Every Sunday a section of Chiang Mai’s old city gets sectioned off to become a sprawling open air market. The streets become lined with tents selling innumerable tchotchkes and an seemingly endless supply of tourist bait garbage. Shirts that read “I Love Chiang Mai!” or magnets in the shape of elephants, on which are written “Thailand,” and of course the indispensable Buddha statues. For a guy who was really against materialism, he sure does have a lot of little statues of himself that westerns love to buy. The Sunday market isn’t so much a flee market in that there people sell used junk, but a market where people sell new stuff that is nevertheless junk.
The real appeal of the market is the food, the street music, and the people. Anything you could possibly want to eat is there. Walking through the food stalls you’re apt to hear a group of drunk British people pointing at a skewer of meat and slurring “Is that chicken?” The vendor speaks little English, so by the time she is able to formulate a reply the Brits have already slapped down twenty baht and are enjoying a skewer of mystery meat. Nothing like a little booze to make you open to trying new foods, but I must say, I hardly see any foreigners, drunk or sober, buying from the stall with fried locusts.
The streets become impenetrable during the Sunday market, and if you get caught up in the crowd, you just have to ride it out to the end. For all the number of people, the market is very tame. No one is shoving or shouting; even the drunk foreigners have an air of dignity about them as they queue along the streets. It is all so well organized that the city has sectioned off specific spots for street performers. This is truly a delight for your ears because of the sheer variety of music to be heard. You get the standard western instruments like the guitar, banjo, and drum kit, but you also get the surreal and wonderful traditional instruments of Thailand. There really is no proper way to describe the tones produced by some of these instruments, which is why I brought a field recorder along with me. Hopefully I will be able to upload some of these recordings onto Bandcamp soon. Walk just fifty feet away from the dream-like murmur of the Thai instruments and you might hear a bluegrass band covering “Stand by Me.”
The variety of the food and music can only be beat by the variety of people who move through the market. Foreigners of all types shift alongside the natives, and taking a step back to watch the stream of people pass before you is an exercise in pure surprise. You never know how a face will appear until you look straight at it, and, keeping this in mind, you might be amazed by the infinite variety of faces that pass by, none looking quite like the other.