Grocery stores, shopping malls, and 7-Elevens. Yes, Chiang Mai has all these modern conveniences, as well as Starbucks, McDonalds and more. Restaurants around town dish out plates of tacos, pasta, falafel as well and any cuisine you could ever crave.
You can find everything in Chiang Mai. But there are also some things you can find only in Chiang Mai. As a climber, you head out to Crazy Horse Buttress to scale up rock that’s unique to this part of the world. So why not apply the same attitude when it comes to eating and shopping?
You might not know where to start. Here’s a hint: head toward the nearest market. Or greet anyone on the street and ask: ta-lad yu tee nai ka/krab? (Where’s the market?)
Like in many parts of Asia, markets are a gathering place and a way of life in Chiang Mai. From the early morning markets chock full of produce, sticky rice, noodle soups and ice coffee to the late night markets specializing in knock-off goods, kitsch, kebabs, and ice cream, Chiang Mai is a Mecca for markets.
If you don’t already know you love markets, the Sunday walking street market is an apt gateway into market culture. It starts, appropriately, at the Thapae Gate and runs the length of Ratchadamnoen Road in the Old City. Every Sunday, from about 4-10pm, this street is closed to cars and open to sellers and strollers.
This is a place to see and be seen, to shop and eat. Booth after booth of sellers display their wares – clothes, jewelry, art, handicrafts, accessories, home goods, trinkets, and toys – as spirited shoppers stop to look, haggle, and buy.
Both mixed into the mosaic on the street and at temples dotting the way are food stalls offering a grand sampling of Northern Thai dishes. There are even massage stands set up along the way if your feet get tired from too much shopping. You’ll finish the night fully satiated and counting down the days until the next week’s market.
The Sunday walking street market is quintessential Chiang Mai, but don’t let your market exploration stop there. You can find a lot of the same goods, at cheaper prices, near Warorot Market. This sprawling market area has a multi-floor indoor area complete with produce, dried fruits, herbs, and spices.
There is a conjoining fresh flower market and as well as stalls selling everything under the sun; clothes, shoes, ceramics, and gadgets to name a few. We’ll leave it to you to find out what gems you can discover at this market of markets. Do be sure to wander down each of the small streets. Find your way through a maze and you’ll find a surplus of otherworldly hill tribe paraphernalia.
Beyond these two hotspots, there’s the Chiang Mai Gate market, right in front of – you guessed it – Chiang Mai Gate! Go in the morning for produce and breakfast and in the evenings for made-to-order mouthwatering dishes.
It doesn’t take much to learn about the markets here. Ask locals about their favorite markets or just take a motorbike or bicycle and drive around until you find one. There’s Namaw, a student market near Chiang Mai University specializing in cutesy clothing and cheap food, as well as an entire market for plants, flowers and gardening supplies.
If you’re the map type, Nancy Chandler’s Chiang Mai map (available at used bookstores around town) does a good job of noting markets of interest. But, you don’t really need a map to start discovering the wonders of markets.
Here’s your challenge: How many markets can you find in this city? And what are the most outrageous/useful/interesting/unique items you can find at said markets? Explore on!