Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Night Market

One of the ‘must see’ things in Chiang Mai that the guidebooks all talk about is the Night Market, so it was one of the things I had intended to do all along. But it gets dark around 7pm here, and after dinner I’ve been tired and haven’t felt like wandering around alone in the dark so I’ve talked myself out of going. But my class begins with an orientation tonight and for four weeks I don’t think I’ll have any spare time... so last night I figured “now or never.”

It helps that I’m in my new residence and I’ve sorted out the Songthaew / Tuk-tuk situation. I can’t believe I was chicken to hail a ride before. It is easier than easy. It heps that my residence is near a big mall and there’s always a line of tuk-tuks waiting for customers right there. And most of the places I want to go are touristy, so there are usually tuk-tuks there as well, if not waiting then driving around looking for an unsuspecting tourist to open a map so they can rush over to offer them a lift. Plus, it’s relatively cheep. Even the 100B emergency tuk-tuk ride I had to take was only $3. I probably won’t be so cavalier about spending money on transportation after a while… but it’s nice to know that I never have to worry about bus schedules or validating a Max ticket, or transfers. If I have cash I can get from where-ever I am to where-ever I want to be, with a bare minimum of waiting.

One of many corners - both sides of the street, every side street - were lined with vendors

So last night I basically crossed the street & walked half a block and caught a Songthaew to the night market. All I can say is WOW! It was way beyond anything I had expected. For one, I don’t know why but I thought it would be dark… I guess because it’s night time. But no, they had extremely bright lights everywhere, it was the most well-lit market ever. I’d also thought it would be just another scary fish-on-a-stick market, or a flea-market type thing. No, no, no. It was like Portland’s Saturday Market on steroids. First off… it’s at least 10 times bigger… if not more. I’m sure I didn’t see everything. I started out along the street, but then there was a building with shops in it, then out the other side of the building there were more shops and down the street there was a courtyard and then another building, then another street. At first I tried to keep track of where I was but then I just wandered around knowing that if there were tourists and a street – there’d be a songthaew to take me home when I was ready.

Beautifully carved statues - there were TONS

Ok… what kinds of booths were there? T-shirts with witty and/or obscene slogans, silk scarves, hand stitched table runners, jewelry, paintings, wood carvings, jade carvings, stone carvings, handmade paper crafts, shoes like sneakers & flip flops, hand made slippers & beaded shoes, purses, purses, purses, embroidered pillowcases, soda-can hats, dragons made out of coconut husk fibers (I’m guessing), woven baskets, blue jeans, hand woven cloth – table runners, shirts, skirts, baby clothes (oh the cutest baby clothes), wooden toys & puzzles, carved elephants, spirit houses, and on and on and on. There was a lot of repetition but just when I thought “ok-I think I’ve seen everything” there’d be something new in the next booth… then more of the same, then something new etc. Lots and lots of stuff.

The vendors are cheerfully aggressive. They smile and try to talk you over to their booth – my favorite thing is when the clothes vendors point to me and say “I have your size!” =/ Um… thanks. A lot of them say “Hello Madam” which I find funny. The other thing they say is “How many you want?” which also cracks me up. I’m pretty good at ignoring them and just walking by with a smile on my face. I really restrained myself and only spend about $5… but I could see myself doing serious damage over there when I finally have a job.

Then, of course there was the food – I didn’t spend too much time in the food area but I did have a mango shake that was the bomb dot com! Someone was roasting coffee beans, someone else had spices, lots of places to have dinner. In the food court there was also music. A woman was singing “I will Survive” which made me laugh, and in another booth there was a couple doing a puppet show where the puppets were doing a stylized thai dance. So much to see.

Huge pavilion with even more crafts (spot the Doctor Who reference ;) )

I haggled! I didn’t get any kind of great deal, but I haggled. I saw a little carved cat figurine and I thought it was adorable so I figured –let’s give it a go. “How much” she grabbed her big calculator (every shop keeper in Chiang Mai has a big calculator) and punched in 150 and showed it to me. I punched in 100 and smiled, she punched in 120 and I said “fine.” I’m so lame. I’m sure I over paid… but who knows by how much. But I did it! And on the ride home I asked the driver how much to take me back to the Mall – he said “60”… now I’d only paid 40B on the ride over, so I said “40?” and he said “50-ok” – “ok 50”. You’ve got to do all of this with a smile, it’s supposed to be fun haggling. Well, at least now I have a general idea of how it’s done. Once I figure out about how much something should cost, I can give a more realistic low ball number and go from there.

Ok – I need to go now, I’m bound and determined to get my legs waxed before I start class. It’s much cheaper here (half leg - $10), and I hate shaving. My orientation is this afternoon, then class starts tomorrow. I’m excited to actually get to meet people and have actual conversations in English (can you tell I’ve been desperate to talk to someone?). I really don’t know when I’ll be able to post again. So actually I’ve written a few other things up and post-dated them so my blog shouldn’t be completely quiet while I’m studying. Wish me luck!


Michael5000 said...

Good luck! You are gonna be great.

And, this is the best travel blog ever. You are very hilarious and you are very you. Looking forward to further installments!

Stacey said...

Wow, what a great market! :D Good Luck with the studying!

I've been reading your adventures these past couple of weeks - I agree, you are hilarious & I can't wait to read more! :D

Beverly said...

Ugh, haggling. I suck at it. I always end up overpaying in order to avoid having to haggle. Sounds like you're getting the hang of it, though.

Good luck with the studying!

gl. said...

i'm impressed with your haggling! you haven't even been over there very long! also, i think you discovered the secret of travel: as long as you know a way to get back home, you can wander as far as you want!