With its charming Old City, lush surrounding jungles and plenty of delicious food, Chiang Mai is firmly placed on the tourist trail in Thailand. The town is filled with guesthouses and is a common base for trekking, various courses or certifications, and motorbike trips through the north.
That said, while it certainly has its fair share of tourist-centric entertainment and attractions, you can still find local activities, locations and glimpses of authentic daily life – if you know where to look.
Chiang Mai has two massive, well known night markets: the Night Bazaar (held daily and operated exclusively for tourists) and the weekly Sunday Walking Street on Ratchadamoen Road (which is a draw for both Thais and foreigners alike). The market scene is much broader than these common hotspots, however, and though Chiang Mai can sometimes seem like it’s crawling with tourists, few make it to these outdoor markets.
Saturday Walking Street
Though listed in all the guidebooks, the Saturday Night Walking Street on Wualai Road on the south side of town is still popular with locals and less overwhelming than its Sunday night counterpart. You’ll find some goods, like the ubiquitous traveler harem pants, geared toward tourists, but more often you’ll see crafts, decor and clothes that appeal more to a Thai sense of style.
While you may not actually buy anything here, unless you’re looking for lots hair accessories or colored contact lenses, the student market at Malin Plaza near the front entrance of Chiang Mai University is worth the tuk tuk ride for people-watching and grabbing dinner. The market is set up nightly starting around 5:00 p.m.
You could easily get lost in this labyrinth of little lanes hiding shops selling everything from dried fruit to fabric to fishing nets. Many people stop by the two, large indoor sections where there are a ton of dried food items and Buddhist decorations, but make sure to wander around the surrounding streets a little more and see if you find any treasures. The market is open daily until 5:00 p.m., but is quieter on Sundays.
Wororot Market at Night
When the shops at Wororot close in the evening, they’re just making space for a new set of clothing and food street stalls to pop up. It’s a good place to go for an evening snack (there aren’t many stalls serving full dishes) and try some Thai delicacies like fried silkworms, sour fermented sausage and a range of tropical fruits.
Behind Wororot Market along the river is a flower market specializing in garlands, offerings and elaborate arrangements. Aside from the detailed garlands handmade from marigolds and jasmine blossoms, the crazy thing about this market is that it’s open practically all day and night. While some of the stalls shut down late at night, others are open for those to drive by and buy some roses at 2:00 a.m.
The city is dotted with small, often hidden, fresh markets selling produce, meats and pantry staples like rice and sauces. Larger market areas can be found near the South and North Gates of the city. The catch? While some of the fresh markets run throughout the day and into the evening for the dinner crowd, the ones at the two gates start early in the morning – like 4:00 a.m. early – and are mainly closed up by 11:00 a.m., so get up early! (These are also good locations to see the monks wandering the street collecting their morning alms around 6:00 – 7:00 a.m.)
Muang Mai Market, situated by the river west of Wang Singkam Road, takes the fresh markets to the next level by being more of a wholesale location selling fruits, vegetables, seafood and meat in large quantities. Seeing meter-high mounds of fresh chilies garlic is incredible. The market is busiest in the morning, though new vendors come and lay out their produce late at night around 10:00 and 11:00 p.m.
The world of Thai amulets is fascinating, confusing, and often surprisingly expensive. The amulet markets in Bangkok are more impressive, but you’ll certainly be the only foreigner wandering around Chiang Mai’s Thippanet Market on Thippanet Road. Look for the craftsman in their little workshops using simple tools to make intricate plastic, silver and gold cases to protect the amulets.
Located on Atsadathon Road of the northeast corner of the moat, JJ Market is a collection of antique and secondhand shops that sells a lot of furniture and wood items. In the evening, the area surrounding the marketplace comes to life with a number of busy outdoor Thai-style bars.
Nine not enough? Learn about even more Chiang Mai markets here. Been to Chiang Mai? Which markets did you enjoy?
About the Author
Alana Morgan is a twenty-something traveler trying to figure out life one place at a time. Originally from Seattle, she’s been living, teaching, writing and traveling in Thailand and Southeast Asia for the past two years with no plans to ‘settle down’ anytime soon. Check out more of her stories, photos and experiences of what it’s like to be a young expat in Asia on her blog, Paper Planes.