Tag Archives: market

Farewell to Old Talat Sao

Talat Sao, or the Morning Market, Vientiane’s beloved downtown market, is officially no more.  Over the past few years, two shopping malls have been constructed around the old, open-air, more traditional market, but it continued to thrive in their shadows.  The Talat Sao II Mall was promised as being more modern, home to a movie theater and other amenities, but currently only has shops on 3 of its 6+ floors.  In finally demolishing the old market, there is a push for vendors to move into the shopping mall, although the rent is exponentially higher, and the space will be added to the mall property.

I used to go to this part of Talat Sao to buy fabric, or souvenirs to send home, or any number of random items.  Most people seem to be in agreement that it was better than either of the two malls looming overhead, but now the shops will be scattered between the shopping mall and other markets and shopping areas around town.

So here’s a tribute to the old Talat Sao market–its dark, dusty corners, narrow walkways, hanging signage, peaked roof, lack of airconditioning, and most of all, its labyrinthine passages which revealed all sorts of treasures, if you were patient enough to uncover them.

Read more about the market’s history and closure here.

R.I.P. Old Talat Sao.

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Chiang Mai

January 11-12: Chiang Mai

The final leg of my journey back to Vientiane was spent in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city.  I stayed in the tourist center of town and explored the plethora of temples and shops on foot.  The usual night market was combined with the final remnants of a holiday market downtown, which offered a dizzying array of handicrafts.  The city seemed to me like a more modern version of Vientiane–like the Lao capital it has lots of trendy Western restaurants, but these are supplemented by chain restaurants and a larger ex-pat community, and more tourist attractions.

One of my favorite Chiang Mai moments was when I walked by a local school soccer match being held on the blacktop next to a major temple.  The stands were filled with monks, watching and cheering intently for their teams.  Although I am used to seeing orange-robed monks in Laos all the time, I still find it charming whenever I see them doing “everyday” things, like texting, or going to 7-11 to get a snack.

Most of my visit to Chiang Mai was spent wandering on my own, soaking in images of the city.

See a gallery of all of the Thailand photos here.


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Trip to Bali Part 2: Ubud

“Transport?  Taxi?  Yes, transport?”  This is the refrain of the sidewalks of Ubud.  Every few meters, there’s another guy sitting at a storefront accosting all passersby with offers of transportation.  If you keep walking and look uninterested, they’ll always add, “Maybe tomorrow?  Where are you going?”  Though annoying, all of the drivers seem good-natured, somewhat aware of how ridiculous it would be if suddenly after walking past 10 other taxi drivers you suddenly wanted them to take you there, but persistent in offering anyway.

Ubud is packed with tourists, and places catering to tourists, even during the low season.  This means that there are annoying foreigners who do culturally-inappropriate-anywhere things like not wearing a shirt in shops (while nowhere near a beach), but also that there are lots of trendy ex-pat restaurants with “delicacies” (for Asia) like macaroni and cheese and guacamole.  The popularity of Ubud as an inland cultural, artsy town has probably only increased since the Eat Pray Love movie came out a few months ago, because, unbeknownst to me until after we got back, it’s the town where Elizabeth Gilbert lived in the book and the movie.

There’s not a whole lot to the immediate town except eating, and lots and lots of shopping.  Stores with handicrafts, from baskets to woodcarving to batik line every street, and there’s a jam-packed market in the center of town.  The market has everything from knock-off designer goods, to more art and handicrafts, to ubiquitous Bintang Beer gear (Bintang Beer is almost as good as Beerlao, but not quite), fruit, and endless sarongs.  The Balinese seemed to me like much more generous bargainers than the Lao.  In Lao at Talat Sao (Morning Market), the shopkeepers will roll their eyes at your lowball prices, and then let you walk away if you can’t come to an agreement.  In the Ubud market, a bargaining session between Alex and a merchant went something like this:
“How much?”
“80,000 rupiah.”
“How about 20,000?”
“NO, no…50,000.”
Starting to walk away.  “25.”
Sighing. “Okay.”

One of the big attractions that we visited was the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest and Sanctuary, which is at the end of–you guessed it–“Monkey Forest Road.”  Inside the forest, there are trails that lead through the lush overgrowth, with several temples.  Immense banyan trees grow alongside the path, with labyrinthine roots, and low-hanging branches that look like they belong to Tarzan.  Inside the forest, local guides sell bananas to feed to the 300 primate residents of the forest, who are not shy at all about demanding food, laying the middle of the path, and approaching visitors.  The monkeys are everywhere–cavorting on temple walls, eating insects off one another, lounging underfoot.  Because so many tourists visit and feed them, they aren’t at all hesitant to demand–or take–what they can find.  As we were walking unsuspectingly down the path a particularly audacious monkey dove onto Alex and began trying to pull his water bottle out of his pocket with its teeth.  After an altercation that involved not wanting to get rabies but wanting to detach the sharp-toothed monkey, the monkey won, managing to pull off the cap, and get a face-full of water.

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Just outside the main part of town, the tourist shops disappear and Ubud becomes a landscape of spectacularly terraced rice fields.  A small path weaves through the farms and into the forest.  After a session of hard-bargaining at the market, we decided to spend our second afternoon in Ubud meandering through the rice fields.  Despite the fact that it’s an activity recommended to all tourists by guidebooks and hotel owners, it was a peaceful experience.  We saw Jurassic Park-like foliage, farmers at work, uncomfortably large spiders, bathing children.  In a few areas, locals were selling things from their homes.  “Young coconut?” one couple offered.  We decided it was time for some refreshment, and asked for two, which were quickly cut open for us using a machete.  Most coconuts that I’ve had are nothing but quick snacks, but these…these were a challenge.  The coconut water seemed to be bottomless.  “One liter each,” our host said when we finally finished and had them cut open to eat the inside.

No visit to Bali would be complete without a trip to the beach, so after two days enjoying Ubud’s attractions, it was time to make moves to our next destination: the island of Nusa Lembongan.

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Bites, Beaches, and Birds

outside the Duomo

near the Duomo in the castello district

After our day exploring the great outdoors, we arrived in Cagliari–Sardinia’s biggest city (population somewhere around 100,000), situated on its southern coast. I had already seen Cagliari last summer, but it was interested to see the island’s bustling capital in the winter, decked out in Christmas lights, and with a busy night market near the port, selling everything from fresh olives to traditional rugs. We spent the next morning wandering around the castello district, the city’s historic and picturesque area, situated high above the modern city. In the afternoon, we took a short excursion to some of the other towns on the southern coast, toward Pula, Nora, and Chia, where there are now-deserted beaches, that must be packed in the summer, and of course more ruins along the shore. On the drive there and back, we finally caught a glimpse of the island’s legendary wild flamingoes…they’re all over the Sardinian postcards, but I had been starting to doubt their actual existence until we saw tons of them hanging out in the salty pools on the side of the road.


landscape near Pula

I also enjoyed some of the best Sardinian food of the trip while in Cagliari. The hotel where we stayed was in the marina neighborhood, close to the port, with skinny cobblestone streets packed with shops and restaurants. Sardinia cuisine has its own characteristic pasta shapes, and includes lots of sheep cheese, seafood, olives, lamb, and pork. During our two nights in Cagliari, I enjoyed tasting lemon veal, sea urchin, gnochetti, Sardinian ravioli (filled with potato, mint, and sheep cheese), and of course some delicious local wines.

mmm delish

olives at the Cagliari market

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

The three of us arrived in Milan this morning after a long but uneventful plane ride, and set off almost immediately to beat jet lag by tackling the city on foot.  I was shocked to discover how freezing it was as we walked (not sure why this surprised me, since we flew in over snow-capped mountain peaks), but the weather was bone-chilling, especially because I’ve packed primarily for the more temperate Sardinian climate.  The holiday decorations around town were cheery though, even on this dull and foggy day.  Colored lights adorned many of the trees, and hung over the streets, and twinkled on the ceiling of the Galleria shopping area, where oversized mistletoe hung.  In the fashion district, posh store windows displayed holiday cheer, and little fabic-covered Fiats served as planters for light-covered trees.  Inside the famous and spectacular Duomo were several small nativity scenes, and in front an enormous Christmas tree decorated by Tiffany’s.

holiday cheer

holiday cheer on a foggy day in Milan

Aside from admiring these typical Milan sights–the Duomo, La Scala, the fashion district, Castello Sforzesco–we also happened upon some fun holiday street markets.  Not far from the Duomo were the Mercatini di Natale, where traditional candies, pastries, meats, and cheeses, were sold alongside jewelry, pottery, dolls and cold-weather clothing for unprepared travelers.
merry, merry!

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walking along the water in Ortigia

Syracuse was my favorite city we visited on the trip.  It seemed to have just the right combination of charm, beauty, culture, and grittiness, and the nice hotel we stayed in didn’t hurt either.  Hotel Gutkowski was right on the water in Ortigia, a neighborhood of Sicily that is actually it’s own little island, connected by bridges to the rest of the city.  The rooms were clean and crisp, designed as if to feel like a neat beachside cottage (and impression helped by the shores of the Mediterranean just outside our window).  Ortigia, small and very walkable, is the oldest part of the city featuring many historic sites, such as the Castel Maniace, the Duomo, and the ruins of a temple to Apollo.  We spent the morning of the first day walking around Ortigia to see these sights, and then took a break in the market district for lunch.  The markets were chaotic, but were just what I would have imagined a Sicilian street market to be: dirty, loud, filled with strange scents of pungent cheese and seafood, and home to all sorts of things that one wouldn’t find a tame American farmer’s market.  Right next to a stand selling prickly pear fruit was a bucket of little squid and next to those a massive swordfish head, and so on.

swordfish heads :-(

swordfish at the Syracuse market

My birthday, the first one I’ve celebrated abroad, was on the first day in Syracuse, and we celebrated that night by doing the same thing that we did during all our free evenings: eat and drink.

pizza yumyyumyyumyuum

just part of my amazing birthday feast

Some of the guys on the trip had been lucky enough to be assigned to a palatial apartment-style room in the hotel, which had it’s own living room, so we had a little apiritivo party there before heading out to another incredible Italian dinner. I split a pizza diavole con olive (pizza with mozzarella, tomato, spicy pepperoni, garlic, and olives) and pasta alla norma (pasta with eggplant, tomatoes, basil, and cheese).  And a free lemon sorbetto for dessert!

The next day, we visited the Neapolis, home to many of Syracuse’s ancient sites, including two amphitheaters, a quarry, monastic rock dwellings, and a giant altar.  In the old quarry area is a cave called “The Ear of Dionysus,” which looks a lot like an ear opening carved in the rock, and has astounding acoustics.  We all walked through the “canal” to the very back, where one of the grad students with an astounding voice sang while our eyes adjusted to the darkness.  Once outside the ear (we decided it was time to go after someone got pooped on by one of the caves winged residents), we collected fallen limes from the many trees in the area on our walk to the exit, where a stand was selling freshly squeezed juice.  The next stop in Syracuse were the Catacombs of San Giovanni, an underground labyrinth of early Christian tombs (now without bodies) that our hilariously bad at English tour guide gave us a whirlwind tour of before shooing us away so she could get off work for the day.  On our way out of Syracuse we visited the Castello Euriale, ruins of an inland defensive structure, whose best feature was the stunning vista of the city, the sea, and the countryside.

view of Syracuse

looking out toward Syracuse

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Lounging in Lille

Lille, where I have been staying since leaving Brussels on Tuesday night, is part of a fairly large metropolitan area in the north of France.  The city is much smaller than Paris though, without major sights or a large metro system.  Lille feels more like a university town, which it is, and it has a very cute downtown area, with several large public squares and winding cobblestone paths that make up vieux Lille, the oldest part of town, with pricey shops and cafes.

a view of downtown Lille

a view of downtown Lille

The last few days have consisted largely of shopping and meandering in downtown Lille, where I am staying with my friend Lise.  Yesterday we went to the Lille marketplace, an overwhelming hubbub of vendors selling fruits, vegetables, roasted chickens, spices, and so on, where we made off with a large bag of groceries for less than 5 euros.  Tonight and tomorrow night I am going with Lise and her boyfriend to a music festival called Les Nuits Secretes, which is about 50 minutes away.  I’m not entirely sure what to expect so I’ll be sure to update when it’s over.

In other news, my final Bonjour Paris articles are up on the website:
Paris on the Cheap
Corsican Adventure
Corte and Vizzavona
Once again, only the introduction is available for free for most of these articles, so just let me know if you’re interested in finding out more.  The Corsica articles are a three part series, so the third and final article will probably be up on the site in the next few weeks.

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Filed under France, Lille