A day at the markets
Night Market in Chiang Mai
Life for most people in Thailand still revolves around the local market. And the large majority who still follow a traditional way of life will bracket their day with visits to the market in the early morning and at dusk. For them the market is a social opportunity, a place to eat or pick up dinner, find a bargain and, of course, sell their own backyard produce. These are scattered all across the country and form an essential part of living for most.
Spending a morning at one of the several markets in the Chiang Mai city centre is a wonderful way to truly experience Thailand. They present a cornucopia of fascinating and bizarre items and food stuffs, the likes of which you’ve never seen or imagined. Live fish flap helplessly in shallow containers, stalls sell a macabre collection of root and herb remedies that wouldn’t be out of place in a Macbeth play, while others display their enormous selection of dried insects and bugs which ought to be in a curator’s draw, not offered as a delicacy.
At a Thailand market you might find strange vegetables that you never imagined edible or exotic fruits that look like nothing you’ve seen or tasted before. The cactus-like dragon fruit for example has a pink exterior yet reveals a white fleshy inside full of little black seeds. Or how about the hairy rambutan or smelly durian?
Markets are also a good place to find a good selection of traditional Thai confectionary and produce, with numerous stalls hawking a dizzy and colourful array of snack and sweets, along with dried fruits, fish, meats and, the ubiquitous chilli products that range from dried chillis of every imaginable kind, to sauces, pastes, and even chilli flavoured ice-cream. A market in Thailand without chilli simply wouldn’t be a market.
Food is the largest attraction for most Thai visitors to a market and if you’re a hygiene freak you’ll almost certainly be alarmed at the piles of curry paste and powder, ready-to-eat noodles, raw meat protected from the hot tropical heat by a makeshift fly fan cobbled together from an old motor and some loose pieces of plastic.
But it’s not just the produce and products on display, it’s the people that also offer an attraction. Wandering around a local market in the mid morning, watching weather beaten old wives swapping tales and recipes in an animated and endless conversation, while others bargain and banter in a light hearted manner is an enchanting window into the true character of the Thai. There will be music playing from several sources and portable TVs everywhere in a chaotic din of activity that scarcely bothers the vendors.
Hill tribe women are an ever-present sight
An early evening trip to the suburban markets is another opportunity to witness the locals on a mission to satisfy their bellies after an almost hard day’s work. Motorbikes and bicycles come and go in a mayhem of activity and small humble stalls offer fruits and instant curry dishes for less than 50 cents. It’s all quite enlightening to the rest of us who are used to waltzing around a Wal-mart with a trolley that has a mind of its own.
Here are some of the most popular and easily accessible markets in Chiang Mai:
Warorot market Located beside the river at the end of Chiang Moi road, this is the largest and most central of the markets in the city. It still retains its traditional feel and caters to both locals and visitors alike, with a ground floor full of food stuffs and good value clothing on the mezzanine levels. It’s also a good place to pick up fabrics in the adjacent streets. It’s a ten minute walk from the central Tapae road and well worth a visit during the day. By night the bottom end of Chiang Moi road becomes an evening flea market.
Ton Lamyai - the flower market Adjacent to Wororot is a line of flower shops on the opposite side of the road from the riverfront. Flowers may not be high on a traveller’s shopping list but its worth a look to gasp at the counter-inflationary cost of a dozen roses (about US$5!). Here you’ll find the city’s greatest concentration of kratoeys (ladyboys) who seem to naturally gravitate towards flower arranging! Both arrangements and fresh flowers are widely available.
Somphet Market This smaller food market is regularly ‘discovered’ by tourists wandering the old town as it sits beside the eastern flank of the moat on Moon Muang road (soi/lane 6) and it’s a genuine and fascinating glimpse at live food for sale. The cookery schools like to bring students here to verse them in ingredients. It’s only a five minute walk from Tapae Gate, northwards.
Muang Noi Market This is the fresh fruit centre of Chiang Mai and it is here that restaurants and locals will come to source the best pineapples, bananas, watermelons and more to make those delicious and cheap smoothies they all offer. It’s found near the American Consulate, beside the river a little north of the city, but within a 10 minute walk of Wororot Market.
Tapae Square and the Walking Street This is an absolute must if you plan to be in Chiang Mai on a Sunday. Relatively new to Chiang Mai it has become the most popular and busiest market attraction after the famed Night Bazaar and occupies four blocks along Ratchadamnoen road as it traverses the old town from Tapae Gate to the Three Kings Monument. Art, handicrafts, souvenirs and more are accompanied by buskers, food stalls and lots of people. The goods on display here aren’t tacky like you might find at the Night Bazaar, but the street does get crowded.
The Night Bazaar Famous throughout Thailand, the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is perhaps the best place in the Kingdom to stock up on souvenirs and tourist-friendly clothing and accessories. It takes up several blocks along Chan Klan road with its locus at the intersection with Loi Kroh road - an area now being colonised by Starbucks and McDonalds. Most of the stalls here display clothes, but many also hawk fake goods, luggage, Thai handicrafts, souvenirs, jewelry, footwear and more. The real stuff can be found in the Vieng Ping centre, which is a two level gallery that houses better quality wares (and slightly more expensive). This is a prime attraction in Chiang Mai and no visit to the city is complete without a night spent here. There is also a food court here where you are treated to classical Thai dancing accompanied by a Thai ensemble, as well as numerous restaurants, fast food outlets, coffee shops and ice cream parlours in the area. Make sure you have your bargaining boots on!
The Night Bazaar
Anusarn Market Essentially part of the extended Night Bazaar precinct area, the Anusarn market is a large open area set back from Chang Klan street, five minutes walk from the central intersection of the Night Market area. This is a food market with local produce and Northern delicacies, but has some wonderful seafood restaurants among others, open in the evenings until about 10:30pm. It servers hungry night shoppers well and is a welcome respite from the busier main street.
Wualai Street Market Wualai street is traditionally the silversmith and jewellery area of the city but these days almost anything is sold here from light fittings to traditional herbs. Recently they began a Saturday evening market here which is similar to the Walking Street and a fun evening activity where you will find buskers, food vendors and plenty of art. Wualai street runs diagonally from the Chiang Mai gate on the South flank of the moat.
Local markets To escape the overly commercial and tourist feel of the city centre markets and witness a real suburban market, there are several you can easily find. Chang Phuak market is the nearest, and within walking distance but mostly sells trendy T-shirts and casual wear. It is located just north of the Chang Phuak gate on the Northern flank of the moat. For something more authentic, head towards the mountain along Suithep road, past the hospital on your right until it meets the canal road. Tucked away to your right at this intersection is Ton Payom market, which is open all day. If you travel along Huay Kaew road towards the university you will discover a popular night market after the super-highway intersection, which caters mainly for Thai students. Further on, where the road intersects with the canal road, head down the small lane that is beside the 7-eleven a you’ll find a delightful dusk market with fresh produce.
Khamtien plant market Plants may not be something you can take home in your suitcase but Thailand boasts some wonderful tropical species and gardening is popular. This market, located behind Tesco Lotus on the Super-highway (north), is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon browsing the colourful array of nature’s finest. Many of the shops have created enchanting secret Balinese styled gardens, with ponds and fountains and plenty of greenery - a perfect escape from the concrete jungle of the downtown area.
JJ Market This is one of the newest markets in the city, a purpose built crafts centre for the city’s distinctive bohemian element to display all their curious wares. It’s located near Khamtien market and is open on weekends. Genuine Arts are offered here.