The words night market conjures up scenes of throngs of people, chaotic situations in which stallholders and customers haggle amidst tight spaces. Well, there was some elements of that in the night markets in Chiang Mai. However, it was also interesting to note that there was a lot more organization around it too!
Here we are in the north of Thailand (northwest to be exact), where a mix of Thai and tribal influences and products can be found in the markets. For one thing, it is easier to get around than we thought – lots of red “jeepneys” ply the roads on a fixed route. You get on/off along the route and pay a fix sum. So instead of walking, you can get to the night markets on these “public transport”. Read more about how to take them here.
Wualai (every Saturday)
This once a week market opens from around 5pm when vendors first set up shop. It is located in an area of Chiang Mai renowned for silver making, evident from the many small boutiques and shops retailing anything from sterling flatware to ornate and grandiose center pieces for display.
The history of the craft of silver making is long and distinguished here, with the first craftsmen arriving about 200 years ago at the invitation of the Lanna King. Gathered in this area just south of the old city, the community enjoys a strong tradition of support even today with an arts’ study center dedicated to the style that Lanna is. And it also helps that Wat Srisuphan (the famed Silver temple) is where new generations of silversmiths are trained.
But once a week, the street of Wualai turns carnival and transforms into a street of vendors. The road is closed off and it is pedestrian friendly for the rest of the day! What’s there to do?
Why to eat street food and perhaps find a bargain or two to buy along the way! Now you’d be surprised to know that we had a grilled squid for a princely sum of just 50 baht. That’s one example of how affordable the food is here. And you’d be spoiled for choice!
For the most part, the wares on sale are repeated ever so often as you walk along. However, some gems do appear from time to time. For example, it was not easy to find these sponges on sales!
Remember this is a Saturday only night market, so coming here at all other times will mean closed shops and a relatively quiet street:
Thapae (every Sunday)
Every Sunday, the streets around Thapae gate (of the old town centre) are closed to road traffic. From about 4pm in the afternoon, stallholders will set themselves up for a whole evening of selling to crowds that at times will seem to be crushing!
This is the other weekend market and the largest one of the city, boasting much more stalls than the regular ones combined. However as you will note, many stalls sell a combination of the same things. It is not surprising, given that a lot of goods are probably imported, though you may be able to find some locally made produce.
As in the other night markets, there are really bright lights that is almost blinding! It seems the Chiang Mai people are very conscious about lighting to showcase their wares. Do get there by 6pm as the crowd really gets in by 7pm. Be prepared to stand to attention at 7pm though when the Thai national anthem is played out. Thai people are certainly very patriotic!
We saw numerous colorful wares on display ranging from bags, clothes, accessories, display knick knacks, paintings etc. It’s really quite diverse.
One thing about the markets is that you will never go hungry. What we observed though is that there are less food stalls along the streets. The Food stalls are usually located within the confines of the temples or local buildings along the streets. A coterie of stalls preparing local delights from grilled rice cakes to squid fills the air with aroma. Food on offer can range from the mundane to the exotic.
We saw fried crickets and omelette made from Ants’ or bees’ eggs (whoops no pictures). We also recall seeing satay sticks of crickets or some other insect too. Many tourists actually “hop” from one food street area to the next, sampling one after another local are on offer. These are really affordable and quite good too!
The rules in these night markets are the same – you must bargain or haggle to get to the best price. Same rules here – do not bargain down unless you really intend to buy. You can get a really irritated Thai stallholder on you if you renege (Thai people are generally gentle, but can be really ticked off). We generally lob about 40-50% off the initial price and work it up. People here like to talk – thus flattery can really work some magic… (a couple of words can help like telling the female vendor she is “Sui mak mak”, or the item is “Paeang” etc). Perhaps you can look up the meaning in Google translate?
If you haven’t been here while in Chiang Mai, well all we can say to you is : man you missed the big time!
Chang Klan road markets
For those whose impeccable timing somehow misses both of the above large markets, fret not.
There are permanent ones running almost every night of the year along the main Chang Klan road and some of the adjacent streets. It helps that there are a couple of small mall-like buildings that sprinkle the length of this long transport artery.
While the Thapae and Wualai market see artists (or perhaps just vendors) selling art pieces, there are artists showcasing their works even as they are busily painting at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar building. Many are really good and for a reasonable price, you can have a beautiful piece of art of your choice painted for you in color or retro. The price range by size and we have already chosen photos for these artists to paint for us.
Aside from the stalls that line both sides of the road, there are two large markets: Kalare and Anusarn. You definitely can find the same things for sale here as it was in Thapae and Wualai. Perhaps the pricing could be slightly different…
Perhaps it is the Asian concept of eating out that spawned a lot of restaurant like stalls (ie with seating). And so it is at these permanent night markets. You order and pay in the same way as one would in a normal restaurant. Very similar in concept to Singapore and Malaysia. If eating out in these open-air stores is not for you – at Kalare market there is a food court where you can buy coupons and pick up food and drinks from stalls with the scripts. The vendors prepare their food in kitchens.
The apartment we stayed at is not far from Chang Klan road and is walkable distance from Thapae. So you can imagine we were regular patrons of the night markets. We are sure you will be attracted to it on a daily basis too if you were here!
And just in case you aren’t too sure where they are. Here’s a Google map: