The best way to submerge yourself into a place and culture is to do as the locals do, which is why visiting the Countryside Flea Market in Chiang Mai with local resident Aoy was the perfect way to delve into the daily life of the Thai people who reside in this northern, culture-rich region.
Despite the mild June rains, Aoy greeted us right on time at Chiang Mai’s southern gate, with a smile from ear to ear and a friendly “Sawadika”. We were to venture 40 minutes out of town to one of Chiang Mai’s truly local marketplaces where trades are made between city dwellers and people from the surrounding farming and hillside communities.
Into a traditional Songthaew we went as Aoy gave us a little insight into what we would expect for the day and why she decided to become a local tour guide in her community, welcoming guests from all over the world and showing them parts of Chiang Mai that tourists seldom go.
“The Countryside Flea Market is not only a market for people to trade, it’s a place that shows the history, the culture, and the lifestyle of the local people. I go there every weekend and want to share that experience with visitors to my country”
Aoy runs the tour through Thai-based start-up Take Me Tour, a traveling platform that provides special handcrafted day trips created by locals for travellers. Each Saturday Aoy guides visitors to the Flea Market, trying local foods, explaining ancient traditions and showing people what life is like for the local folks that set up their stalls here each week.
We arrive at the lively, bustling space, which would be even livelier had the rain subsided. Aoy takes us straight to a small food stand where we try Khao Soi, a northern noodle dish influenced by Burmese cuisine. I couldn’t believe that even in my 4th time in Thailand I had yet to try this amazing dish that consists of crispy egg noodles and a spicy red curry soup.
The Khao Soi wouldn’t be our only surprise of the morning. As we ventured through the alleys of the market Aoy showed us some of the many kinds of traditional northern Thai foods, some sweet and tasty like northern style sausage, and some not so sweet and tasty like pigs brains wrapped in banana leaf, although we were adventurous enough to try it anyway!
There was everything in the market, spices to sweets, fish paste to fashion, frogs to buffalo. Everyone came here to trade. For many farmers this was their only opportunity to sell what they had harvested for the week. Aoy helped them by purchasing a few snacks along the way. We had longons, a local fruit similar to a lychee. We tasted soybean preserve and bought some steamed sweet potato, we even got ourselves a bag of fried crickets, a much-loved snack for many Asian cultures.
During our tour we stopped off in a small coffee hut and had some jasmine tea and sweet, thick Thai coffee as we watched the locals go about their bartering. It was fascinating for us being the only foreigners there. Many of the stall owners greeted us with friendly smiles and offered us things to try. It was a really authentic experience and I could see how happy Aoy was to be able to share her culture with us, one of her first customers for this tour.
At the end of the tour we stopped off again at the local restaurant to finish with some snacks and a refreshing coconut drink that only cost 10 baht. Snacking on rice cakes made with sugar cane we talked about Aoy’s future plans to create a cooking class in her home and share more aspects of the Thai culture with future visitors.
Take Me Tour has been an important asset to people like Aoy so they can share their culture with more and more visitors. Visiting Thailand is not only about seeing the beaches and visiting the temples; it can also be about understanding the culture and experiencing places that tourists rarely go. Aoy provided us with that kind of experience and we really can’t wait to come back again to experience some more of Thailand through a local’s perspective.