Saturday, June 18, 2011

Night Market and Fish Spas

Every Sunday in Chiang Mai they close off Ratchemonden (sp?) street and it becomes a massive market. The street itself runs the length of the old city and becomes a never ending stretch of food vendors, craftmakers and buskers.

We’d heard that the market was worth checking out so we made sure to leave some time to do it. As we left the cooking school we wandered in the direction of the street and saw that people were just getting started setting up. Even though there wasn’t even the slightest possibility of eating anything we looked at the food vendors and decided that once our stomachs were finally ready to enjoy some more food we would definitely be coming back for dinner.

We wandered along the streets a bit before we heard a familiar sound – thunder. We’d become accustomed to the daily storms that seemed to hit Chiang Mai, usually between 5 and 7 every day so we thought it wise to head back to the hostel and chill out a bit while it rained.  We made it back just before the rain started coming down, and we were glad that we had chosen to come back – it was coming down hard.  It only rained for about an hour, but it was enough to take some of the heat out of the air and give us a chance to rest.

We left the hostel again to go back to Ratchemonden street, which we realized was actually very close to where we were staying. I was a bit grumpy, maybe from the heat, maybe from being up so early, maybe just because sometimes even though you’re having a great time you are still grumpy, and was dragging my feet slightly. As we walked we passed Dr. Fish, a fish spa that was on our usual route from where we were staying. (An aside – I found it extremely frustrating to read maps in Thailand because the spellings of the streets in English is completely arbitrary and changes from intersection to intersection and almost NEVER matches the map, or guidebook or GPS. Infact the maps and guidebooks and GPS never agree on spelling either. So landmarks, such as “FISH DOCTOR!” became the easiest way to navigate around).

Anyway, we’d joked a few times walking past that we should get a fish spa. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept I will elaborate: you stick your feet in a container filled with fish who then come and eat the dead skin off your feet. I’m not kidding. These aren’t even very exciting fish – totally your usual run of the mill garden variety pleckos that you can get at any pet store to clean your fish tank. 

Ren, sensing my discontent but not really sure what to do to fix it (nothing he could have done, really, but props to him for trying) suggested we should all get fish spas. And he’d treat me. I was a bit nervous but the whole trip had taken on the motto of “We’re doin’ it!” which meant we were doing just about anything you could do. So we did it. The fact that they had beers available was a definite bonus – who can say no to beers and fish spas?!

I stuck my feet in first. And almost yanked them back out. It was the most ridiculous feeling thing I have ever experienced. Within seconds of me putting my feet in the fish swarmed my toes and started chewing away. And it tickled. A LOT. I started to laugh. Uncontrollably. With tears streaming down my face. But I kept my feet in there and finally grew accustomed to the feeling of little fish chewing on my feet. Almost came to enjoy it, except for when one would find a super sensitive spot between my toes that had never been touched before.  Eric finally decided to join in the fun after Ren and I both were laughing super hard, and the three of us enjoyed our beers and talked about how ridiculous the whole thing was.

When our time was up – about 25 min later, my feet felt .. interesting. I would say they were more smooth than before – they at least felt kinda like it. And along with the dead skin my bad mood was gone.
Feet freshly fished, we made our way into the market. Still not totally starving but wanting to take advantage of all the interesting foods, we took turns buying random things on a stick and sharing them.  I couldn’t tell you all the things we tried, but if they came on sticks or could be eaten with sticks I’m sure we gave them a go.

We saw a lot of amazing things that night – people playing local music, singing etc, but I think the most amazing thing we happened upon was a flower burning festival at one of the wats. People were lined up buying flowers to burn as offerings to Buddha. In the middle of the courtyard was a massive shrine with flowers everywhere, and off to the side was a stage with people (children, mostly) performing. The energy in the air was electric – even if you weren’t religious or spiritual it was an amazing thing to witness.

Eventually we had to head back to the hostel to grab our things and take off to the airport. It was getting late, at least 9pm, and our flight was at 11. It was a late flight, but on the upside we would soon be in Phuket – gateway to Koh Phi Phi!!

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