Streets are made for walking
Temple fairs have long been a popular local attraction all over Thailand. Traditional food stands and modern market stalls regularly set up inside temple grounds around the country, selling everything from fried insects to high street labels and household goods. At the larger temples in Thailand, fair organizers often put up a stage for nightly performances that range from traditional dance and 'Mor Lam' musical plays to beauty contests and live music shows. Some of the stall holders and performers at temple fairs travel long distances throughout the year to take part in these local festivals, and in Thailand's busy tourist areas, foreign visitors also join in the fun, trying the local fare and snapping photos of traditional Thai life.
A new and popular version of the temple fair has recently become a major draw for visitors to Koh Samui. Close to some of the island's main tourist beaches, weekly Walking Street events now emulate traditional Thai temple gatherings, combining local elements with more contemporary offerings such as handmade products and street performances similar to those enjoyed at craft fairs and street festivals in the west. The most popular Walking Streets on Samui take place in Mae Nam seaside village avery Thursday and Bophut Fisherman's Village every Friday. During the busy seasons these unique events now attract hundreds of people thanks to the vibrant family atmosphere, diverse range of shopping choices and top notch local food.
Fisherman's Village, Bophut
Samui's most picturesque beachside village has long been a favourite with international visitors for its boutique restaurants and bars, many of which occupy the traditional wooden buildings that line a small oceanside lane.
Every Friday evening, the strip is closed off to cars and motorcycles and a collection of modest stalls set up in front of shops and eateries, selling everything from coconut jewellery to home made massage oils, original designer clothing and sweet banana pancakes. The lively atmosphere is complemented by street performers and live music in the handful of cool streetside bars that also offer a pleasant place to sit an enjoy the scene with cocktail. For wanderers with an appetite beyond the many snacks and delicacies offered at the stands, top class global fare fills Bophut' s menus, with everything from New York steaks to Mexican fajitas, home made Italian pasta and signature French favourites.
Mae Nam Village
Although less sophisticated than Bophut Fisherman's Village, Mae Nam on Samui's north coast offers a relaxed local island ambience — its two, quiet beachside lanes lined with original wooden shophouses that converge at a brightly painted Chinese temple.
Mae Nam's Walking Street is particularly popular with Samui's foreign residents thanks to the friendly family atmosphere and because it is slightly less crowded than its Bophut equivalent. The food and market stalls follow the flow of the lanes, heading down to the sea and then bending right back up the opposite side. It's actually possible to plan a unique buffet meal, eating your way around the stalls from appetizers to main course and dessert and the choice of flavours is impressive, with everything from freshly steamed corn to barbecued seafood, Indian snacks, Thai style oysters and western food such as pizzas and burgers. Shoppers are also well catered for with original beachwear, sandals and sarongs, while lovers of natural cosmetics can purchase hand-made organic soaps, oils, creams and home spa products.
For Walking Street addicts, similar events also take place in Lamai and Nathon Town on Samui, and although the theme is broadly the same, each has its own distinct character and appeal. Whether your staying at one of the island's many beach resorts or ensconced in private luxury at one of the island's holiday villas, a trip to experience at least one of Koh Samui's Waking Streets offers a fascinating glimpse into the melting pot of culture, cuisine and creativity that has developed in this eclectic tropical destination. Tasting the local specialities and buying a souvenir or two also helps support the local economy.