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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

20 December 2010

Market day

19th December 2010

Battambang has a very interesting covered market, and I do love wandering around markets. This one has the usual fascinating array of fruit, vegetables, meat and fish including sad looking ducks completely dead and naked but with their eyes still glassy in surprise. It was more unusual to see a section of the market entirely given to jewellery, herds of stalls full of golden chains, in gleaming heaps like bling noodles. There were lots of lapidaries at the market too, each crouched over a block of brown putty with a glitzy stone-encrusted setting embedded in it and being worked on through an eyeglass. Another section of the market was for haberdashers and dressmakers, each stall containing a woman with an antique foot-powered sewing maching of black iron, surrounded by dozens of sequin-spangled creations. A further section was the hairdresser quarter.

I’m also reminded of the covered food market in Bangkok, near our first guesthouse. We took a shortcut back through the market one night around ten, and the whole place was dark, deserted of humans, but still very much alive. Big covered buckets at various stalls slopped and scrabbled as we walked past. In other vats, things writhed and squirmed together in the darkness. A rat scurried along ahead of us, only turning off between boxes when we got close. And an eel who had improbably (actually, not that improbably) escaped from a vat was wriggling along the gutter – I hope he reached the river before dawn. Did you know eels can travel overland quite some way, and on moonless nights after rain in England you can come across them in fields and lanes?

I honestly can’t pick which nation’s markets I like best. Malagasy markets were lively, dusty open-air affairs; Hong Kong markets are highly specialised, with great displays of arcane foodstuffs and goods; Nepalese markets take place in the gaudy chaos of the congested streets; Thai markets have the best snack stalls and in Bangkok there is more stuff for sale than anywhere else. I’ve fond memories as well of markets in Brazil, in Italy, Turkey, and the fragrance of Indian markets like Jodhpur.

Of course, on holiday for two weeks or a year it’s unusual to actually buy very much at these markets. This is a shame, and I suppose it’s lucky that we at least have towns at home like Ludlow that still have lively produce markets, or even Borough Market right in the middle of London.

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