Thong Khan Kham Market in Vientiane

I’ve visited some incredible markets on my travels – the incredible Monk Kok district of Hong Kong, the never ending Chatuchak (JJ) Market in Bangkok, the painfully touristy night bazaar in Chiang Mai, the bloody fish markets in Yangon, the floating markets on Inle Lake… each market is different. Some are clearly for tourists and are lined with Starbucks and McDonalds, some are covered in blood and smell like rotten frogs, and all of them are an incredible adventure and insight into the local culture – if you can stomach it.

I asked our hotel where the local market was. I assumed that was a touristy market and instinctively said “No, where do the locals actually shop for meat and clothes?” and he told me “Thong Khan Kham”. I’m so glad I did, as this was one of my favorite markets to date. One could get hand made scarves for 50 cents and they’d cut and stitch the ends right there. Endless vats of rice, dried meats, freshly slaughtered meats (often right in front of your eyes), medicines, fruits, vegetables, and an all around lack of cleanliness made for a wonderful morning. It was partially open air which provided for protection from the sun but the fresh air kept the smell tolerable and let some cool wind in every so often.

In no particular order, here are some of the wonderful things I saw in the Thong Khan Kham Market in Vientiane, Laos.

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This fly is the king of his bizarre tamarind realm…

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Bananas seem to be a staple food here.

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A fun Lao girl with a fanny pack shopping for pork and frogs.

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Fresh noodles. My waiter today saw this photo and said “Oooh, very taste good. Very cheap. I eat every day. Very very cheap. You buy at Thong Khan Kham yes?”

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The smell of cinnamon was overwhelmingly amazing, I stood here for a while just enjoying it.

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Sun dried bael fruit. This will likely be used to make tea or rehydrated, pulped, and made into a sweet drink.

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More tamarind than I can shake a stick at.

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The fan was meant to keep flies off the food but this shop keeper used it to keep himself cool during a nap as the morning got warmer.

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Fresh fish from the Mekong river. Most of the fish on display was covered in flies like this and shop keepers spent the whole day swatting at them with plastic bags attached to sticks. Only a handful of vendors used electric fans.

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Not kosher.

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The vendor said this was head cheese, and my waiter said “Oooh big lao spring roll” when he saw this photo. These were nearly the size of a US football and I honestly have no clue what they are.

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This woman carefully set up her beautiful stand one egg at a time.

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The chicken row was filled with vendors swatting flies away from their meats. This shop keeper was napping and covered by the very flies she was swatting. Sweet, sweet revenge!

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Chicken innards. The orange balls are eggs that had not yet matured and had not yet hatched before the chicken was slaughtered. I’m told they are very tasty. I never really thought about what happened to non-hatched eggs when a chicken was slaughtered…

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There’s always money in the banana stand. Or the many banana stands here in Thong Khan Kham.

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Common in Laos, these sticky sausages are often found drying on the side of the street. They are quite delicious when cooked and Luang Prabang has their own special variety.

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I’m not exactly sure what this woman is doing with these (chicken?) innards, but she definitely seemed to be having a good time.

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Yoga chickens

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I’ve not yet seen chicken heads in any dishes, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t used in broths, stews, or other dishes. Could anyone enlighten me as to what they are used for culinarily, if anything?

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You can get a huge body scarf made by hand for only 50 cents here… and the fabrics, yarns, and clothing goes on forever.

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This lady proudly shows off her tasty treats.

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This was really, really hard to watch. This woman was butchering live frogs. My waiters today loved this photo. Apparently they eat frogs all the time but were all really squeamish about this photo.

Step 1) Behead the frog in one quick motion
Step 2) Chop off hands.
Step 3) Chop off feet. At this point the frog is still fighting despite having literally lost its head.
Step 4) Slice down the back… which literally sent shivers down my back every single time I saw it.
Step 5) Throw still moving frog into a bucket to die
Step 6) Profit!

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When visiting a foreign country, I strongly recommend taking some time to visit a truly local market in the morning. If you are worried about seeing scary stuff – even better. Travel should enable you to learn about other cultures, broaden your horizons, and see and experience new things… not just getting drunk in bars with beautiful drunk Eastern Europeans. Of course, this preclude you from finding your way to the bars in the evening, just get to sleep at a reasonable hour so you can be awake up in time to make it to the morning markets!