The markets of Laos come in two flavours – for the tourists, and for the locals. They’re a great example of the bizarre selection of food and crafts you can find on the streets in South East Asia. I wanted to show you what they’re like and I picked Laos because the markets there had some of the most weird selections I’d seen on my travels. They aren’t the best quality photos, most are snapshots I took whilst wandering around and I’ve since got better at this kind of photography – but what matters is the content – hopefully you’ll find it interesting!
A visit to a local food market in South East Asia is usually a vibrant and noisy experience. Vendors sell fruit, meat and vegetables in all shapes and colours, and you’ll probably only recognise a fraction of what’s on offer on your first visit. Usually it’s women manning the stands (or patch of ground) – and they range from “professionals” who buy from wholesalers and resell in bulk, to housewives selling a small amount of produce from their land.
One thing that I love about the less structured markets is how the sellers arrange their food. Check out these neat displays in Luang Namtha, in the north of Laos.
Night food markets for the purpose of eating, rather than buying goods to take away are very popular in Asia. The big one in the centre of Luang Prabang has some great food at dirt cheap prices and is great for backpackers looking for a cheap eat, as well as the popular with the locals. Many tourists eat in restaurants but often the best food can be found in these steamy eating areas for no more than a few dollars. There’s so much variety – you can get everything from a big bowl of noodle soup to a DIY buffet, and communal tables are a great way to meet people.
Asia is amazing for fruit juice and smoothies (just check the ice is ok first) and Laos is no exception.
My favourite things at this night market were the little snacks like dim-sum style dumplings, meat skewers and fast-fried desserts.
Back in the countryside though, your food can be bought even fresher. It’s pretty common to see fish sold swimming in bowls, chickens in cages and in the case of northern Laos, the occasional frog bucket covered in netting to stop them jumping to freedom!
The local markets certainly aren’t a place for the squeamish. In the meat sections you will see butchery in full swing and many parts of an animal up for grabs, depending on your location.
You may think you’ve seen it all now, but for tourists there’s even more. A popular souvenir to buy is the famous “snake whiskey” in the city of Luang Prabang, a rather dubious herbal wine mixture with a special ingredient. I’d like to know the origins of this drink, I was told it was like a local delicacy but I never saw anyone except tourists buying it, and the “Whiskey Village” you can visit seems like an overblown tourist trap. Of course it’s a big hit with the more adventurous backpackers, and I remember being given a shot of it myself from a stall owner I met. Oh, and there’s scorpion options available if snake doesn’t tickle your fancy. It tastes as good as it looks.
Craft markets are a staple of tourism income in Asia, and very popular with the tourists in Laos. Luang Prabang hosts one of the biggest, held in the evenings, where you can find everything from clothes to jewellry, art to ornaments. Like any souvenir tourist trap, you’ll see the same items again and again at different stalls and haggling is most definitely required. Of particular note to Laos are the Hmong tribe handicrafts, with their distinctive patterns and colours.
To the north in Luang Namtha, there’s a much bigger Hmong presence in the nearby villages, and little old ladies in traditional dress harrass/flatter/entertain tourists in the small market area to get them to buy souvenirs, a tactic which worked with my lady friends! I don’t think she’s got much of a choice here – she’s trying this sarong whether she wants to or not!
This market was also full of the colourful Hmong handicrafts I’d also seen in Luang Prabang.
Laos markets really have it all, its a particularly interesting place for them, with its bizarre food offerings and colourful handicrafts. My advice to you is if you’re in Asia, always make time to explore a local market or two – every town’s got at least one and they are always an interesting experience! I’ll leave you with some more Laos market photos. Enjoy!
See you next time!