The streets of Chiang Mai come alive at night with the sounds and colors of these local markets.
By Henry Wu
In the Old City, the day belongs to temples, cooking classes, and spa adventures. At night, however, Chiang Mai’s Old City awakens from its peaceful slumber to host its teeming night markets. Of all the markets, the Sunday Night Market, the Saturday Night Market, and the Night Bazaar offer the best variety of shopping and convenience. Whether you’re looking for t-shirts, Thai silk scarves, trendy clothing, or handmade hill tribe products, they can be found at all three. Just be careful not to go overboard, or you might find yourself with an extra bag to check in at the airport!
At the Sunday Night Market you’ll find more handcrafted, locally sourced products for sale than in any other night market in Chiang Mai. In fact, many Chiang Mai University (CMU) art students and graduates use this market to display their talents, which spill over into the designs and creativity shown at the many booths.
On a recent outing to the market, I discovered one of those students selling handmade t-shirts with his own custom typography. At another booth, another CMU graduate specializing in clay molding attracted a crowd with simple but melodic tunes from coming his handcrafted ocarinas.
In addition, you’ll discover a wide array of items on sale, including artsy t-shirts, edgy and modern paintings, recycled art, and hill tribe woven products. If you get tired of so much shopping, you can always sit and watch the seemingly unending crowd of people surge by, while street performers sing and dance. There are even Chiang Mai policemen singing karaoke all night at one corner of the market.
After shopping, bargaining, and dodging all the crowds, you’re bound to get hungry. Luckily, shopping and eating go hand in hand in Thailand. Scattered along the market are numerous food stalls to quench your thirst and satisfy any palate. For those in need of a full meal, head over to Phan Ohn Temple, located at the intersection of Rachadamnoen and Ratpakinai roads. You’ll be met with a huge courtyard filled with vendors serving a variety of food, such as vegetarian Indian food, Japanese sushi, Singaporean chicken rice, and a wide selection of Thai street fare. Prices start as low as THB 20 and average about THB 50 for a meal.
After having your fill of street food, pamper your sore feet with a street side Thai massage. You can choose from among the many makeshift massage shops and get back in shape for about THB 150 for 120 minutes.
The market tends to become more and more crowded as the night runs on, so it’s better to arrive early (5 p.m.) If you’re the first customer of the night, there’s also a good chance of getting a bigger discount, as the vendors believe the first sale brings them good luck!
At 6 p.m., when the national anthem is played over the loudspeakers, everyone freezes in place like a giant flash mob. It’s worth coming to see that, as all activity stops for a minute or so.
Because prices are very reasonable, expect to get only about 10 to 15 percent off when bargaining.
Address: Full length of Rachadamnoen Road, starting at Tha Phae Gate to Wat Phra Singh, along with some intersecting roads.
Hours: 4:30 p.m. to midnight
The origins of the night bazaar lie in the old Yunnanese trading caravans stopping near the Ping River while en route between China and Myanmar. Nowadays, its a popular, brimming tourist hotspot where visitors from all over the world come to find great deals on anything from Thai silk, hand woven fabrics, licensed and pirated DVDs, hand paintings, and hill tribe jewelry. A bonus of this market is that most of it is covered in some way, so it’s possible to shop here if it’s raining.
For a real treat, find the underground shops across from Kalare Center, where you’ll see local artists painting and drawing on site. Custom pieces of art range from THB 500 to THB 10,000.
When you’re done shopping, cap off the night at the Kalare Food Court with its vast array of food ranging from khao soi to basil pork rice, accompanied by live music played enthusiastically by a local Thai singer–songwriter.
Prices here are higher than in the other markets, so remember to bargain down and be prepared to walk away if necessary—you’ll be surprised how much the vendors will come down when you do. You should be able to bargain down prices about 20 to 40 percent depending on the vendor.
Address: All along Chang Klan Road between Tha Phae and Sridonchai roads
Hours: 7 p.m. to midnight
Prices tend to be a bit more reasonable compared to the Sunday Night Market and the Night Bazaar owing to the smaller crowds, so there’s definitely a higher chance of getting a good deal here!
Also, there tend to be fewer food options than at the Sunday market, but you’ll find a nice food courtyard about halfway down the street.
Overall, if you want a low-key street shopping experience, the Saturday Night Market is definitely worth checking out.
Similar to the Sunday Market, it’s smart to arrive there early (5 p.m.) as crowds tend to hit their peak later on in the evening. To get to the market, go to the southern end of the moat and then head for Wualai Road. Because the market begins on Wualai Road, it is also known as Wualai Market to locals.
Address: Wualai Road at the Southern Moat
Hours: 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.