While I’m not a big shopper, I do enjoy meandering through the Chiang Mai market streets taking in all the lights and colors and doing a bit of people-watching. It never fails to amaze me how much stuff is available and how everything is completely set up and taken down whenever the markets runs, whether it’s weekly or even daily.
I’ve shown you glimpses of the student market and the Saturday Walking Street in Chiang Mai before, but that was barely skimming the surface on the regular, outdoor markets the city has to offer. So, I’ve (attempted to) put together a series of posts listing out the different markets I take people to visiting Chiang Mai. This first post – of a 3-part series – includes the more well-known shopping spots of the Chiang Mai markets, but check back in the next couple weeks for Parts II and III for more local finds you probably wouldn’t hear about if you were just in town for a few days.
Probably the best known market, the Sunday Walking Street runs, well, every Sunday. Though it’s considered a night market, people have been setting up their tables earlier and earlier (beginning as early as 11 in the morning) and by 5:30 most stalls are ready to go. The market starts at Tha Pae Gate and goes all the way along Ratchadamnoen Road until Wat Phra Singh in the center of the old city (about 1.5 km). This is the place for souvenirs, t-shirts, artwork, hand made items and just about everything in between. There are two large food areas set up toward the beginning of the market on temple grounds and small stalls set up the entire way.
While I highly recommend going, be warned that it is crowded. Very crowded. Especially in the high season, it’s not uncommon for you to be jammed up next to people inching your way along. To get from end to end when it’s this busy can easily take an hour+ even if you’re not stopping too much along the way. I like going before it gets dark out while there’s less people and a kind of calm before the masses hit. It’s also one of the best places to see the 6 o’clock national anthem and moment of stillness. Everyone will be moving around but as soon as the first notes come over the loud speaker everyone stands still for the length of the song.
The Saturday Walking Street is basically like the Sunday Walking Street, but a little smaller and more manageable. As I’ve already written about here, it’s one of the markets I enjoy the most because of the size and mix of people that go to it each week. The Sunday night market also has a variety of people, but since it’s so large and well-known, many tour groups (Thai, Chinese and Western) come in for the evening.
Honestly, I really don’t like the Night Bazaar, but if you were looking to do some major shopping or have things on your list you want to buy and aren’t in town over the weekend, it’s a good place to go. It’s massive and has many different parts to it – there are stalls lining the street (and making the sidewalks very narrow/crowded), as well as several permanent building structures with floors of shops and two market courtyard areas with more shops, tables, bars and restaurants.
This area is entirely geared toward tourists – you won’t see many locals shopping around, In fact, many of the people working the stalls aren’t even Thai, but Lao or Burmese. The merchandise is usually marked up a bit from the walking streets and food is heavily overpriced. For example, usually I can buy the very basic Thai dish kai jio moo sap (Thai omelet with minced pork over rice) for 25 – 30 baht. At the Night Bazaar, this – just rice and egg! – is going for around 60 baht with stir-fried mixed vegetables (another super simple dish) going for 80 – 90 baht. There are also several Western-food sit down restaurants as well as fast-food places like McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway.
Be sure to check back soon for the next installment of this Chiang Market series.
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Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
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