Is anything as thrilling as shopping at street market while traveling? It’s the chance to discover treasures or trash, a great deal or a terrible rip-off, a keepsake, a memory, or an unforgettable experience. It’s something we rarely embrace or experience in America. Sure we have flea markets [still not sure why that’s what we call them] and farmer’s markets, but it’s not the same as the daily or weekly ritual of families & businesses selling their wares to sustain their lives. I love browsing the stalls, handling the products, munching on local snacks, and taking in all the new sights & smells the markets bring together.
Chiang Mai, Thailand, has a few good street market shopping opportunities, and the two most well-known are the Night Bazaar and the Walking Street Market. Travel blogs will hail one or the other, and locals will weigh in with their opinions too. I’ve now visited both, and thought I’d share some of highlights [and lowlights] from these two shopping experiences.
The Night Bazaar is aptly named. It’s bizarre all right. It happens every night of the week, in the same place on the same streets. It covers blocks of Chiang Mai, both with stalls lining the street and with permanent buildings with shops. The Night Bazaar is mostly for the tourists. If you want your Thai pants, designer knock-offs, keychains, and “Chiang Mai Thailand” printed on anything imaginable, this is the market for you. The prices are high until you talk them down. And it’s huge. Endless. I was there browsing for close to 3 hours, and definitely didn’t see everything. The best part of this market is the fact that it’s every night, and therefore the crowds are manageable. And it sure is entertaining to watch the fellow farangs [foreigners] load up on $5 souvenirs. Tourist trap would sum up this market for me.
The Walking Street Market however is only Sunday evenings. Sections of town inside the city wall close to traffic after 4pm, allowing vendors set up all along the streets, in the middle of streets, and virtually anywhere you want to walk. It again covers blocks. We got there early enough to park, and start walking around while some were setting up. We ate some dinner, which was delicious. This market is visited by many more locals, although the tourists probably still out number the locals. And this market is CROWDED. Ridiculously so. After 7pm, you just follow the flow of the crowd and hope you can stop long enough to look at a stall and not get separated. Walking Street has much more hand-made goods & souvenirs, and the prices start much cheaper. There are many one-of-a-kind shops that could never be massed produced. Hardly any stall is alike [well, except for the Thai pants]. Variety & creativity would sum up this market for me.
So, I ended up liking the Walking Street Market more than the Night Bazaar. Both are fun cultural experiences, and if you’re in Chiang Mai long enough to do both, do it! But sticking around for the Sunday Market is worth the wait.