Mae Hong Son Night Market

The first few times we tried to find the Mae Hong Son night food market, we ended up at the cheesy tourist night market on Jongkham Lake. We knew this couldn’t be right, as our friends kept telling us that the  night market was a great place to go for noodles, but all we found were over-priced T-shirts and woven hill tribe purses. Eventually we realized that we needed to continue south down the main road, past the library, where we found a cluster of food carts set up in front of a municipal building.

On our first visit, we sampled dishes from a few stalls, including pad thai, khao soi, a few different steamed glutinous rice snacks in banana leaves, a sinfully-delicious fried papaya snack called “khaangpong” (translated on the sign as “the papaya fries herbs”), and a savory crepe with chili sauce. Yum!

Khao soi gai
Khao soi gai

Sticky rice snacksSticky rice snacks
Bundles of joy

Pad thai
Whipping up fresh pad thai jay

Lauren eating pad thai
Enjoying delicious pad thai on the grass

On later visits we learned that the night market is actually a bit hit-or-miss: on many nights, none of the three noodle stalls are present (it seems to be an all-or-nothing deal), and there is just less selection in general. We haven’t figured out the pattern, as the decreased selection doesn’t seem to be tied to any particular night of the week. But even on nights when the noodles are absent, we find we are able to make do if we look hard enough. At some point, we discovered a lady who makes decent som tam (spicy papaya salad) and vegetarian rice-paper rolls.

We took my family to the night market while they were here, with nearby Fern Restaurant as a backstop in case it was an off night. Unfortunately the noodle carts were indeed absent, but there was good enough selection from among our other favorite carts to scrounge up a decent (if greasy) meal. While we made food selections, Kenny took a quick run to the 7-11 and picked out one of each of the beers on offer (and a bottle opener so we could enjoy them), so our dinner turned into a Thai-snacks-and-Thai-beer sampler platter. Fortunately we still had room for our favorite dessert: mango and sticky rice near home.

Dad at night market
Dad considers a fish

Fried papaya snacks
Tasty fried papaya snacks, or “Khaangpong”

Thai snacks and beer sampler
Thai snacks and Thai beer sampler

Durian

Durian. Perhaps the most infamous of the tropical fruits. And the most polarizing – I’ve never met anyone who expressed only a casual like or dislike of durian. Due to its strong smell, it has been banned from hotels in Malaysia and airplanes in Thailand.

Durian at the market

I don’t think I’ve ever even heard two people describe its flavor in the same way. I’ve heard comparisons to gym socks, stinky cheese, and rotting flesh. Lonely Planet calls it “an acridly pungent delicacy.” People either describe the texture as creamy or mushy. My co-workers have told me that the taste is certainly an acquired one – none of them enjoyed it as children living in Burma, but since they’ve moved to Thailand they have learned to count it among their favorite foods.

After seeing (and smelling) durian in the markets over several stays in SE Asia, I decided it was finally time to try it. My Dad, Jessica, and Shawn had a similar curiosity about it, so they picked up a small sample in the morning market today. Perhaps you can tell from the expressions on their faces how everyone felt about it:

Jessica eating durian
Jessica liked the taste but not the texture

Moose eating durian
How do you think my dad felt about it?

Shawn about to eat durian Shawn eating durian
Shawn, before and after

Kenny eating durian
Kenny wasn’t so hot on it either

As for me, I liked the soft, creamy texture but the taste didn’t do it for me. It’s hard to describe, but the closest comparison for me is very strong raw garlic.

This Little Piggy Went to the Night Market

The Luang Prabang night market offers one of the more pleasant shopping experiences I’ve found in Asia. It’s picturesque, not overly crowded, and there’s absolutely no pressure from the vendors. In India they may say “looking is free” but here they really mean it! It’s also unnecessary to engage in excessive haggling here – prices are reasonable to start out, and the vendors expect only a bit of gentle bargaining.

The market takes over the main street of town every day starting around 4pm, and offers the only evening activity in town, as far as I can tell. I’m not sure how late it runs because we’ve been calling it a night early these days. In case you get hungry from all of the shopping, street food abounds! At the end of the market is a block of sandwich and fruit shake vendors, and the carts selling grilled meats and the vegetarian buffet are just around the corner.

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We couldn’t resist this little hand-sewn book with a wolf on the cover. We know that our future kids will love it.