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Thailand’s Famous Fresh Markets

Photo by Courtney Ridgel

By Courtney Ridgel

Thai food is famous around the world, and there is no better way to experience the real deal than to head to a local food market.  Here you’ll find just about everything under the sun and you’ll have the chance to dine out the way the locals do and enjoy the people-watching.  Thailand boasts dishes that are unique to each region so it is worth visiting multiple markets with a local guide who can help describe what you are seeing, smelling and sampling, and who can also translate and make suggestions for you (and let you know when to steer clear of things that may be too spicy or not properly cooked).

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

In Chiang Mai, Tien, explained the local specially encompasses a certain egg noodle soup (which was delicious) , but she also had me sample the local coffee, the best fried chicken that I have ever eaten in my life, fried pork rinds, fried water buffalo skin, a variety of fruit, a different noodle soup and as I was feeling bold, blood sausage soup, which I decided was not to my taste.  Pork dishes seem to be a particular favorite to the Thais.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

In Bangkok, Well led me to a local market (hidden down a maze of back alleys between the tall buildings) where fresh vegetables and spices are brought in daily from the countryside.  Here we sampled tamarind, fresh ginger, turmeric, a variety of candies made from sesame seeds, peanuts and honey, and admired the fresh flowers used in decorations, wedding ceremonies and as offerings at temples.  (I confess that I steered clear of the very large fried cockroaches- I’ve tried crickets before and so far that has been the extent of my bravery on eating bugs.)  The space for this market was donated by the Royal Family so there was also a shrine set up in their honor.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

If you find yourself drawn to food, we’d recommend our Bangkok’s Culinary Delights tour to sample more of Bangkok’s legendary street food.  I personally can’t wait to go back and try more of the savory soups and delicious grilled meats and fried fish I spotted.  If you want to learn to prepare these dishes yourself, we recommend taking a cooking class with Pantawan Cooking School in Chiang Mai, and Amita Thai Cooking School in Bangkok.

Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel
Photo by Courtney Ridgel

Markets of Myanmar: A photo essay

Words and photos by Edna Kornberg

Fruit seller
Many exotic fruits are available.

The best way to know a country is through its people. Visiting the daily markets that each town has opens worlds. Myanmar was no exception.

Everything is sold from all types of foods (some of which Westerners would find extremely exotic, like fried ants!) to the basic vegetables, meats, fish and poultry. Colorful spices abound as well as a multitude of grains.

friend ants
Ready for a snack? How about some friend ants?

You could furnish a gourmet kitchen from all types and sizes of pots and pans, utensils, silverware, and drinkware.

The people (sellers as well as buyers) interact with each other as well as with the tourists which makes this a first class social event as well. It is a way of life that has been going on for decades even centuries.

The color and spirit and the din of everyone talking at the same time is infectious. The friendliness, warmth and humility of these people is contagious and so inviting.

Click here to view the photo gallery if not embedded below.

Ready to see Myanmar for yourself? Click here to have a Journeys Within regional specialist contact you, or call toll-free (877) 454-3672

The wonder of Southeast Asian markets

Without a doubt one of the highlights of any visit to Southeast Asia is a trip to a local market. Exotic, atmospheric and photogenic, the markets found around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar are a million miles away from your average shopping mall or corner store …


Southeast Asian markets come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the eclectic to the more specialized. Central Market in Phnom Penh is a great example of the former; this beautiful Art Deco structure, which was among the largest markets in Asia when it first opened in 1937, sells a huge range of goods including gold, silver, clothing, clocks, books, food, fabrics, shoes, souvenirs, luggage, electronics, stationary — it’s a proper ‘one-stop-shop’ and an absolute must-see for tourists.

At the other end we find more specialist markets like Pak Khlong Talat, Bangkok’s Flower Market, selling only flowers, fruit and vegetables. In addition to these there are floating markets, night markets, morning markets, 5-day markets (so called because the market’s location rotates between 5 different venues over a 5 day period), tourist markets — the list goes on!

From household items and food to clothing and tourist trinkets, Asian markets have it all!

However, Southeast Asian markets have far more significance than merely being venues for shopping.  Often the center of a community, they can also be a crossroads and meeting point for different ethnic groups, Sapa Market in North Vietnam being a very good example of this.  People from the H’mong, Dao, Kinh and other minorities gather here from the surrounding hamlets to trade farming products such as rice, corn and fruits. More recently a large part of their trade has also been handicrafts and souvenirs for tourists. Even romance can be found by those who look hard enough — Saturdays in Sapa takes on special significance for young people with the ‘Love Market’ when hill-tribe teenagers trek into town to look for a mate!

An overwhelming pile of shoes makes for quite the sight. Even more impressive is how well the vendors know their stock and can locate what is needed.

In addition to shopping and socializing, markets can offer a third attraction – food! It’s rare to find a market in Southeast Asia that doesn’t have either a sit down food court of some kind, or  a collection of street food stalls. Street food and other informal eating outlets are extremely popular in the region, and you will find that you are never far from a snack when visiting a local market. The vendors themselves are attracted to this occupation because of the possibility of earning relatively high incomes. In Southeast Asia, the earnings of a street food stall holder can be between three to ten times the minimum wage and are often comparable to the wages of skilled laborers employed in more formal sectors.

A woman sells gold at Psar Leu, Siem Reap’s largest market.

Making a purchase at a local market is another one of those unforgettable experiences when travelling as it involves the ubiquitous art of haggling! Generally limited in the West these days to informal flea markets or garage sales, bargaining is alive and well in Southeast Asia and accompanies almost every transaction, large or small. Guide books give you tips on how to do it and fellow travellers may agonize over it but to Asians it is simply a way of life.

The best advice? Throw yourself into it with a smile, keep in mind that a dollar is worth a lot more to the vendor than it is to you and don’t take the experience too seriously — market visits are meant to be the highlight of the day!

Food Culture in Vietnam Part 1- Healing Foods

By: Michelle Nguyen- Vietnam Director

Come with me and let’s continue our virtual food journey through Asia. Andrea has shared about Myanmar and Nicole about Laos so let’s continue to Vietnam.

As a self-confessed foodie with a Vietnamese husband and family I fit right in here and have been on a journey of discovery since I arrived in 2004. Word of warning though, Vietnamese love to eat (constantly) and yet they remain so slim! Vietnamese are incredibly gracious hosts and they love to show their welcome through their food, rice wine, beer, tea and coffee (grown in the plantations in the central highlands here). Take note that if you are full then leave a little on the plate to indicate this, or the food may just keep on coming!

Vietnam has an extremely healthy and varied, albeit odd by Western standards, diet.  Living in Asia, you realize that nothing is wasted and everything goes into the pot- quite literally! A head or feet in the dish is quite normal in local cuisine, so be prepared.  However, many of these somewhat strange additions to dishes are made for a purpose.

Vietnamese consider food as their natural healing larder. If you have a cold then eat caramalised kumquats (including the skin) for a sore throat, drink a mug of fresh beansprouts in boiled water, or sliced fresh ginger in boiled water with a little honey. If you are constipated locals eat dragon fruit and if you have an upset tummy then you are recommended to eat green bananas.  There are too many local natural remedies to mention…

Vietnamese markets provide a vast array of fresh and healing food

In a similar manner, it is also believed that the part of the animal you eat brings health benefits to that part of your own body. So if you are feeling adventurous just go with the flow… For example chickens’ feet are considered to have a high vitamin nutritional value, provide a lot of energy and strengthen tendons.

Chicken feet- high in nutritional value

Offal and innards are also often eaten to strengthen health.

Insides and out

Certain meats in particular are also believed to have healing benefits:

Baby clam soup is one of my favourites and a dish I had a real craving for when I was pregnant, quite logical when you learn that it helps to reduce body heat and the nutritional properties it provides.

Snake (Thit Ran): Snake wine, made by soaking snakes in alcohol or by mixing the body fluids of a snake into wine or whiskey, is widely believed to enhance virility.  You will see snake whiskey is readily available everywhere and is considered very nutritious. Eating snake meat is also thought to be a great food remedy for the treatment of arthritis. It is, however, not allowed for pregnant women or children. Personally, I prefer drinking the snake whiskey to eating snake hot pot as, to me, snake can be quite boney.

Fetal duck eggs (Trung Vit Lon): This is where embryos develop in to young chicks inside the shell. Still in the shell they are boiled and eaten with lemon, salt and pepper and with Rau Ram (a kind of vegetable). I haven’t yet tried these but I am told they taste strong and minty. They are commonly eaten to encourage good luck after a run of bad luck and as an aphrodisiac.

If you have any sort of health problem I’m sure the Vietnamese have a food cure for it!

The Andreas Find Treasures in Myanmar

By: Andrea Ross

Visiting local markets can be one of the highlights of travel and I love searching for that hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Today Andrea 2 and I visited Scott’s Market, locally known as Bogyoke Market, in Yangon. Once there we explored through local and souvenir stores looking for the perfect gift for ourselves or someone at home. After climbing to the second floor of the market we found a wonderful hidden store called Yo Ya May Ethnographic Textile Gallery which was filled with modern and antique textiles and jewelry.

We found a wonderful hidden store.

The shop’s friendly proprietor, Daw Khun Shwe, brought out books highlighting different Burmese tribes, introduced us to fabrics and weaves from different groups throughout the country, and let us wander and browse to our hearts content. I love textiles and fabric and hearing the stories of the various ethnic tribes. Ms Shwe, herself, is from the Chin tribe so she showed us the traditional skirts, shirts and jewelry worn by her people.

The friendly proprieter- Ms. Daw Khun Shwe

Andrea 2 and I both found necklaces, not antiques (just about 50 years old), but they are beautiful and unique pieces that cost only $20 each!  It was a lovely surprise and I highly recommend anyone coming to Yangon to visit the Yo Ya May shop to find your hidden treasure!

The Andreas with their found treasure!