I am participating in my first challenge with this post. Very exciting for me… anyway, this travel theme comes from Ailsa at Where’s My Backpack. http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/05/25/street-markets/
I’ve been to a lot of street markets in a lot of places, but it wasn’t really difficult to narrow down my pick. I chose to feature a street market in Thailand. After all, it is the most recent trip. I went to this market as part of a full day tour visiting Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle. It was one of the last stops before our long drive back to Chiang Mai. So many of the street markets I’ve been to have left memories of the numerous stalls, colors, smells, the sounds, the chaos. This market was no different in that sense, but it had more to offer than that.
I have many memories of this market, but two stand out far above all the rest. The first was how close to the Burmese border we were. I had the unexpected pleasure of ‘stepping foot’ in Laos at the Golden Triangle. I don’t know that I would count it as having ‘traveled to Laos’, but I can say that I’ve been there. Here, at this market, I could see the border gate to Burma from where the van dropped us off. I’ll admit I briefly entertained the notion of making a run for the border to be able say that I’ve been to Burma, too. The thought was quickly squelched when the realization of any conversation would require me to explain why I was so adamantly running toward a country in such political disarray and with so many human rights issues. I decided to let that one go for now.
The second memory I have of this market is the time spent with a couple of people I met on the tour. We shopped together choosing new sunglasses for Jack, a very cool guy from Perth, Australia. He is one of the most interesting teenagers I’ve ever met. He was traveling with his grandmother. A fascinating woman that kept wandering off leaving us to wonder what items had caught her eye now. This market didn’t stand out to me in any extraordinary way. The company I kept did. It was spending the day with my two new friends that made this a truly memorable street market.
Today was a looooong day, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I booked a trip up to Chiang Rai and it included a ton of different things. The highlights were; a stop at the White Temple, a boat ride on the Mekong River in the Golden Triangle, and a visit to a hill tribe village. I was excited to do them all.
The White Temple, Wat Rong Khun, is dream-like. The white color stands for Buddha’s purity and the mirrored glass represents Buddha’s wisdom. The bridge must be crossed to enter heaven. It’s truly spectacular!
The Golden Triangle – I could feel the activity of forty years ago on the Mekong River. The place had a bad vibe. It’s not picturesque in any way. And I’m sure it doesn’t look much like it did during the height of the drug trade (one might think I have a fascination with poppies), but the mind fills in the blanks. Along the banks of the river now are a couple of casinos, one in Burma and one in Laos (it’s illegal to gamble in Thailand). The largest one has been dubbed ‘Laos Vegas’. Cute. We stopped at a touristy market area and wandered around a bit. Something I never knew existed in the flavored whiskey world; Cobra whiskey, Scorpion whiskey, Tiger whiskey, etc. Naturally, I had to try some… Not too much flavor, but you could definitely tell it was whiskey! Jack has more kick.
The last stop was to visit a hill tribe. I had mixed feelings about this. The ‘featured’ tribe was the Karen Long Neck tribe, political refugees from Burma that fled and have been living in Thailand. This is the tribe where the woman add rings around their neck so their necks appear much longer than normal. The tribal village is set up for tourists. The woman have stalls where they sell various merchandise and the children know they are cute and head to the people with outstretched hands. It’s heartbreaking. This trip could be considered controversial. I’ve purposely not included photos from this portion. I have some on my camera, but took none with my phone for the blog. Why? Some view these people and the village as nothing more than a human zoo (see my opinion on zoos in the previous post). I can see how one may feel this way. However, there’s also the part of me that is genuinely curious about the lifestyle of this secluded culture. I’ve visited Taquile Island and have met the indigenous people of Uros, the floating islands of Lake Titicaca in Peru and felt the same conflict to a much less degree. Maybe because those people were not actively being persecuted by their home country. It’s a double edged sword because if the tribe does not seek help from outside sources (ie. tourists), then they would struggle even more than they already do. But are they freaks on display? I guess the answer lies within the visitor. Why are you here? To view the freaks? Or learn about a culture not your own. I choose the latter. But, will it get me over the bridge…