Going, Going, Gong... and some floating memories

A sign of the times in Chiang Mai - another failed business. Would have liked to have known how long a shop exclusively retailing gongs managed to keep afloat. But while on a watery theme...

The floating market has become something of a tourist cliche these days, part of the unavoidable list of must-see places for visitors to Bangkok - sooner or later you'll find yourself there, just as countless tourism touts will eventually end up persuading you to make a trip to the Tiger Temple. But if you're going to go, now's the time - the dearth of foreign visitors will make for a scene resembling the market in days of old. For once looking like the 'real thing', rather than an imitation version, a show put on for the tourists' benefit. Ok it's not - it's a bona fide market that has been trading in this manner for many years - but the seasoned traveller can end up with that nagging feeling, when persuaded to go along on an organised trip to places like this.

floating market near BangkokIn the days when tourists were still flocking to Thailand, visitors to the floating market near Bangkok.
floating market near BangkokClick on any of the thumbnails, small or large, to see the full-size photos...

floating market near Bangkok floating market near Bangkok floating market near Bangkok

It's a colourful and chaotic setting, for first time Western visitors to SE Asia providing a cultural 'rush' that leaves you giddy with exotic impressions of a world so far removed from our own.


On your way back home your guide will miraculously find the time to call in at a gem factory or the like, not originally on the day's agenda. You are under no obligation to buy of course, but he gets his pay-off just from leaving his group at the door. The theory is that the wide-eyed tourist fresh off the plane from 'civilisation', inebriated by Asian exotica, will be ripe for the soft sell. An attractive lady will act as your limpet-like assistant, ushering you through the maze of never-ending counters crammed with jewels priced at least 50% higher than in back-street shops. You don't know this yet - or you wouldn't be on a guided tour in the first place.

Still, if you have valiantly resisted, you start to wonder how to escape. You peer into the distance, but no sign of a way out. When you eventually have to ask if there actually is one, your personally assigned gem specialist will adopt a wistful look, while trying to sell you the last option, the cheapest item in the shop... then lead you to a door where the word exit has been printed in size 8 font.

At least this is no Tunisian souk... the salespeople in Thailand are restricted by a culturally bred natural reluctance to impose themselves on their potential customers. Walk through a night bazaar, and no street hawker will attach himself to you refusing to take no for an answer. A simple "mai ao, krap" (no thanks, I don't want), and you will be left alone.

That's one memory I always take back with me to Europe - the unfailing politeness of the Thais.

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4 comments:

Mike said...

So true. I remember my first visit to Bangkok as a "tourist" in 2000. The floating market, the gem sales etc. Wide eyed and with a wallet full of Baht (+ an English girl friend who wanted to spend it all).

I also remember Tunisia and the souk with the persistent sales person, who had obviously been watching TV, chasing after you shouting "Asda price" and other little gems from the adverts in your ear!

Theres a lot to be said for the Thais more gentle if sometimes devious approach to things.

Safe journey.

Non, Je ne regrette rien said...

are you back yet? (jealous)

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas Pete from Martyn and Wilai.

The FrogBlogger said...

Hi... well back in France just about, hopefully a blog to follow tonight. Feeling mightily depressed actually at being away from Thailand, although France has its good side! Just haven't rediscovered it yet :-)