The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is definitely bizarre. Strolling through this crowded ½ mile stretch of wall-to-wall sidewalk concessions is definitely a can’t miss experience for the first time visitor to Chiang Mai. Everything under the sun is for sale here – from handbags, knockoff jeans, pirated DVDS and a variety of clothing accessories to tacky (and obscene) T-shirts to faux bugs and snakes. Weaving through the parade of tourists are young Akha girls and women dressed in their native finery, trying to sell costume jewelry as well as wooden frogs that croak when you rub their top with a small wooden mallet. Whenever I hear the croaking frogs, I say “poot Gop” (in English, frog speak) as the Akha girls pass me by with a big smile on their face. In the past, I have purchased a couple of these novelty items. The variety of T-Shirts with tacky and tasteless designs is amazing, however if you look hard enough you’re bound to find one that has a design that is both aesthetically pleasing and made of quality material. On my last trip, the most outrageous T-Shirt I saw was a satirical condemnation of our former President, George Bush, who certainly is not the most highly regarded man in the world.
Before my little stroll through the night bazaar, I took my colleague and friend, Ms Moongmink, out for dinner at the Whole Earth Restaurant. Specializing in nouvelle interpretations of traditional Thai and Indian dishes (with many vegetarian choices), Whole Earth is a casual and semi-elegant restaurant, very popular with both well-heeled Thais and the tourist crowd. Unlike many Thai restaurants in Chiang Mai which cater to young backpackers, it is not cheap, but for a western tourist the Whole Earth cannot be considered expensive either.
After a very enjoyable dinner, a very unusual thing happened when I requested the bill “check bin”. I was simultaneously shocked, offended and humored when the young waitress presented the bill to my female friend instead of me. Feigning embarrassment, I immediately snatched the bill from my friend. Call me an American chauvinist if you will! I told her that this was the first time in my life that a waitress/waiter at a proper restaurant handed the bill to my female date. Explaining the young waitress’s rationale for her behavior, Moongmink gave me some very valuable insight into Thai culture and mentality. I’m sure Moongmink will come forth with her explanation shortly!