Cooing frogs. Banksy prints. Ray Bans. Elephant pants, also known as Alibaba pants, dump pants or MC Hammer pants. The iconic and ever-trendy picture of a topless Kate Moss giving the camera the finger. These are the sights and sounds of the Thai tourist market.
Not one touristy Thai market… Every touristy Thai market.
I thought my appetite for market was insatiable. But there was one point where even I found myself marketed out. Perhaps the fatigue from our rigorous itinerary was getting to me. Or maybe it was that the market deja vu that was tiring. Either way, one more cooing frog and I was either going to explode … or buy one.
When we first arrived in Lampang, we had a few daylight hours to spare but our opportunity to explore was getting limited. The teak wood carvers would have been closed by the time we made it to them by horse and buggy, the town’s main source of transportation. The temples had already turned in for the night. We asked the front desk at our hotel if there was anything that we could do with our remaining time and were met by a nod ‘no’ and a giggle.
What could we do but head to the market?
“Another day, another market,” Sue said. I seem to remember my brow furrowing. I was behind on my dispatches and social media obligations. We had yet to figure out the logistics for the coming day. Thus far, we’d seen, to my count, approximately seven markets, ranging from the tourist market mecca, the Khao San road, to the creepy and bizarre, the amulet market.
How could this one be any different?
Perhaps my time would be more productively spent catching up on Tan Your Mind than pursuing a rack of elephant pants. But we persisted.
A mere five minutes away, we almost couldn’t find it. Twisted and turned deep in a maze of weathered buildings, the Lampang market almost eluded us.
But when we found it, we found it. It was unlike any market we’d been to before. No Kate Moss, or Banksy or Ray Bans or embryos to be seen. But black shirts and white sweaters and grey pants and navy jackets in every style you could imagine. (Mute was the colour of mourning for the King’s passing.) There was entire stalls devoted to denim and belts and coloured eye contacts and various skin bleaching moisturizers.
No pad Thai stands, but mushrooms and bacon masquerading as squid on a stick. Chewy rice balls filled with… bean paste? And who knows what. Not a tourist in sight. While we did manage to find elephant pants, and subsequently got a pair for everyone on the team (MATCHING ELEPHANT PANTS, YESSS), the market morphed from retail to produce to meat to seafood with no discernible divide. The chicken and pork was hung from the prongs with care, while jars of bugs were placed with hopes that market-goers would consume their wares…
Skipping over miscellaneous street water, past buckets of fish, we wandered through the stalls for at least an hour, marvelling at the different offerings, most unidentifiable to our Western eyes, as vendors waved fans and families ordered noodles. That is until we realized that the only things moving were the fish in the buckets and the steam from the grill and us. The entire market had stopped.
“Ohmygoodness, Lena,” Sue said. “It’s the King’s song.” We stopped in our tracks, and lowered our heads. For a place that moments before was a hive of activity, like bugs in amber, the market became frozen in time, all heads bowed in solemn reverence for the King’s passing. Just as quickly as we registered the activity stopped, the song finished and the bustle hustled once more. Food stall chefs swirled noodles around the grill, kids darted between racks, and even the flies started buzzing again.
Different, different, but same. As we left the market behind, my market loving heart was renewed. Just when you think you’ve done it all, Thailand, even in muted tones, shows its true colours again.