The thing about going to local markets, and it can be anywhere in the world, is that you know that they are going to be absolute rubbish. Go to a so-called ‘market’ in Australia and it will have the same stalls selling the same items. Crappy bags and holders, terrible jewelery, awful clothing, infantile ceramics, the usual hodgepodge of Aboriginal knock-offs, supposed artwork that would make any year 9 art teacher go weak with despair, skin and ‘beauty’ products manufactured from unidentifiable products that do anything but clean and purify, and of course cutting boards, because you have to be remarkably talented in the art of woodworking to make a fucking cutting board.
Thankfully the Thai market had no Australian Aboriginal products, but the end result was the same. Walk the length of the market and then back on the other side and the chances of you wanting to voluntarily part with any money are woefully slim. I was on the lookout for two items, however; some fresh limes that I could use with my lovely bottle of Boodles gin and some cigarettes. Specifically I was after unfiltered cigarettes. Lucky Strike and Camel are the two best options. You can’t get unfiltered ciggies in Australia because Nanny State and all that. My other requirement is that the packet be free of any nasty pictures of death in horrible ways. I prefer my death served up clean and pure, thank you very much.
The limes were a dead duck. There wasn’t a single purveyor of fresh produce. Not even un-fresh produce. Just no produce at all. And cigarettes were nowhere to be found. The only interesting thing, apart from the architecture, was the buskers. We counted three buskers, all local Thai people. They were uniformly awful but what was interesting was that in front of each busker was a scattering of a few dozen chairs. These were all filled with locals who were politely listening and applauding the performances. Considering that every Thai seemed to have a smartphone, it was touching to see this obvious appreciation of local musicianship. Even if the most popular song of the night was ‘Country Roads’.
We met back at the van after an hour. Stuffed back inside we hurtled through the inner-city to an enormous lot packed with hundreds of stalls under a common roof. Our guide offered us 90 minutes of viewing pleasure, but there was an instantaneous protest from all four couples and we beat him back down to 50 minutes. The cooked food section of the market was overwhelming, but once again there was no fresh produce. I ended up bartering with a woman behind a little stall for four miserable whole limes. I noticed many locals walking around puffing clouds of smoke but where they purchased their cancer sticks remained a mystery to me.
My wife pointed across the road to a 7-11. Braving the hurtling traffic we scurried across only to find a broad selection of cigarettes with photos of diseased organs even more objectively horrifying than those found in Australia. I was at a loss for words. But my wife managed to purchase a cashmere scarf from the only original vendor in the place we could find, so it wasn’t a total dead loss.
We arrived back at the hotel after 11pm and even our talkative tour guide had run out of things to say.
“Did you learn many things tonight?” I asked his sleepy apprentice.
“Yes, yes! Many things!” His smile was brave in the circumstances.
I briefly pondered asking him what exactly he had learned but I realised that this would be too cruel, even for me. We barely managed a ‘good night’ to the other couples. All of us had the 1000 yard stare acquired only in serious combat or serious tour guide hell.