Wednesday, November 5, 2008

October 2007 page 4

The ever-expanding Night Bazaar

by Dave Besseling

The Night Bazaar is one of Chiang Mai’s must sees on the city’s tourist trail, and this fact is made all too clear the moment you step into the cramped havoc of it all; of despondent touts; of throngs of pale-faces sweating their way through the markets and stalls ogling the gallimaufry of throw-away trinkets and junk-pile kitsch; the token amnesiac memorabilia of a Singha singlet or a garden fan fashioned out of old Chang cans.

One must immediately call into question the degree of authenticity of the place, with shopkeepers turning ploys so garish as to retard the inquisitive mind and sicken the weathered globetrotter. Thus the question remains: what good is the place if you’re not shopping for your great aunt who keeps her sofa covered in plastic and leaves space in a display case for googly-eyed walnut shells or die-cast figurines?

For many, a perfunctory amble down the closed-in sidewalks through this particled artifice is all the mental residue the Night Bazaar will leave behind. But this said, for the keen-nosed nocturnal hunters of commerce, there are worthwhile things to be sought under the lame haze.

The area implied when mouthing ‘Night Bazaar’ is the stall speckled sprawl of Chang Klan Road, running from Thapae Road to Sridonchai. The building that started it all is on the South side of the road, almost imperceptible until you’re upon it. If you choose to take the stairs downward, a stunning display of craftsmanship can be seen in the shops displaying intricate woodcarvings along the left wall from the entrance.

In the area skirting the interior of the entrance wall, you’ll find artists who reproduce famous portraits of Axl Rose or Marilyn Monroe, or even you and the brood, for a fee. Their talent is unmistakable and the only difficult choice will be which one to choose. A stunning display of craftsmanship to be seen are the intricate wood carvings on the left wall from the entrance.

Should you choose to go up, you’ll find the microcosmic centre of what the Night Bazaar is all about, a mix of local arts and crafts, silver, textiles and the alternative to an artistic reproduction of yourself: the Chaiya Studio- where you get dolled up in local traditional garb, smile a glamour-smile and then have yourself airbrushed to a glistening sheen to ostensibly purvey a majesty not seen in your regular life.

But as the title of this missive implies, whatever one’s philosophical nodes think of the place, it just keeps getting bigger. Just across the street from the main building is the Kalare Night Bazaar, which came into full operation in the last year. The quasi-Lanna aluminum roof leads to a small stage where the caterwauling of Northern Thai folk music accompanies amateur dancers swirling a Tai Chi paced dance with those incredibly bendy fingers of theirs.

The decidedly more trendy, clean and up-market Kalare has a feel of what the French would describe as ‘hey wait, I’ve seen this before…’ This area is part and parcel for the upward clamourings of Chiang Mai, and when seen in this light, one realizes that with the fish on ice, the mongers’ uniforms being well pressed, not to mention the sexagenarian blondes sipping white wine, that this could very well be the Borough market in London. A 180 to the new stalls selling handbags and jewelry reminds us what Camden market has become in recent years. This coupled with the mammoth construction site outside (where the new Le Meridien Hotel will eventually open its doors) allows the observer a glimpse into the future; or at least the future that Chaing Mai and its prized Night Bazaar have in store for themselves.

The most recent expansion sees the Night Bazaar oozing across Sridonchai, where the effluvium of incense supplants the diesel and the lanes between shops are a little wider. The little girl with her violin segues from a Bach fugue to Polly Wolly Doodle, cajoling a sound-byte siren song to assure the lightening of wallets form the largest cross-section of farangs’ cultural backgrounds possible.

No matter how you envisage the place, after a few tours, you’ll need a drink; and thankfully, they’ve thought of that too, with places like the Hofbrahaus and the Red Lion serving Weisenstaphen, Leffe and Guinness to all us homesick wanderers. And almost no mention is needed that for a place this geared for tourists, there are the ubiquitous long-stays of culturally challenged sites, McDonalds, Burger King and Starbucks.

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