Tag Archives: Market

Lost in Chinatown

When a man approaches you while you are standing on the sidewalk with a map of Bangkok in one hand and a bottle of freshly squeezed tangerine juice in the other, it is difficult to know what attitude to take. Perhaps he is, as he claims, just waiting for his girlfriend, and his only and most sincere intention is to be of assistance. On the other hand, he could be one of the con artists that the Lonely Planet guidebook calls out in their “How to Avoid Scams” section, just trying to figure out how easily — and for what reasons — you might be convinced to part with some money.

So when you ask if you can get to Wat Pho by walking through Chinatown, and he offers up a barely understandable ramble about how Chinatown is basically dead on Sunday and that it is a long walk to Wat Pho from here, you must decide; do you listen to him and allow him to modify your plans? Or do you just simplify your question, “how do we get to Chinatown?”

I decided upon the latter, thanked him with one of my three stock phrases, and crossed the bridge over one of Bangkok's murky green, fetid canals.

At first, the man seemed to be correct. There were no thronging crowds, no food carts sending acrid, delicious smoke into the hot air. Just a few people lounging around, talking and laughing, enjoying private lives in this most exposed of cities. But as we continued on, only half sure of where we were, trying to keep some solid hold on compass bearings in this maze of dead end streets and crooked alleys, things changed. What had been empty streets became a row of stalls. Rows of stalls thickened until the sidewalk became a tight one-way path. And eventually we emerged into one of the most ridiculous markets I have ever witnessed. One that made the Chatuchak seem positively prim.

Here, in Chinatown, was the most densely packed, vibrant, sweaty, and oppressive shopping experience one could ever hope to have. Millions of booths and stalls selling everything from Hello Kitty computer equipment to beaded bracelets, from fish cakes to shoelaces. The smell of heated cooking oil mixed with the smells of automobile exhaust and a deep, fertile humidity.

My memories of this experience are just tiny shards crystallized out of constant and unending motion. A little kid wearing a lime green Gangnam Style t-shirt. A stainless steel bowl full of ice and what seemed to be a tangle of black, gelatinous worms. A plate of chive dumplings, delicious with familiarity. Boxes of condoms decorated with a naked couple having sex while seated on a chair. A woman with a pole balanced on one shoulder, baskets of some kind of food dangling on either end, shouting her way through a crowd of people packed chest to back, face to neck, ankle to ankle. The rest is just adrenaline and haze and a sharp awareness of being somewhere I had never been before; somewhere that, until today, didn't even exist in my imagination.

After a while, we reached the edge of the market and found ourselves lost somewhere in Chinatown. Commerce retreated into storefronts and shopping malls, leaving streets full of tuk tuks, busses, scooters and automobiles. We wandered around some more, sagging with the heat and with stress-delayed hunger. Each block seemed to be devoted to a specific type of consumer good. We passed through another tightly packed sidewalk lined with various audio equipment. The cacophony seeded my brain. My brain blossomed into a headache.

And then, after a couple of heated conversations about where we were and how to get to Wat Pho, we found ourselves on a quiet street edged with white walls. After our extended meander through Chinatown, the quiet felt a physical thing, as refreshing and nurturing as a cold breeze touching a fevered brow. We ducked through an elaborately arched gate, paid 200 baht, and entered most sacred of spaces; Wat Pho: center of learning, home of the reclining Buddha, heart of traditional Thai medicine.

The man who tried to help us was right — it was a long and arduous walk from Hua Lamphong to Wat Pho — and he was wrong — Chinatown wasn't dead, it had just turned its back on tourists and had devoted itself to the needs and concerns of the locals. If we had listened to him, we might have had a more pleasant experience riding the boats linking the SkyTrain to Bangkok's historic old town. But if had, would Wat Pho have offered its blessings so clearly and precisely? For when does water reveal its divine simplicity if not when you are exhausted and hot and ready to falter?

 

Bangkok, Day 2

Second day and already things are starting to seem almost normal. The wide-eyed, stunned stare of the newly arrived has started to fade and we're already beginning to etch a tiny bit of routine into the fractal chaos of Bangkok. We've even begun using what rudimentary Thai that we've learned from our guidebooks and (of course) a recently purchased dictionary app: Sawasdee krap! Khap khun krap! Nam kheng saa at mai?

Leaving the hotel on a bustling Friday night and successfully navigating our way to Tomsam Nua in the heart of Siam Square gave us a tremendous amount of confidence. We rode the Sky Train, found the restaurant, ordered successfully — all with the help of smiles and hand gestures — and when we left, we were swept up into the magnificent excess and grime and sparkliness and decadence that is Bangkok. Thousands of people filing past street market stalls, laughing and eating. Thousands of people driving scooters and cars and taxis under the massive concrete columns supporting the Sky Train. Thousands of people dressed to the nines, wandering through shopping malls so extravagant that they seem out of science fiction. When I first entered the Paragon Center, I was so stunned and amazed that I forgot to take any pictures (which if you know me, is truly remarkable). Imagine the most enormous cruise ship, lined with every luxury store you can think of. Imagine a food court with everything from dim sum to ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, from high end Italian to deep fried whole fish, from McDonald's and Au Bon Pain to ramen joints, bibimbop, and Indian curries. Now add in an underground Sea World-type theme park and a Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum featuring the usual suspects — Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith — to the completely unrecognizable — little smirking Asian kid, stolid soccer player. Don't forget the ubiquitous couplings of old, fat white men and beautiful brown young people. Families, herds of uber-trendy Asians with anime hair, expatriates, euro trash, elaborately veiled women, and sunburnt, flip-flopped backpackers all caught up in the swirl and flow of a Bangkok weekend. Dancing fountains, video-feed stage shows, millions of lights, deafening noise.

By the time we returned to our hotel room, we were stuffed with food, wide-eyed with wonder, and I, at least, had fallen completely under Bangkok's spell.

The second day brought us to the famous Chatuchak weekend market, to the north of the city. Now old hats at navigating the Sky Train, we made it without incident and not sure what to expect. All of the guide books make it a point of saying that anything and everything can be found at the Chatuchak Market, but that does little to prepare you for the endless maze of stalls selling glass wares, silk,flowers, Buddhist sculptures, locally designed clothing, transformers, padlocks, furniture, vintage American shoes, jewelry, foot massages, spring rolls, leather bags, blue jeans, fine art, Havaianas, remote control cars, shwarma, belts, coconut water, popsicles, and crocheted hats. This is the looking glass version of the Paragon Center, just as overwhelming, just as over-the-top, just as beautiful.

 

Phrom Pong Sky Train Stop

View from the Mo Chit Station

Sky Train and Skyline

 
Chatuchak Market

Interior of Chatuchak Market

 

Silk Flowers

 

Buddhist Art and Mao Tse Tung

Cowboy Boots, Why Not?

Scooters

Soy Milk with Assorted Goodies

 

 

Pad Se Eiw at a Food Stall

 

Hot!

Roof of the Food Stall

 

Assorted Condiments

After Chatuchak, we wandered around a nearby park. After the constant hustle of overheated human bodies, its wide open expanses and open planes felt grounding and delicious. Space, not easy access to global cuisine or Issey Miyake Bao Bao bags, is the true luxury in Bangkok.

Fancy Bangkok Squirrel!

Chatuchak Park

These Birds Have a Pretty Song

From there, we were off to the Hua Lamphong train station to get our tickets to Chang Mai. Rather than the Sky Train, we took Bangkok's Subway, what the guidebooks call a “miracle” that no one believed would be built. Again, compared to the jam-packed chaos of Bangkok's streets and the Chatuchak market, the subway's clean, empty spaces felt idyllic and calm.

Subway Entrance

Waiting for the Train

Subway Riders

 

 

day 50 ~ santa fe ~ contour roam, farmers market, nmrx, housewarming

www.theendlessroadtrip.com ~ day 50 of my yearlong daily video journal. my how time flies! we visit the sf farmers market (more…)

day 22 ~ seattle, wa to portland, or ~ amtrak history, rainy downtown, fishmongers, fancy uniforms

www.theendlessroadtrip.com ~ day 23 of my year long daily video project finds us in the pacific northwest. we woke in (more…)

a trip to the santa fe farmers market ~ santa fe, nm

EVERYTHING’S COMING UP LOCAL AND ORGANIC one of the best farmers markets that we’ve been to takes place in santa fe’s railyard park. it’s a year-round market, so you can enjoy the happy, laid-back, green-chile-and-cheddar vibe even in the depths of winter, but as you might suspect, summertime is the time when the santa fe farmers market really hits its stride. the booths spill out in all directions, laden with everything from the seasonal produce to artisanal breads to giant glass jars of amber honey. an artisans market springs up nearby, full to the brim with southwest tchotchkes and handmade jewelry. live music, balloon artists, and complimentary dog-sitters (canines aren’t allowed in the farmers market due to state regulations) round out the whole experience.

this audio clip captures a few choice moments of our visit. don’t ask me what ethel merman has to do with anything because i’m sure i don’t know.

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