The night markets of Thailand are brimming with souvenirs for travellers to take home as a memento of their trip to the Kingdom. There is also a ready supply of knock-off designer clothes and handbags, not to mention badly plated bling in Tiffany’s instantly recognizable turquoise-colored gift boxes. You can buy Rolex watches by the dozens, or small wood frogs that croak when you run a stick across their back. As long as you accept that tacky and tschotske are synonymous, there is more made-for-touri merchandise available than you’ll ever be able to cram into your suitcase. Been there, done that, so while I still spend a lot of time walking through street markets in Thailand, I don’t buy much these days.
After close to thirty years of wandering through night markets in the Land of Smiles, there’s not much that catches my eye any longer. Most of the goods are the same that were being sold on my first trip. Brand names on knock-offs have changed a bit. Back in the day Calvin Klein was the big label for mens clothing, Polo seems to have taken over that corner of the market now. But that’s about it. Regardless of whatever it is you’ve decided you can not live without, there will be a few hundred different vendors selling it, all lined up in a row. Even a first time visitor gets bored looking at the same stuff over and over again.
The one category of merchandise that seems to change frequently though is the one that seems the least souvenir-like: lights and lighting. It’s not just that electrical items in Thailand run off of a different voltage than back home, but more that a light, or string of them, just doesn’t scream Thailand. Lights don’t fit the ‘souvenir’ bill well. Unless some enterprising Thai has glued an elephant to them. But they always catch my eye.
Several years ago, the hot lighting was Chinese lanterns made from Thai silk. You didn’t see them as frequently as fake Rolex watches, but they started to crop up at night markets and there were several booths at the Weekend Market selling them. Illuminated or not, they were beautiful. And with no concern over ever having to light one, I bought a few as gifts and for myself. Other types of lights I still stayed clear of not wanting to have to bother with switching out the cords and plugs so they would work when I got home.
That changed with a purchase at Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar. Now fairly commonplace at the markets, during that trip there were strings of lights for sale around town that used Xmas tree lights as illumination for colored round balls made from Sa’a trees, the same source used for the handcrafted paper goods you see at markets. At 99 baht they were hard to pass up. And I figured they would be easy to convert to U.S, standards. But the vendor was one step ahead of me and had lights strings that’d work for several different countries. Turned out, on subsequent shopping trips, most of the lighting you see at markets are available for your home country’s voltage too.
Sweet. I’ve bought quite a few different lights since then. And not missing a trick, even the most humongous have been built to fold down to a size that makes taking one home with you a breeze. I have yet to succumb to buying a light with an elephant on it, so those I have purchased still don’t scream ‘From Thailand’. But then everyone always comments on them, and that gives me an excuse to start talking about my most recent trip. You’d think they’d learn.
I’ve just finished stringing my Christmas light display on my house and this year used a massive amount of the Sa’a ball lights having added to my collection during my last trip. The house glows red from quite a distance off. Come to think of it, maybe those lights do scream Thailand after all.