Lard Yai is the weekly Walking Street set up on Sunday afternoons and evenings along Phuket Old Town’s Thalang Road, the center of town and main shopping area since the late 19th century. At its height, it is chock-full of great food and souvenir stalls while many shops along the road sell a wide range of local products. It was shut down for much of 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, reopened for a few months and again prevented from operating once our ongoing Third Wave of the virus started in April 2021.
I believe the popular street reopened to foot traffic last week (or perhaps even the week before that) but this afternoon was the first time I’d strolled that direction in months. It is a good sign of the island’s efforts to return to something approaching “normal”. Even before I turned the corner onto Thalang Road, I had been enjoying the sight of so many people walking around Old Town once again. Most of those I saw seemed to be locals out enjoying the wonderful weather (a change to the rainy days we have been experiencing for months).
As one of the very few obvious foreigners in the area (white skin and grey hair is more noticeable than a neon arrow pointing my way), I had several local drivers trying to get my attention as I walked along. If anything, they were more polite than pre-pandemic times as nobody tried to harass me by screaming “Taxi!!” in my direction from across the street and nobody asked in pidgin English, “Where you go, Boss?” No, just gentle requests: “Would you like a taxi, sir?” was quite common. I invariably responded in Thai, “Mai wan” (not today) and adding “Thank you” with a smile. I kind of wished that I had someplace to go as I know they are all hungry for lack of customers over the past year and a half.
At any rate, once I turned the corner onto Thalang Road the touts disappeared and I saw the set-up in progress for the Walking Street. It was very nice to see all of the activity going on and all of the stall- and shop-keepers with big smiles on their faces. All of the non-workers I saw were also in festive moods. Unfortunately, I did not linger long as I had groceries in my backpack that I needed to get into the refrigerator back home and too many items on my to-do list prevented me from returning this evening.
However, I will make an effort to spend next Sunday evening at Lard Yai. I cannot think of a better way to spend my Halloween than to stroll up and down Walking Street sampling local treats while doing a fair amount of people-watching. I honestly do not know which part of the experience I enjoy more. I used to relish the crowds — the more people, the better — particularly during events such as the annual Old Town Festival (in February) and New Year’s Eve. At the moment (COVID-19 still has a stranglehold on Thailand), I will exercise my skills at avoiding clusters of people and participate a bit more socially distant while still enjoying the street. It will be a nice change to my usual Sunday evenings…