One of my favorite things about Thailand is the markets. Day markets, night markets, floating markets, walking markets, food markets, clothing markets…literally anything you could ever possibly want you can buy on the streets. It’s fabulous. After seeing so many, I’m becoming kind of a market snob, so here’s a quick review of the few I saw in Chiang Mai.
On Running Late & Dealing with the Night Bazaar
This market is open 7 days a week in Chiang Mai. They have handicraft items, souvenirs, ladyboys pushing their cabaret shows, and a tonnnn of tourists. This market was my first taste of Chiang Mai after rolling off my 10 hour bus, and to be honest it was a bitter taste to begin with.
To be fair my trip started a little rough. I originally wanted to take an overnight train from Bangkok, as they’re supposed to be a good time, but I forgot that Thai people also had the Buddhist holiday off so the trains sold out. Usually you don’t have to book ahead of time and it’s cheaper to purchase them at the station. So I ended up taking a 6AM bus from Bangkok because I wouldn’t have been able to make it to the 8PM bus coming from Dan Chang and dealing with the hell that is Bangkok rush hour traffic.
I was actually pleasantly surprised with how nice my bus was. I used Bangkok bus lines. I took an air-conditioned double-decker bus, complete with a stewardess and American movies dubbed in Thai. They even provided a little snack box and Thai lunch at our rest stop. However, due to the holiday traffic, we unfortunately arrived 3 hours late in Chiang Mai, so I was already running behind on meeting up with my friends.
Said snack box, including ~green tea~ knock-off oreos. Not a big oreo fan but I LOVE green tea so I gave them a try, not too shabby.
After hastily checking into the hostel, I grabbed my friends’ new Australian friend/our hostel roommate Liz and made a terrible attempt at trying to find my friends in the city. Not knowing that were so many night markets in Chiang Mai, we ran around for about 2 hours and then realized that we were at different markets. No matter though, it all worked out in the end and we had a fabulous night on the town. I digress.
The Night Bazaar is always open at night in Chiang Mai. They have your typical goods, meaning knock off ray-bans, elephant pants, Chang Beer shirts, etc. However this market also tried to ~exoticize~ and ~capitalize~ on Northern tribes and also sell cheesy goods that had supposedly been made by tribes people in the mountains. Everything was also severely overpriced and the market was very dirty.
Not that Thai markets aren’t usually dirty, it isn’t exactly the cleanest of counties, with it’s lax attitude towards littering and the vermin that come with tropical weather, but in this case it just added to the already grotesque atmosphere. There also were fish spas out in the middle of the market, where you pay to have fish eat off your dead skin, which kind of grossed me out seeing that they were next to food stalls.
The food was overpriced and clearly geared towards tourists, with large menus written in English with lots of pictures. Unfortunately Liz & I were running low on time and had no other options, so I dropped 80 baht for some severely mediocre crispy pork. The place was also crawling with tourists and lacking Thai people, always a red flag.
All in all I would only go to this market if you’re going for the ladyboy cabaret or if you’re bored.
Ploen Ruedee Night Market – International Food Park
This place was actually pretty cute. Being a semi-professional food snob I usually turn up my nose at western food in foreign countries, but this place was trendy and a lot of Thai people were there. I like to think that if I lived in Chiang Mai I would eat here when I missed western food.
They had craft burgers, pizza, WINE, Pakistani food, a cute little cart that sold cocktails for only 100 baht, and anything else you could ever imagine. I went for the tofu Khao Soi as I wanted to lap up as much of it as possible while in Northern Thailand, but my friend got a burger that was only 100 baht. That’s cheap for a burger in Thailand.
I was half expecting my Khao Soi not to be the best seeing as it was in an area that sold western food, but it was surprisingly good. Top that off with a good mojito, cute seating, and the same good band we had seen out the night before, and all around this market was a cute little square. I’d recommend stopping here if you’re craving your hometown favorites.
The Sunday Night Market
The entrance to the market through old city walls.
I saved the best for last. This market was the best I’ve seen in Thailand yet, and I’ve spent a decent amount of time perusing Bangkok(although I have yet to visit Chatuchak weekend market). It was located right by the old city walls, and it’s only open on Sunday evenings.
A food vendor miraculously pushing her cart through the crowd of people and simultaneously selling food. This should be an Olympic Sport.
This market had all your usual tourist goods, meaning elephant pants, Thailand t-shirts, and elephant trinkets; but they had a great deal more as well. They had some Northern Thai hippy clothing, and a tonnnnn of tied-dye clothes. The clothes were actually pretty cute too.
The market spilled out into the street in front of a few boutiques that set up stalls. There I saw the cutest and most unique harem pants that I’ve seen in Thailand, so I decided to treat myself and buy my first pair. They also had super cute jewelry, so I bought a few stacking rings and a new choker, along with cute little earrings for my cartilage piercings. Finding small earrings that are actually cute is a feat.
We also got dinner at this market. Jutting off of the main streets there were several little areas that had food. They were done in usual Thai fashion, meaning there were food stalls that had short little tables with plastic chairs. There were also Thai people eating here, which is again, always a good sign.
I opted for my first Khao Soi and some unidentified crab item. They were both absolutely amazing. Khao Soi is a Northern specialty. It’s a coconut curry with a bunch of other stuff in it, and one of the only dishes I’ve had in Thailand that isn’t noodle/rice based. It’s more of a soup than other curries that I’ve had, and it’s the best thing I’ve had in Thailand yet. The crab thing(meaning some kind of crab stuff baked into it’s shell) was also really good, although I still don’t know what it was. We topped up the whole thing with coconut milk ice cream with peanuts, and it was a great dinner out.
I think my favorite part of the market was an area where local artists were selling paintings and such. By local artists I don’t mean your typical tourist-area natives slapping paint onto some exotic artifact, I mean like actual artists who created more modern art. It was nice to see Thai culture done in a more modern fashion in a tourist area for once. They had Peter Max style paintings of elephants and tuk-tuks, and ink drawings of Buddhas and such on elephant poop paper. The artists were sitting there themselves watching over their wares, which proved their legitimacy. I’ll have to come back when I’m a real grown up who has a house to decorate someday to browse.
The downside to the market being so cool was that it was absurdly crowded. Like we lost a few crew members several times, and it was difficult to browse with a group. We also had to hover to get seats after we bought food. But it still was all great, definitely the best market I experienced in Chiang Mai.
The best thing I found at the market, s/o to the language barrier.
Thai Markets – A Mishap
This isn’t one of the market attractions, this is just a random little Thai market with all food stalls and Thai people, the same as in any Thai town. But if you want good cheap legit food try to find it, it’s on Sri Poom Road. These are my favorite places to eat in Thailand, by far the best and cheapest food you’ll find.
On the last day we were trying to find dinner and were sightly in a rush, so we decided to grab something quick and cheap. The market was down the street from our hostel. It was nice being able to go to a Thai food stall where people speak English for once and I’m not limited to ordering the 1 menu item I know they have.
After we sat down and started shoveling pork and rice into our faces, a young and kind of gaunt-looking Thai guy sitting at our table started chatting with us in broken English. This isn’t unusual and happens all the time as Thai people are very friendly. We were also the only westerners at this market so we were probably a slight curiosity.
At first it was business as usual, “where are you from” “how long are you in Thailand for” and a few mystery questions that were simply answered with a polite nod, but then things took a turn for the worse. Back to Thai people being friendly – I’ve been offered food by Thai people regularly, as they like to give my farang self a chance so try new things. This is nice usually. However, this guy decided to literally hold out his spoon and try to feed me his pork and rice, which was twice as confusing because I was eating the exact same meal? Cue the most awkward moment of my life.
At first when he held it up I politely held my spoon up so that he could slide it on(gross still I know, but it’s rude to refuse food in Thailand). But he insisted on trying to put the pork and rice in my mouth off of his spoon. I shut him down by clumsily mumbling, waving my hands, and turning the other way, but the damage had been done and the rest of the meal was super awkward. Like I said it’s rude to refuse food in Thailand, but he was giving me the chills and I’ve seen Thai dental hygiene standards and simply could not. The cultural/language barrier really won this time.
So there you have it. Ditch the Night Bazaar and save your money for the Sunday market. Next visit to Chiang Mai I’ll definitely hit up some more markets.