Despite its location in a narrow river valley between some of Thailand’s most breathtaking tea plantations and a remote stretch of the Burmese border, Baan Thoet Thai, in Chiang Rai, doesn’t look like much at first. The surrounding mountains have been mercilessly deforested, and the town clings to a dusty, scruffy strip of road where people drive too fast and where there seem to be more karaoke bars than restaurants. But it does have an interesting history: in its previous life as Baan Hin Taek (Broken Stone Village), Baan Thoet Thai was, during the late ’70s and early ’80s, a hideout for Khun Sa, the notorious Shan narco-warlord once dubbed the ‘Opium King’. Get off the main strip and you’ll also find one of Thailand’s most diversely populated small towns. The bulk of the village’s inhabitants appear to be Shan, but there are also many Chinese, the descendants of KMT fighters who originally fled communist takeover in 1949. There are also quite a few Akha, and the area is thought to be home to the first settlement of this group in Thailand. Other groups living in the area include Lahu, Hmong, Tai Lue, Lua and Liso.
This diversity is most apparent at the village’s morning market, where these groups converge to buy and sell ingredients and dishes unique to their cuisines, bizarre goods imported from Myanmar, fruit trucked in from China, and edibles scrounged from the surrounding forests. It’s really one of the more unique markets in Thailand.
For some images of Baan Thoet Thai’s morning market, hit the play button above; click the button in the corner for full-screen mode and captions.
Baan Thoet Thai’s Morning Market
Baan Thoet Thai, Chiang Rai
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