique pieces that speak to you – and I promise one day you’ll be glad to have them.
Oh, and the best market in Southeast Asia? Laos’ Luang Prabang night market, all the way.
PS If you liked this, you’ll love one of my favourite posts on the best weekend markets in South America
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