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5 Tips For Visiting A Market In Southeast Asia

- Hannah

It can be anywhere; wherever you go it is always both different and the same. A town square, a dusty plot of land, a busy side street just waiting to be explored. Tarps are stretched from pole to pole, held up by worn fragments of rope. Color explodes from every direction, delighting the eyes. Fruit, piled up in precarious pyramids of flavor. Spices, every color of the sunset, filling the market with a smell that always reminds me of the Arabian Nights. The tarps themselves vary in color. Even the customers, the sellers, and everyone in between add a certain piquancy to the scene. The food vendors, smoke swirling lazily around their heads in a sluggish halo as they tend their grills. The cobbler, crouching on his three-legged stool as he mends the sole of a well-worn boot. The coconut man, grinding away at a coconut. The white shavings fall into a plastic bag with a precision that bespeaks years of practice.

For some travelers, this environment is familiar, even homey. For others, venturing into a market can be nerve-wracking, uncomfortable, and even scary. For all of you who feel this way, here’s a few tips to make a Southeast Asian market much more enjoyable!

1: Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

One of the best skills a traveler can have when experiencing a market on any continent, is the ability to “go with the flow.” If there’s something interesting over to the side, go see it! If you meet someone new who offers to show you around, consider it! Never plan out your trip to the last detail, as something new is sure to pop up. Also, consider the crowds often found in markets. It is sometimes difficult to move around quickly and easily. I would suggest planning for your excursion to take longer than expected.

2: Swim, don’t sink! 

One of the greatest difficulties foreigners have in local markets is communication. It can seem very difficult to do anything when there is a language barrier blocking you from doing things easily. But in reality, it’s not that hard to communicate with other people, regardless of the language you speak. Hand signals are used frequently by travelers in these situations, and as far as paying for your groceries, vendors often use calculators to convey prices to foreign customers. Don’t let the language barrier turn you away from visiting a local market!

3: Bring a camera!

Markets are great places to take pictures. There’s an almost unlimited number of subjects. You can photograph the produce, the people, the setting, everything! Also, you never know what strange things you’ll find for sale in a Southeast Asian market! I’ve found everything from snails and baby chickens, to baby sharks and seaweed jelly! Every visit is an experience worth capturing through photos!

4: Be respectful of other cultures.

When visiting a market, it is extremely important to be aware of other cultures and what they view as acceptable. For example, as a foreign teen, you are more likely to get a better reception when wearing modest clothing and being calm that you will when wearing tight or revealing clothing and being disrespectful to those around you. Remember, you are an ambassador of your country. The way you act when around other cultures will affect how they view your people as a whole.

5: Don’t be afraid to try new things

This is perhaps the most important thing to remember when visiting a market. No matter where you are, no matter what market you go to, there will always be something new to try. My personal strategy is to take every opportunity to try something new that comes along. You never know! It may be your only chance!

What are some of your best tips for market fun?

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