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Gaart Ngua -
The Saturday Cattle Market
Sanpatong, Chiang Mai

Text : Terryl
Photos: SP

.gifFrom way back, the people of Lanna have been accustomed to trading widely. Even before fixed market places came into existence, locals of centuries past traveled to neighboring areas to barter or buy buffalo and other cattle for use in agriculture.

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.gifCow, anyone?

.gifAs this region has developed, though, agricultural activities have become driven by commercial purposes rather than for subsistence, and the need for labor has increased at the same time; buying and selling cattle has become an important business, and proper markets -- locally known as gaart ngua, literally 'cow markets', have come into being.

.gifUp until about 50 years ago, the greater part of the goods bought and sold at these markets were agricultural. Thanks to the popularity of the gaart ngua and the number of buyers visiting, the market places soon grew and became venues for trading other goods as well. As a result of the implementation of the first National Economic and Social Development Plan in 1963, roads were built, opening the region for the influx of more modern farming machinery. But more than purely utilitarian items were becoming popular. The gaart ngua proved to be the ideal place for introducing the villagers - who were beginnning to have more disposable income than previously - to bicycles and motorcycles. and when you visit the markets now, you find these practical two-wheelers have become the stars of the show. Furthermore, given the greater accessibility, city-based Muslim merchants also started to venture to the markets to purchase live cattle, selling their meat at their shops back in town. Even today, some lucky cows and buffaloes are still bought and sold… but for agriculture only.

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.gifCattle bells?

.gifFrom a tourist's perspective, the most accessible gaart ngua in Chiang Mai is perhaps the one in Sanpatong district, known as Gaart Thungfahbod. This particular market-place, located on several acres of land, belongs to a certain Ba (Auntie) Ping and her family, and is open only on Saturdays, from before dawn until late in the morning. Although the turn over is so high that produce from the smaller stalls is sold out in next to no time, local people only pay five baht to be able to sell their fresh vegetables here. (The price may vary: it's probably a bit higher for the sellers of motor bikes and agricultural products). However, some of the vendors are there not primarily for profit, but to socialize with their peers. The informal networks initiated and extending from this market alone have grown strong and become one of the traditional dimensions to local people's lives. This, perhaps, accounts for the sheer diversity of products on sale and the people to be found here, since its inception almost half a century ago. The sheer size of the places easily dwarfs some of the department stores you are familiar with. But more than size makes it a place worth visiting. A stroll around will give you a view of the more traditional lifestyle of the people of the North than the air-conditioned supermarkets and urban markets will offer you.

.gifGetting there: You can find local vehicles leaving at regular intervals from the corner of Wualai Road, just beyond the Chiang Mai Gate. You can't miss them, since they're yellow buses with a signboard (in Thai, though) saying they're heading for Sanpatong District. However, just say, gaart ngoo-a and people will know where you're heading. A word of warning though. If you want to see the market at its most impressively vibrant, you'd better get there not long after dawn. You'll find it's well worth the early start.

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