Samui Wining & Dining
BIG, BOLD, BRASH
Abidingly popular, Maenam’s weekly night market is guaranteed to pull in the crowds.

Page94-1The Thais are known for their speedy martial art, or Muay Thai; fighting that’s all blink-of-an-eye and totally efficient, so fast at times that it’s hard to capture on camera. But Thai speed isn’t restricted to fighting, and you’ll see other instances of it while you’re on your travels in the country. On Samui, the night markets, known colloquially as ‘walking streets’, that have sprung up in towns on the island are prime examples. The markets are only held once a week in each town on a designated street. The rest of the week the street goes back to its normal routines. But come the day of the market, everything changes. And fast. Really fast.

          

Maenam’s walking street is held right in the heart of town; it starts at the new Chinese gate by the traffic lights, goes down the street, then bends round to make its way back up the street parallel until it ends at the other Chinese gate.

          

The market is held every Thursday, and the area starts off quiet and near empty. You’d think nothing out of the ordinary was due to happen here.

It’s business as usual. But come mid-afternoon, all that changes. Pick-up trucks start arriving and unload chairs and trestle tables before driving off again. For the next hour, more and more vehicles come down the narrow road, negotiating the Chinese gates and unload. Soon the street is filled with the click-click sound of tables, stalls and awnings quickly being erected. The scene is repeated the entire length of the market, with a hundred or so stalls being put up. Everyone has their own space, which is precisely delineated, painted and numbered on the roadway; everyone has access to electricity,Abidingly popular, Maenam’s weekly night market is guaranteed to pull in the crowds. but anything else they might need, they’ll have to bring it themselves.

          

It’s not an easy way to make a living, but one of the main things you’ll notice about the island’s night markets is the sheer conviviality of the participants. No matter how tired they may be, or how the weather might suddenly turn for the worse, there’s something admirable about the way nobody complains but makes the best of the situation. And that situation can get quite weird: sudden power-outs that may go on for an hour; walls of cloud that chase down from the mountains and dump buckets of water over anyone who’s not ready. Or the sudden squalls of wind that can send whole clothes rails flying. It’s all seemingly part of being a vendor and nobody is fazed by the challenges of the evening.

          

By 5:00 pm everything is set up. Police now close off the access to traffic; only if you’re walking can you now get to the market. Well, you’d have no hope anyway if you were in a vehicle, as by now, the street is packed. Depending on the season, packed can mean simply crowded or virtually so dense with people that they’re more or less shoulder-to-shoulder. Not quite sardine level, but at times approaching it.

          

The sheer number of people attending the market turns the walk through the duo of streets into the slowest of slow strolls. To say there’s so much to see is a bit of an understatement. The stalls are so many, and people just feel they have to look at each and every one, no matter how briefly, that time itself seems off-kilter.

          

Everyone seems to enjoy the market. It’s not just something that’s staged for holidaymakers; it’s equally popular amongst the Thais and foreign residents – many come every single week. Will they miss out on anything if they don’t? Probably not, as most stalls are in the same spot every time, but it’s a chance to meet people, Abidingly popular, Maenam’s weekly night market is guaranteed to pull in the crowds.catch up with friends and just have something to eat.

          

There’s all manner of food being sold. Most of it is typically Thai and the kind that is only suited to a makeshift kitchen. You’ll find plenty of fried foods – some of it will be cooked before your very eyes. Other foodstuffs are already on display, such as tod man pla, or spicy fish cakes, then spring rolls, pad Thai, chicken thighs with rice and that western staple that’s long since been hi-jacked by all Thai markets, hot dogs. You’ll also find western food, too.

          

Delicious pizzas – 100 baht for a large size – await the hungry at the bottom of the road, outside See Daeng.

          

By the way, the shops and restaurants on the street remain open as usual – to get access you just have to go around whatever stall is in front. The street is a good place to try various Asian foods and has a both a Japanese and a Korean restaurant, and of course, Thai. Unfortunately, despite the Chinese architecture, there’s no Chinese restaurant here. If you’re looking to sit down and have a relaxed drink and meal right by the sea, then try either Sea View at the end of the street or Café Talay, just round the corner. Meanwhile, mojito stalls sell cut-price cocktails that you can carry with you as you walk.

          

But walking street isn’t just about food and drink. You’ll also find cut-price clothes from dresses and tops, to T-shirts and swimwear. Some of the prices are fixed, some not – but it never hurts to bargain, and you’ll be bound to get a discount if you buy two items or more. You’ll also find handicrafts on sale, such as leather and soap carvings, leather bags and purses, and crocheted clothing. The market’s also a good place to pick up gifts and souvenirs.Abidingly popular, Maenam’s weekly night market is guaranteed to pull in the crowds. Incidentally, the market here has some of the best prices for the island’s walking streets.

          

Close to the sea, you’ll find an amazing Chinese temple, and it’s well worth spending time here, especially if its doors are open; it’s beautifully painted and a favourite place to take photos. Just by the sea, there’s a small Chinese pagoda, also certainly worth a photo. The temple makes a good meeting point should you lose the others you’re with.

          

Around 10:00 pm, the market starts to shut down, and if you’ve had a mojito or three, it’ll appear to be folding itself away before your eyes, as steadily as a time lapse film – the nimble vendors go into overdrive and pack everything away into large plastic containers, whilst tables, struts and awnings get flat-packed. Soon trucks start arriving to collect everything and for a half an hour there’s the most massive traffic jam as everything’s being loaded up. good meeting point should you lose the others you’re with.  

          

By 11:30 pm the street is stone quiet. Uncannily so – it’s as if the hundreds of stalls, and all the people have simply de-materialized. And it’s quiet again. Really quiet. Just a residential street with hardly anyone about. For a repeat of walking street, you’ll have to wait another week. Or you can go the very next day, Friday, to Fisherman’s Village, just along the coast. You’ll see the same stalls and the same cheerful vendors, and you may experience an uncanny sense of déjà-vu.

          

Dimitri Waring

 

 


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