A marketplace is where a community comes together. People gather to buy, sell, eat, drink, laugh, gossip and connect. Around the world, so many family’s livelihoods depend on a thriving market. In America, we don’t really have an equivalent. Farmer’s markets are fun & quirky, but rarely does an entire community do their shopping at one of those. I love living in Asia and regularly experiencing market shopping. The sights, the smells, and the sounds all add to the shopping experience. I’ve been in small markets with just a few sellers and huge overwhelming markets that stretch out for miles. They are each unique to the community they serve. Here’s a few of my favorite markets that I’ve visited while traveling through Asia.
Bali’s Jimbaran Fish Market
I probably love this market because it feels like my community market. I lived near it for 2 years, and would shop there regularly. Bali is full of local authentic markets & touristy high priced markets. The Jimbaran Fish Market falls somewhere in between. Jimbaran Beach, located south of Kuta & Seminyak’s famous beaches, is well known for it’s sunsets & it’s seafood. Scores of seafood restaurants line the soft white sand of Jimbaran Beach offering tables in the sand and the freshest seafood around. But the seafood restaurant style dining has never been my thing. It’s always crowded, often over priced, and doesn’t feel authentic. Down the beach from these restaurant rows and towards the airport, you can find the real thing. The Fish Market. Every morning, this is where fisherman bring in their catches from the night before. Giant tuna & massive swordfish can regularly be seen coming out of their boats. These fish are taken into the market where they are sold. Seafood restaurants from all over Bali get their seafood from this market. And so did we. I never ate more seafood than I did when we lived next to this market. But for $2-3 for a fresh tuna fillet, how you could not? We often would go buy fresh filleted seafood caught earlier that morning and cook it up at home as we enjoyed fish tacos or a seafood stir fry. Or we could pay another $1 and let the guys working the giant BBQ grill cook it up for us. The best way to do seafood on Jimbaran Beach is to head down to this market, choose your seafood [from tuna to mahi-mahi to lobster to shrimp to crabs to snapper and more] and grill it up right there at the beach and enjoy your sunset for under $5. With a fresh coconut, of course. This market isn’t just seafood. Fruits & vegetables line the walkways, and at night you can shop for clothes and household items. It really is a gathering spot for the community, and I loved being part of it.
Qatar’s Souq Waqif
We only spent about 24 hours in Doha, Qatar, but had the privilege of staying right in the middle of the most famous marketplace, Souq Waqif. This market is incredible, especially at night when it comes alive. At times I couldn’t tell if it was a local market or a tourist attraction, but then decided it was just both and went with it. I’ve never seen a more diverse market. Looking for local hummus & pita bread? Or how about some spices to cook with at home? Needing a finely woven carpet? Or maybe a pet rabbit or bird? Hoping to find a new outfit for a night out? Wanting to hang out with some falcons or camels? Literally all of these things can be done at Souq Waqif. It’s a massive winding marketplace that is full of cool nooks & crannies to explore. Being able to walk out of the door of our hotel and into this buzzing marketplace was simply fabulous. Even our 4 month old baby was alert with excitement. If I had a week to explore the Souq, it wouldn’t be enough time. Someday I hope to go back to Doha and take in more of it’s beauty, culture and diversity. Also, this is one of the cleanest markets I’ve ever seen in Asia!
Singapore’s Tiong Bahru Hawker Center Market
Singapore is a unique spot in Asia, so of course my favorite market in Singapore is unique. To start, Singapore is so diverse. It’s a mix of modern efficiency and ancient traditions. The people of Singapore are a mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Indonesian. The food is a mix of all these cultures and more. While Singapore may be small geographically, nothing about the experience of Singapore is small. Most of the best [and cheapest] food in Singapore can be found at a Hawker Center, which is an oversized food court packed full of food sellers making their best dish. And it’s all delicious. However my favorite market [hawker center] is in my favorite neighborhood of Singapore, Tiong Bahru. This out of the way neighborhood is on the fringes of Chinatown, but is distinctly stylish & hipster. The architecture reminds of 1960’s art deco Miami. Independent bookstore and cozy coffee shops are hidden away in the tall apartment buildings of this neighborhood. And the Hawker Center is something special too. It’s unique round shape perfectly fits in with the style of the neighborhood. On the bottom floor, fresh flowers ooze out into the walkways. You can also shop for produce and household items as well. On the top floor, treat yourself to some delicious dumplings or Hainanese Chicken Rice, a particular speciality of the area. The painted wall murals continue the creativity throughout the whole Hawker Center, and there’s even more great street art to be found around Tiong Bahru. When in Singapore, make the effort to get over to Tiong Bahru and experience this Hawker Center. I know I always do!
Bali’s Sukawati Art Market
Another Bali market makes my list because, of course. This market is unique because it isn’t well known for it’s food or yummy treats, but it’s handicrafts. Ubud has made a name for itself in the art scene, but has really been overcome with tourism. If I am looking for handmade creative items from the Balinese culture, I’ll skip Ubud and head straight to Sukawati. This little spot on the map isn’t too far from Ubud itself, but feels like a different place entirely. The market isn’t limited to one building, but one long street full of shops selling their specific handicraft. From rattan bags to wooden knives to shadow puppets to home decor, Sukawati Art Market is a must see. From what I’ve heard, many sellers in the Ubud markets go to Sukawati to supply their shops, and then hike up the prices! As with most markets in Bali, you’ll still need to bargain down to get the best price [insider tip: start negotiating with half of what they offer]. I love browsing the creativity and artistry of the Balinese people. I am constantly in awe of their skills. Of course, you can still find the colorful sarongs and Bintang tank tops that are unavoidable in Bali, but at the least the experience is a little less touristy.
Beijing’s Street Food Night Market
I almost didn’t include this market. But it was so unlike any other market I had ever seen, that I had to include it. Maybe market isn’t the exact right word, because it’s more of a walking street of food vendors. China is full of these. But the one we visited in Beijing truly stood out. It was right in the middle of a bustling downtown shopping area, and the bright lights of nearby billboards and shop windows illuminated the sidewalk all around us. Like most parts of China, it was packed. Stall after stall had lines to buy each dish. We tried delicious dumplings and tasty noodles. I took a million photos of the cutest steamed buns decorated to resemble animals and other objects. And then we appreciated the unknown meats on sticks and scary bugs on sticks. This is about where I stopped trying things! My husband is much more an adventurous eater than I am, so he braved the fried scorpions. While I didn’t try the most extreme items available, I did enjoy seeing how the Chinese people enjoy their street food.
Thailand’s Chiang Mai Walking Street Night Market
Thailand may do markets, especially night markets, better than anywhere else in Asia. Every night we spent in Thailand, no matter the city, there was always a bustling night market. It was the best place to eat and shop in town, no question. And they aren’t just for tourists, but so many locals were enjoy pad thai right alongside us. A favorite market experience in Thailand is in the northern city of Chiang Mai. Every Sunday night there’s a walking street night market and it’s always packed. There’s loads of vendors selling handicrafts, carts selling food, and even spas doing foot massage right on the street for about $1. It combines so many of favorite things…eating, shopping & massage! Surrounded by Buddhist temples, you can wander through the busy streets and browse everything from beautifully painted paper umbrellas to handmade jewelry. There’s so much beautiful artistry in Thai handicrafts. It’s a fun experience if you find yourself in Chiang Mai on a Sunday night. Maybe it’s on the touristy side of Thai culture, but it’s still a good time.
Do you have a favorite market experience? Have you been to any of these? What Asian market should I check out next? Let me know in the comments below!