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Thailand’s northern capital of Chiang Mai offers more than mountains, temples, and cooking classes. Chiang Mai is also a great place to place in some serious retail therapy – while it might not have the multitude of night markets that Bangkok boasts, for a city of its size it does deliver a wide variety of sizeable and worthwhile market shopping experiences. These are the Chiang Mai markets we suggest no visit to Thailand’s second city is complete without.
At the heart of Chiang Mai’s Chinatown neighbourhood, bustling, well-known Warorot market is the place to come to sample a wide range of easily accessible, ready-prepared northern Thai street food dishes. But Warorot market, also known locally as Kat Luang, has much more to offer besides – it’s also one of Chiang Mai’s busiest markets for picking up fresh and dry ingredients, cookware, and even a decent selection of local-style fashion and accessories.
On the ready-to-eat food side, dishes worth hunting out here include gaeng hunglay, a northern, ginger-heavy curry of pork belly (the market’s Dumrong take-away rice-and-curry stall has an especially enthusiastic local following). Also don’t miss khao soi chicken or beef curried noodles complete with a topping of deep-fried crispy noodles, kanom jeen nam ngiaw rice noodles ladled with a thin, gravy-like, tomato-rich pork curry, nam prik noom green chilli dipping paste, sai ua northern sausages, and kap moo deep-fried pork crackling (the last two to three are also especially worth buying to take away for bus and train journeys, or for those who live in Thailand or the region to take home as foodie souvenirs and gifts).
When it comes to produce, Chiang Mai’s cooler climate means you can expect to find fruits that are rarer (or at least many times more expensive) at markets elsewhere in Thailand, and certainly in Bangkok, like avocados and passion fruits. Keen cooks may also wish to pick up speciality northern ingredients like makhwaen, translated as ‘prickly ash’ and a relative of Sichuan pepper.
Daily, 6am-6pm; Chang Moi Road
Long considered something of a slightly lower-key, less hectic market that the more well-known Sunday walking street market on Ratchadamnoen Road, Chiang Mai’s Wua Lai Saturday night market is nonetheless a popular affair and does still get very busy.
Just a short walk outside the centre of the old walled town, Wua Lai sells many of the same goods as the Sunday night market, but it has something of a less touristy vibe – we particularly like it for some of the more one-off-feeling handicrafts and ceramic that you’ll find here. On the food front, there’s plenty to graze on throughout the market, plus some dedicated sit-down areas with hawkers touting northern specialities like khao soi and kanom jeen nam ngiaw.
Saturdays, 5-10pm; Wua Lai Road
Chiang Mai’s most famous market of all is its Sunday walking street extravaganza that takes place along Ratchadamnoen Road at the heart of the old town. Ratchadamnoen is one of the main streets running through Chiang Mai’s atmospheric walled city, and on Sunday afternoons and evenings the entire road and its side streets are given over to pedestrians bent on a big-time shopping splurge.
The Sunday market is a popular affair, so come expecting it to get incredible busy as the evening wears on – getting here earlier on in the proceedings allows you a bit of time to browse the various wares on sale with some room to breathe (though the market isn’t at full swing until late afternoon to early evening, things do begin to get going around Tha Pae Gate from around lunchtime).
Aside from a range of handicrafts and souvenirs that are often somewhat more intriguing and original than those found at most night markets (though there’s a fair selection of tourist tack, too), you’ll find plenty of opportunities to graze on generic and more northern-rooted Thai street food staples, both while roaming the market in search of your next bargain and in more of a sit-down setting.
Sundays, 5-10pm; Ratchadamnoen Road and surrounds
The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is much closer to a conventional tourist-geared night market in Thailand (and indeed it’s one of the originals), in that it’s the place to head if you’re looking for pirated designer clothes, jewellery, DVDs and so on, plus the obligatory likes of Chang beer t-shirts. Still, it’s an expansive and long-running market that turns out a wide range of goods at great prices, and it’s a must-visit for many Chiang Mai first-timers.
It’s a sprawling market that, like monsters like Bangkok’s Chatuchak weekend market (though no-one’s pretend it’s even nearly on that scale), might be best tackled in parts. As the bazaar has grown over the years, it has come to encompass not only street-based market stalls but also a number of indoor shopping centre spaces and spin-off markets. You’ll also find street food stalls, restaurants, coffee shops, and massage spas around the main hubbub of retail therapy – and, perhaps best of all for those only in Chiang Mai for a few days, the Night Bazaar is open every evening of the week.
Daily, 5pm-midnight; Chang Klan Road and surrounds
At Expique, we’re experts at showing you the unique parts of Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand that most tours don’t take you to – and which you probably won’t discover on your own. Joining one of our tours or experiences (or having us create a custom tour for you) is a great way to make the most of your time in Thailand and ensure you leave with a memorable experience.
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Which is your favourite market in Chiang Mai? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by Chris Wotton; Heiko S; Filipe Fortes; yashima
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