It was and is one of my small missions to highlight how Phuket is more than what people think. It's more than a tacky tourist take on "real" Thailand. It's more than Patong and ping pong shows. It's more than the high rise hotels that make me shudder a little. It's more than being an easy holiday destination - not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, it's thanks to Phuket's infrastructure and international airport that we called the island home for a few months.
I will hopefully dish out many more reasons why in due course, but there is one reason that reminds me of this in lots of colourful ways. The markets that take place across Phuket (with a few exceptions) are where you can see glimpses of the real Phuket; the one that not many tourists indulge or even encounter. This is the Phuket where people undertake small but skilled and repetitive manual labours to make modest amounts of money - preparing and cooking a variety of chicken kebabs, growing, nourishing and chopping fresh fruits and vegetables to sell at daily markets, presenting fish caught on a boat earlier that day. These are traditional people - yes, they are moulded by the tourism that has all but transformed Phuket in the last few decades - but they still hold traditional values; market stalls are run by family members and the majority of them work long and laborious days without much rest in between. The stall holders have warm smiles for you but there faces still hold the wrinkles of concentration and small beads of sweat. You will find the majority of market workers in Phuket (and possibly other parts of Thailand) are mostly women; women in Thailand are often the "money men" in both families and businesses, an interesting tradition I am often proudly reminded of when I am given the bill in restaurants, even though NewMan requests it... We are not natural street food eaters.
We almost always ask what something is before we try it. On a side note I'm a little unsure why we do this as often we're left none the wiser by the answer and then we just buy it anyway, but it's become habit as a way to introduce ourselves to the seller.
We avoid the dried fish, calamari and squid that looks so foreign and adventurous but turns my stomach in a way I can't ignore. Needless to say then that the same goes for the deep friend insects!
I adore the Thai fish cakes served in spicy cucumber salad in a small styrofoam dish and I could eat yellow rice and fresh corn until it emerged from my ears. I can take or leave the various skewed chicken and pork, but will choose market chicken satay over a restaurant version any day of the week. I love flat noodles, egg noodles and the "angel hair" style noodles - cooked in either pad see ew or pad thai - and I love pad pak bung - morning glory cooked in soy sauce with far too much garlic and red chilli.
I manage to always justify the small deep fried dough balls that I shouldn't eat but do and barely an afternoon goes by when I don't think about a crispy Thai pancake drizzled in condensed milk and sugar.
And for the record, in Phuket the Thai green curry seems to get better the less you pay for it... Over the last few months we developed a comfortable routine of buying all our vegetables and fruit from these markets and I know that when we're back in London our having to go in to a supermarket to do the same at possibly four times the cost will be a huge disappointment.
There are three markets in Bangtao that are each open two days a week. The largest is held on Monday and Thursday nights behind the Tesco Lotus store on Bangtao's main road. The smallest is mainly full of food stalls and can be found opposite Cheong Thale police station on Sundays and Wednesday nights. And on Tuesdays and Fridays there is another street market which is again mainly food and most of it is halal with lots of meat and fish; there is also the option here to buy your poultry products while they're still walking along and flapping their wings! This market is the most authentic in many ways and is held further along the 4025 road towards Surin Beach.
As an important side note for fellow vintage clothes fans, I was pleasantly surprised to find that each of these markets has a selection of clothes shops often with second hand clothes on sale, though you have to rummage for vintage pieces. The best results I enjoyed were at the larger market behind Tesco Lotus where there were about four shops of this nature and it was here that I snapped up four vintage dresses and a silk shirt for £10.00.
Frances M. Thompson
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