“Same, same… but different.”
This common Thai expression is one that perfectly sums up my perception of markets in Southeast Asia: they are the “same”, in that they are all densely packed environments full of colours, people, sounds, smells and (usually) oppressive heat. Often wet and uneven underfoot, they are a warren of activity that can be overwhelming for the visitor.
And, they are all “different”. Whether the difference is subtle or distinctive, each has a local flavour: the layout of the stalls, the faces of the people, the goods on sale. While some feature edible insects (e.g. Morning Markets and Bugs for Lunch, Cambodia), others specialise in flowers (e.g. Pyin Oo Lwin Flower Markets, Myanmar; Fragrant Flowers … Battambang Market, Cambodia). You can buy talismans (e.g. Golden Treasures of the Old City ~ Bangkok) or money: shaped into trees (e.g. Morning Markets ~ Attapeu, Laos) or butterflies (e.g. Three Markets ~ Three Countries (Thailand, Myanmar, Laos: Golden Triangle)) – and you can usually find plenty of local meat and produce (e.g. Another Morning Market ~ Mandalay, Myanmar).
Photographically, they are a challenge: the light is almost always tricky, with streaks of bright sunshine contrasting starkly with dark, shaded corners. Shade-cloths in ghastly green and bilious yellow cast unwelcome hues across the faces of the customers and vendors.
Markets – I love them!
As testing as the conditions might be, southeast asian markets are a rich source of photographic – especially portrait – material (e.g. Portraits ~ Bago Local Market and The People of Shwezigon Pagoda, Myanmar).
One morning on my trip around Myanmar – two years ago now – with Photographer Karl Grobl and local guide Mr MM, we stopped at two local markets. I’ve checked my notes, and beyond knowing that we were in the Bagan area somewhere, I have no idea which markets we were in. But, as is the case with most markets I have visited, the faces were open and the people were willing to be photographed.
Our next stop was at a “city” market, nestled into the Bagan streets. A much more structured complex, with brick walls and roofing of wood, woven bamboo and plastic sheeting, this market with its large bags of rice and other grains piled high, targets bulk-buyers.
I could always stay longer in any Asian market…
I spend very little money, and the smiles are always free. Perfect, really.
Until next time,