Tuesday, September 25, 2012

5 Chiang Mai Markets Every Visitor Should Know About

If there was one thing I absolutely love about Thailand, and I love many things about it, it has got to be the markets. The Thais love their markets and even the touristy markets are good. I kid you not. At least that's how it is in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai markets are yet another reason I fell in love with Thailand's northern capital. Chiang Mai markets are not just places to shop. There's also entertainment in there ranging from traditional musicians to drag queens. Then, there's the food, the spectacularly delicious Thai foods. How could food ever be absent anywhere in Thailand?

Sunday Walking Street, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The busy starting point of the Chiang Mai Sunday Walking Street at Tha Pae Gate

Over the course of the six months that I lived in the city, I have noted a few Chiang Mai markets that are worth a look and most definitely a taste for those visiting the city. Here are five which I think every visitor should know about and considering exploring while in Chiang Mai.

1. Sunday Walking Street

Sunday Walking Street, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Masks anyone? No?

How can anyone miss Chiang Mai's Sunday Walking Street? It is the largest and most important of Chiang Mai's markets and it happens every week right in the heart of Chiang Mai's old town. This Chiang Mai market takes place, well, every Sunday starting around 4 p.m. when stalls begin to set up along the old town's central artery, Ratchadamnoen Road, with stalls overflowing onto the streets, lanes, and even the many temples of Chiang Mai along the street.

Sunday Walking Street, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Let's see you try and resist the cuteness.
Sunday Walking Street, Chiang Mai, Thailand
I wanted this lamp for the bedroom
I was building in my head.

Sunday Walking Street, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Manny and Barry. Together again.

Everything and I mean, everything is sold here: clothes, bags, watches, accessories, figurines, handicrafts, homeware, everything. There are also musicians and cute show dogs for entertainment. However, most people, like me, come for the food. All the greatest hits of northern Thai food figure in the many food stalls in this Chiang Mai market. Precisely the reason for which Sunday has come to be my favorite day of the week here in Chiang Mai. Why shouldn't it be? It's food!

Sunday Walking Street, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The artist really did capture his smile.

2. Saturday Walking Street

Saturday Walking Street, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Women be shoppin'

The Saturday Walking Street is sort of the little brother to the Sunday Walking Street. This Chiang Mai market takes place in a narrower street, along the first half of Wua Lai, right outside the old town near Chiang Mai gate. It is more compact, too, precisely why it can get a bit crowded on some Saturday or two. You sort of have to jostle your way up and down the street. The same things are sold, of course. Clothes and all things Thai dry goods. There's also food, naturally. Two things that I come back for every Saturday to this Chiang Mai market are the Northern Thai Sausages in balls form, which are so oily and porky delicious, and the fried chicken fillets eaten with a lot of deep fried onions. They're so good!

3. Night Bazaar

Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Bazaarific? No?

Of the Chiang Mai markets mentioned thus far, the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is sort of the least local of them. What I mean is, both Chiang Mai locals and tourists in the city come to the Sunday and Saturday Walking Streets, but you will rarely find the former at the Night Bazaar. This Chiang Mai market is specifically targeted to tourists and that's alright. If you are visiting Chiang Mai on a weekday and will not be staying until the weekend, the Night Bazaar, located along Chang Klan Road, will give you a taste of what Chiang Mai markets are all about. What I love about it are the many great international restaurants located here: Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants, Irish-style pubs, Italian, etc. All of them here.

4. Sompet Market

Sompet Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Vegans, look away. Look away!

When I first came to Chiang Mai, I sort of gravitated towards the backpacker area of the city. That's the area where most budget hotels are, specifically, the areas around Ratvithi Street and Moon Mueang Soi 6 to 9. If you stay in the area, the Chiang Mai market you will head to most often is the Sompet Market. This Chiang Mai market is located right at the intersection of Moon Mueang Street and Moon Mueang Soi 7. It is mostly a food market with some dry goods sold in some stalls. When I was living around the area, I bought breakfast, lunch and dinner at Sompet Market.

Sompet Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand
I never did figure out what she's selling.
Sompet Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand
A thing of beauty if I ever saw one.

This is the Chiang Mai market to which Thai cooking class instructors take their students as it is close to most of the schools. You see groups of them every morning. Fun to people watch. One very curious hole-in-the-wall restaurant here has their wall plastered with writings from all the people that have eaten here. Plus points for those who can find the very Pinoy writings provided by yours truly. Recommends: the banana fritter stall and northern Thai sausage stall, both located on the street, and the smoothie lady, located inside this Chiang Mai market.

5. Chiang Mai Gate Food Market

Chiang Mai Gate Food Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Vast vats of curries, vegetables and stir-fry dishes. Nomnomnom.

Being temporarily based in Chiang Mai, you sort of become a local. And one very local market is the Chiang Mai Gate Food Market. If you ask me to rave about it, I will. I so will. This Chiang Mai market is small because, well, it's just a food market. Some stalls are open all day but everything really comes alive at night. That is when locals, coming from a busy day of work or school, head to the many stalls with all their collapsible tables and chairs and have some crazy good bowls of pork noodles or plates of spicy curries eaten with rice.

Chiang Mai Gate Food Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The one and only, the incomparable Mrs. Pa, the best smoothie lady in Chiang Mai

One highly recommended stall at the Chiang Mai Gate Food Market is the stand of the best smoothie lady in Chiang Mai. Mrs. Pa sells tumblers of the freshest and most delicious smoothies for just 20 Baht! My favorite thing about the Chiang Mai Gate Food Market though is the many stalls selling vats of curries, vegetables, and stir-fry dishes, from which locals (and semi-locals like me) purchase bags of Thai goodness and bring them home for dinner. It's hard to choose every time. I always go for the curries though. Penang, Massaman, Red, Northern Thai. They are all good!

Bonus No. 1 Chiang Mai Creative City

Chiang Mai Creative City, Thailand
We get it. You're artsy, Chiang Mai. Now go sculp me something.

Chiang Mai, being the creative city that it is, has a lot of interesting markets going on every now and then. One of the Chiang Mai markets I came across is that of the Chiang Mai Creative City Festival. Chiang Mai is seeking to develop itself as a creative city, one in which the arts and culture form part of the city's financial and economic landscape. I think Chiang Mai with all its artsy-fartsiness (read: hippies, hipsters, and vegans wandering around) could qualify. If not, hey, a city's creativity never hurt anyone's day. Explore long enough and you'll come across similar markets, too.

Bonus No. 2 Locations of the Chiang Mai Markets

I have plotted all these Chiang Mai markets on a map of Chiang Mai. That should be useful.

Bonus No. 3 Complete Photo Gallery

Here's the link to the complete gallery of photos I have taken of the various Chiang Mai markets listed here ~ Thailand: Chiang Mai Markets. Lots of curiosities in there, and food. You might want to eat first lest you be unloaded a strong craving.

Have you been to any of these Chiang Mai markets? Do you make local markets part of your itinerary?

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