Monday, April 18, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 17: Night Market, Udon Style

A portion of the food court seating area, taken from an elevated vantage point

[This is Part 17 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find parts 1 through 16 by clicking HERE.]

It was well into football season (soccer to those of us in the West) when we were on our road trip into Isaan, and the first night we ventured into the largest night market in Udonthani there was a match of particular interest to the crowd attending, leaving very little seating in the food court area where there were many monitors showing the night's competition. I say "largest" because there may very well be others away from the main downtown area, but I'm not familiar with those, so let's cover all bases for the purists out there.

The night market I've visited many times covers some serious ground; a lot of it covered space, which is nice. My friend met Suphot and I at our hotel and we proceeded to the market for dinner and a look-around. I was beginning to be hobbled by allergies, a cold or both, so I was hoping for some comfort food and perhaps some clearer air than we'd had there so far, but that was not to be, unfortunately. In fact, although the sunrises and sunsets were beautiful, the air quality in Udonthani itself was abysmal the whole time we were there, and I was beginning to pay the price for it.

Along with the seemingly endless stalls of similar shirts, shoes and assorted clothing there's the usual eclectic assortment of items for sale: foliage plants, cacti and succulents, music CDs, instruments, household items, toys and the likes. Here are a couple of views:

Clothing stalls at the Udonthani night market

You can see part of one of the high, corrugated metal roofs that shelters shoppers from inclement weather. The heavy tropical downpour that graces the rainy season there can sound like a stampede of water buffalo over your head when the skies open and it really starts to pour. It's really quite impressive.

There are also video game areas where children of a wide age range sit along rows of computer monitors on the ubiquitous plastic chairs, playing games; laughing as they joyously kick box, hop over things or bomb the universe into submission.

Soon after we arrived my friend led us to the food area, where I looked around for something that sounded good to me in my somewhat weakened state. Fortunately my friend sensed that and steered me to the BBQ area to pick out some sticks of chicken and other meat while he rounded up noodles and rice.

Cleaned but whole BBQ squid lined up on the grill

Salt-encrusted whole fish cook slowly over the open coals in the food court

Portioned plates of steamed ark shell cockles, with forks and dipping sauce

I briefly considered the whole fish, but although it smelled wonderful I passed on it, as well as the whole squid and the mini-trays of ark shell cockles. I ended up with a plate full of satay sticks for the three of us as my "safe" pick, while my friend and Supot bought more traditional dishes.

Every so often a roar would come up from the seating area when the favored team scored a goal, and you could see people jumping up and dancing around, sometimes taking their tables up with them, their food and drinks flying everywhere. There were at least ten TV monitors on metal pipe scaffolding throughout the dining area, and one very large big screen hanging from the underside of the high metal roof.

You can see folks above watching the video monitors on the pink pipe racks

After I'd eaten the small amount I felt comfortable putting into my system I went wandering and found a stairway up to a higher level, where I took the shots from above you see today. Resting the camera on the railing I was able to take the longer exposures such as the one just above here - but my timing wasn't the best: almost every time I'd be in the midst of one of these longer exposures something would cause the crowd to jump to its feet, and their thunderous stomping roar would either shake the area I was standing on or startle me and I'd jump, blurring the exposure!

I called the evening to an end earlier than I'd have liked, but I was out of steam and really not feeling all that great. My friend thanked me for dinner, donned his helmet and rode off towards home to take a planned Skype call from his boyfriend in Europe while Suphot and I went back to our rooms. I watched a little TV, transfered the day's photos off of the camera as a back-up, drank as much water as I thought I could hold and went to bed. It had been a good day.


krobbie said...

Bao-Bao, I'm interested to know why the air is so awful in Udonthani. Just in case Bobey and I should think it's a good idea to go, I need to have this info as he has rather sensitive sinuses.


khunbaobao said...

The simple answer is nobody knows what the Isaan air quality will be at any given time, sorry to say. Spent rice crops, garbage, smudge posts to keep mosquitoes away from livestock - I mean, look at Bangkok itself. Bobey probably knows what he needs to arm himself with to avoid too much of a sinus problem, but during the dry season it can be worse, I'm told. Hope that helps!

GWM said...

Enjoyed seeing the curved metal roof. There is a Night Market in Davao, PH that is built this way. And as you say, the heavy rain can be deafening!!!
But good to be able to get to the food area without getting soaked.

Thanks for all the good stories about your trip. Maybe some day I will publish my notes from the great trip I took with Mr. Supot to the south of Isan...

Take care!!

khunbaobao said...

I'm sure I wouldn't be the only one who would like to read it, either! Thanks for your comment.