Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chiang Mai's Sunday Market: In Which "Wandering" Means Getting Lost

Our flights were uneventful and not unpleasant - it's novel to repeatedly fly such short routes on large planes, including a 747 for the one-hour HKT-BKK leg - and our Secret Garden host, Peter, was there to greet and to drive us to the property. The vehicle they use is similar to the ones that ply regular routes around the city: a compact pickup truck with a canopy cover and side-facing bench seats in the bed.

Our initial impressions of the Secret Garden are positive - more on that later. Now, after a welcoming beer, it's time to head for the famous Sunday Market. Peter drives us several minutes to the closest tuk-tuk bus route and we immediately hop on. For the equivalent of $2, the four of us ride back into the heart of Chiang Mai, cross the river, and hop off about a half mile away from the Market.

We find it without a lot of trouble and spend a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours wandering around, checking the merchandise, and making the occasional purchase. Once or twice Tom bargains for all of us and we buy indispensable items at unbeatable prices.

One feature that makes these expeditions more pleasant than markets in certain other countries we won't name (all right - Mexico and Turkey for starters) is that the friendly Thais don't pursue us, harangue us, or beg us to buy their goods. A smile and a "No, thank you" elicits a similar response from them 99% of the time.

By now, some of us are hot and sweaty, and dining in an air-conditioned restaurant sounds like a good idea. A helpful vendor who'd just made a sale to us points us in the direction of just such a place. Unfortunately, either her directions are faulty or we don't follow them well, and we walk and walk and walk until we've crossed the river again, with nary a restaurant in sight. In fact, we probably set a record for walking through a city in Thailand without encountering an eating establishment on our side of the busy road.

Lights on the river a block to our left draw us in like moths and a half hour or longer after setting out we stumble into the Good View Restaurant.

While it gets mixed reviews - Frommers awards it one star while the outlook at Trip Advisor is fairly dismal - we enjoy our meal, notwithstanding a young waitress whose performance is so poor that it finally becomes amusing.

Despite the waitress's worst efforts (Brian suspects she's ditzy in Thai too), we eventually manage to order and consume No. 24, 162, 130, 73, 81, 140, 70, and 42. More details? Spring Rolls (the best we've had so far on this trip), Spicy Papaya Salada, Tom Yum Goon Soup, Pork Larb, Soft-shelled Crab, Prawns with Basil, Pork in Tamarind Curry, Duck with Basil and Lime (our favorite dish), and Fried Rice with Chicken. We enjoy the band and vocalists who start their performance about halfway through our visit. They're not too loud, and their repertoire includes hits from our younger days.

Now it's time to return to the Secret Garden. We don't want to bother Peter, who has a standing offer to pick us up at the closest tuk-tuk stop, so we manage to find our own personal tuk-tuk taxi and negotiate with the driver, who assures us he knows how to find it. When we notice him first looking at his map and then stopping along the way to ask other tuk-tuk drivers where to go, we get the feeling we're in for a long ride. After a discussion with a fellow wearing a helmet-light who's spearing frogs from a ditch and already has a bag of them, we drive off in another direction, only to return for further consultations with the frog-spearer.

A half-hour later we finally persuade our driver to call Peter, and after another ten minutes standing by the side of the road, the driver directs us to climb back in, we drive almost literally around the corner, and there is Peter, standing outside the gates as he told the driver he would be.

Peter apologizes to us quite unnecessarily for the inconvenience, we apologize to him for disrupting his evening and waking up his sleeping dogs (although fortunately it's still only about 9:30 p.m. or so) and we head back to our rooms and sleep.

Kathy and Brian are now awake after a good night's sleep, and it's time to start a new day.

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