Something weird happened to me while I was traveling around Laos and Vietnam with Melisa, and even when I was in Chiang Mai with everyone else. I wasn’t concerned about buying a bunch of mementos, of taking a million pictures or fitting in as much as humanly possible. I had this crazy feeling that I would be back and that I would be able to do my shopping at another time that it made more sense to keep my load light for the time being. The only thing I bought from each place, was a postcard or two to send home to loved ones.
I fell in love with Laos. Looking at photos of Melisa’s return to build a school outside of Luang Prabang made me realize just how much we both fell in love with it. There are so many parts of it that are seriously untouched, hill tribes living with the bare minimum to survive, electricity being a relatively new concept, and the pace of life being so quiet that the entire country shuts down almost as soon as the sun sets. I love the pace of life here in Thailand, but the pace in Laos is turned down about 5 notches. But I don’t know if I could live there for that very reason. I’m a city girl, through and through, and I need streetlights and late nights. But I will be back. Maybe even for the chance to ride down the river on an inner tube and the view of the mountains in Vang Vieng.
I hated Vietnam at the time, but know that if I go back when everything is actually open and the country is its vibrant self I might feel differently. I hated Bangkok, but what I’ve realized is that I really hated the drunken, partying foreigners on Khao San. I might also feel differently seeing other parts of the city, although I think that once I’ve experienced the small town life here, it’s doubtful that I would fall in love with it.
The other thing I realized while at the Luang Prabang night market was that the trinkets sold at the markets are the same all over the place, and finding something specific to that culture takes a little more searching and knowing about the culture instead of just searching for something that “looks cool;” those can be found anywhere.
That reason alone made me not want to buy anything until I was sure that it accurately reflected the culture and wasn’t some cheap little trinket that was mass produced in China or some sweat shop. If I wanted stuff like that, I could head down to Chinatown and buy them by the armload.
It was another reason that I loved the Chiang Mai Sunday market, those were all local artisans selling their own handmade goods. It was like the Thai version of a one-of-a-kind show, but on the street, and with lots of amazing food. If I end up working anywhere near Chiang Mai, I can guarantee that I will be there every Sunday evening doing a weekly splurge.
While here in Ban Phe, on Monday and Thursday they have night markets and on those nights it’s routine to go and wander and buy market dinner. The first real local market that I’ve come across, it’s aimed not at tourists, but for the locals in Ban Phe to stock up on vegetables, snacks and used (or sometimes new) clothes.