14.02.2009 34 °C
It's market day everyday in South East Asia. Whilst western supermarkets like Tesco and Carrefour are quickly setting up shop to take advantage of the burgeoning middle classes, the majority of locals still shop daily in the teeming markets. Today we visited a big one - a really big one - a bloody enormous one. Chatuchak Market in Bangkok has 15,000 stalls catering to nearly a quarter of a million shoppers a day. It's so monstrous that it has its own skytrain and subway stops and enough public toilets to satisfy even the weakest of bladders. So, ths is not your regular Asian market. Where are the rats and the scavenging dogs? Where are the barrow-boys peeing against the back of the food stalls? This place is about as sterile as Nanaimo's Farmers' Market and is full of touristy junk aimed at us Falangs, (note that now we are back in Thailand we are no longer Bule's).
We are not really market people - although Jim always loves an excuse to graze for food - but what we really enjoy is the authentic local market like this one in Hoi Anh, Vietnam.
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it would take a million words to convey the true ambience of this market. Imagine a rat-infested Elizabethan market in Olde England; the air rancid with the stench of fish and rotting vegetables. Picture old women with bent spines and arthritic fingers struggling to display their wares as they have done for the past sixty years or more. Envisage gaily dressed younger women, with huge baskets of produce balanced on their heads, sashaying through the impossibly narrow lanes with the grace of flamenco dancers. Listen to the shouts of barrow-boys as they maneuvre heavy pushcarts and motorbikes laden with produce, and with animals and fish – dead and alive: chickens, ducks, pigs, dogs, cats, rabbits. Flowers, fruits, vegetables and spices are piled in such abundance that they overflow the stalls and baskets and litter the muddy alleyways. The smells are incredible and everchanging, and you are constantly sideswiped by aromas so pungent that they flood your brain with memories - not always pleasant. If it smells like poop, it probably is - but it may just be the stinkiest of all fruit - the Durian. If you would like to experience the true smells of an authentic Asian market - stick your head in a bag of garbage that has been in the sun for a few days. But don't get the iea that we don't like the markets. We love the hustle and bustle and the feeling of aliveness as all of the senses are assaulted siultaneously.
Many of the markets specalise in livestock; crammed with horrible little wire cages filled with monkeys, pet rats and giant fruit bats, together with wicker baskets of snakes, frogs and lizards and every imaginable variety of bird .
The most famous is the bird market in Yogyakarta, but we were warned off because there had been several deaths from bird flu. Then we read in the Jakarta Post that the Indonesian Minister of Health refused to notify the World Health Organization about the prevalence of bird flu because she claimed that the WHO would use the information to develop a vaccine that Indonesians would be unable to afford – Honestly!
We are now leaving Bangkok to visit one of the world's most infamous places - the site of the Bridge over the River Kwai.