Last night, I made a beeline from my last class at ECC to attend the inaugural Sunday walking street market Sponsored by the Phuket Old Town Community (POTC), this will take place every Sunday from 16:00 until 22:00 along Th. Thalang and Soi Rommannee in an effort to boost civic pride and the local economy.
The theme of the event translates as “Let Phuketians Be Phuketian” and seems to be promoted more towards Thai people than foreigners. However, farang are plenty welcome to come and spend their baht (and I heard more than one vendor express dismay at how many of us were there!). Indeed, all of the signage is in Thai and the official name for the market is Lard Yai. This was actually the original name for Thalang Road, meaning “Big Market Street”, back when it was the center of commerce for the entire island (and largely controlled by Chinese merchants and tin-mining barons).
I thought of it as a sort of miniature version of the Old Phuket Town Festival, held annually just prior to Chinese New Year. However, this event seems much better organized. Upon arriving at the “official” entrance at the Thepkassatri/Phuket Road end of Th. Thalang, one immediately sees the first signs of the 40,000 baht that the government gave the POTC for decorations. A Chinese-style arch spans the road. Further on are large letters and numbers spelling out “Lard Yai” and “2013”. Everyone attending appeared to want to pose for photographs here. I suppose Facebook and Instagram were overwhelmed by Lars Yai snaps last night!
The street is divided into four zones: food, souvenir, handcrafts and ‘show’. There were several picnic benches set up in the food zone (hooray!) which was a very nice touch. My only complaint with the Old Town Festival has always been the distinct lack of places to sit down and eat.
Supposedly, the event is “eco-friendly” with bans on styrofoam containers, smoking, and pirated goods. I did see plenty of all three despite an extremely heavy police presence. But at least the boys in brown stepped in on a few occasions when gangs of Thai teenage boys tried to cause a bit of trouble. There has been A LOT of this gang-related mayhem lately in Phuket Town (school term break?) which is quite unusual for this part of the island.
A huge variety of food was available — both contemporary and modern — with some of the lowest prices I’ve seen in years here. Many items were practically at Isaan price levels (read, dirt cheap)! I couldn’t get enough food, filling up on larb, fried chicken with sticky rice, kabobs and satay, even a couple of scoops of local coconut ice cream. Yummy!
There wasn’t much going on in the “show” zone other than three of my former students doing some really astounding Thai dance, complete with the Indian-style contortionist bit at the end. They were raking in the tips, including a very generous 100 baht from “Teacher Mark” (I’m generally very tight with my meager earnings). There were also a few portrait artists and an appallingly bad magician. But he made the crowds laugh at his ineptitude so I suppose he provided entertainment solely in sanook (“fun”).
The handicraft and souvenir sections pretty much blended together. And there was much more variety than I’ve seen at any previous Phuket festival or market. I saw so many things I wanted to buy! Many of the “regular” t-shirt artists had really improved on the old designs I’ve seen for years and there were some really fresh ideas.
There were new postcard designs everywhere I looked. Since I’ve lived here there have only been a couple of local postcard publishers supplying the racks around the Muang District (Phuket Town). Their postcards look nice but I’d been craving something new (hence, my own tentative forays into postcard design). Recently, I’ve begun to spot a few new ones here and there. But at last night’s Lard Yai, this trickle became a deluge and I had a difficult time choosing. Eventually, I’ll probably buy examples of every card!!
The “coolest” souvenirs I found were all at one stall. Much of this vendor’s stock was postal-related, several featured the Thai style of mail boxes (similar to the famous British pillar boxes). I’ve recently become enamored with them and have been photographing the different styles I’ve come across around town. The stall was tailor-made for me; I bought a keychain and what I believe is a luggage tag or gift tag, each featuring a red Thai Post mail box. These were 30 and 40 baht, respectively.
I also purchased another clever idea at the same stall — a Phuket passport for only 50 baht. It looks just like the Royal Thai passport except the garuda seal is replaced by a man lounging beneath a palm tree and it says “Phuket Passport rather than “Thailand Passport”. The pages inside are blank but I think it’s just the thing to apply the postmarks I recently designed. What would really be cool would be if local businesses or attractions would apply some sort of handstamp when you visited (similar to the National Parks Passport in the U.S. Or, they could use it as some sort of frequent customer campaign. Just some ideas…
In the hour-and-a-half or so that I walked around, I ran into numerous people I knew — fellow teachers, parents and students. Of course, I also ran into our diminutive madam mayor. It sees that I cannot attend a single Phuket Town event without bumping into her at some point.
The reason I’d rushed to Old Town straight from work was in an effort to beat the rain. We’ve had frequent but brief squalls day and night recently which makes carrying an umbrella at all times a real necessity. So, I wasn’t surprised when the heavens opened up shortly before eight o’clock. I took refuge with many others on the sidewalk (the five-foot overhang being a really great feature of the Sino-Chinese shophouses for just this purpose) and waited five minutes for that shower to end.
There were a couple of additional brief showers during my short walk home but it was enough to dampen my spirits. From the reactions of so many others I saw on Thalang Road last night, I deem the Lard Yai debut a successful one. I can’t wait for next week, especially as the Phuket Vegetarian Festival will have begun on Friday. See you there!