Today I became a little more of a true backpacker, leaving the Pineapple guesthouse and the comfort of being surrounded by fellow English speaking travellers and heading into the “big city” as it were- Phuket Town. Though tiny by comparison, to me it was a big city- lively and loud and wonderful. Full of sights and smells and music that was new to me. Everywhere people were moving, shouting, working… and sweating. 40 degrees on the beach is nice, but on the concrete of the city it was hot. I found a small backpacker’s hostel, checked in and dropped my bags then went for a look around.
I ate mango sticky rice for lunch, pounded the pavement for a couple hours then stopped at a massage parlour to rest my weary feet and enjoy my first Thai massage. I was greeted by the staff at the door, handed a cool towel to wipe my hands and face, then a cup of iced tea, followed by a quick foot-washing and foot massage. Then I was shown into a private room and given a simple 2 piece outfit, similar to a Japanese “Samue” (like loose pyjama pants and a pull-over v-neck shirt). At the end I was given a cup of hot tea. All of this cost only 250 baht (about 750 yen or 8$!). As I was walking back to my hostel, I was approached by several different men wearing orange vests, asking me if I wanted to go to the “night market”. I brushed them off but then remembered that this had been recommended to me by some friends back in Otsu, so I doubled back and accepted. After a quick barter, I got a ride out to the night market for 40 baht, on the back of a Yamaha scooter.
I was glad I had decided to go, as it was incredible. Words fail to accurately describe the breadth and depth and wonder of the market. I will do my best. Imagine the biggest parking lot ever, covered end-to-end in awning-covered stalls, each one bursting with every imaginable thing on earth. Now add in as many people as could possibly be packed in between the stalls, and imagine all of them yelling. Souvenirs, clothes, electronics, games, accessories, dry goods, and as you get deeper and deeper, you find the food market, buried in the back. The smell of the food stalls was overwhelming and within seconds my mouth was watering. Again- every type of food imaginable was being sold. I saw sushi, fried bugs, donuts, pizza, huge pots of bubbling stews, herbs and spices and peppers and fresh fruits and vegetables. Indian food, Chinese food, Thai food; seafood, meat, desserts, drinks. This was by far the biggest market I had ever seen, by far the biggest gathering of goods I had ever enjoyed the pleasure of walking through. Also- bartering was welcomed and even encouraged at every stall. After 4 hours of walking and bartering and eating and drinking and thoroughly enjoying myself, I had 5 tank tops, a board game for my son, soaps and candles and other souvenirs for all of my students; I had also eaten at a dozen different stalls, including the spiciest curry I have ever eaten in my life, plus had a smoothie and a cup of fresh pineapple juice. I rode back to the hostel with a big grin on my face, proof that I had really had a good time. Tomorrow I will head to a small island, which will turn out to be the natural opposite of the big city!