The market in Ratchadapisek, Bangkok.
The market in Ratchadapisek, Bangkok. manjik

In the market for experience

One attraction I rarely visit during my travels is a shopping mall.

I know there are glamorous malls in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and other dynamic cities and their bright lights and glittery stores are powerfully attractive but give me a local market any day.

Markets are where you get a real sense of a place, talk to locals, snap up bargains, and buy something you don't need but must have because it will forever bring back happy memories of a place.

In Santa Margherita on Italy's Ligurian coast at a pop-up market that meandered from one narrow cobbled laneway to another, I looked appreciatively at displays of old silver and antique heirlooms. When I asked the price of a silver tray, the vendor, lazing behind the display on a chair showing no interest in selling anything, told me curtly: 430 euros. I was stupid enough to ask him if he 'had a better price' and that brought forth a snort of such awesome disdain I scuttled away humiliated. I'd forgotten how proud Italians are of their products.

In Bangkok, bargaining is mandatory, and even though I don't like it, I feel obliged to do it. But I learnt my lesson after wasting half an hour bargaining a T-shirt down from 10 baht to eight, and then realising I had just saved a whopping couple of dollars. Now in Bangkok, I pay the first asking price, but only if my husband isn't looking because he thinks it important to bargain.

I love the markets in Asia where you can find a lacy bra (always a ridiculously tiny size) sitting seductively next to trays of battered, deep-fried spiders. Variety...

The flea markets in France are intriguing. On first entering it looks as though every person in the area has emptied his garage of all its junk and displayed it on a blanket on the ground by his car. You have to sift through a lot of crap and sometimes be confronted by the pure absurdity of some of the items - like the row of doll's heads, just the heads, sitting ghoulishly on the ground at a market in the village of Sainte Maximin. But you can find something rewarding at a flea market if you are prepared to search, like my friend who bought a handful of costume jewellery for a couple of euros, got it home to Australia, and had it valued to find it was Christian Lacroix ... worth about $800.

The leather markets in Florence are where you will be seduced into buying a jacket, bag, wallet, even if you don't want to, such is the temptation of the soft, luxurious leather and the desire to own an Italian leather product (probably made in China).

I lusted after a pale pink leather jacket in Florence so badly I braved trying it on in front of a crowd even though the largest size was still too small and the vendor had to squeeze me into it using all his strength. When he finally managed to close the front zip, I stood there as though in a straitjacket, but he convinced me the leather 'would give' over time. I bought it. It didn't give. He took his money and quickly turned his back when I unzipped the jacket and all of me fell out as though I'd pulled the cord on an inflatable lifeboat.

Carpet markets? No thanks, had enough carpets unfurled to last a lifetime. But food markets, where free samples are handed out by cheerful vendors, oh yes, please. While you might not sample snake blood in China or buy live frogs or squawking chickens in Vietnam, you will enjoy aged cheeses, spicy saucisson, slippery olives, rich tapenades and rustic breads in France, Spain and Italy.

Get thee to a market, I say.

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