One of the main reasons why Chiang Mai was on my list of must-visit places in Thailand is because of the famous night markets that exist within this bustling city. I am a market fiend – I absolutely love them. Whenever I travel, I like to set aside at least a full day to explore local markets. The more authentic the market is, the more interesting I think it is, as visiting these centres offers a first-hand look into the lives of the locals – how they live, how they shop, how they eat. I find it fascinating.
Chiang Mai has many markets – A Night Bazaar that runs daily as the sun sets, a Saturday Market, a Sunday Market, a massive local Food Market, a Chinatown Market, and many others I’m sure. We visited all of the markets listed above except for the Saturday Market, as we arrived into Chiang Mai late on a Saturday night.
When I was doing research for my trip, I was surprised to find that I had such a hard time finding a comparison of the most popular markets somewhere on the internet. I thought I’d only have time to visit one (but I was wrong) so I wanted to be sure to choose the one that was best suited to my interests.
I decided to take Chiang Mai’s two most popular markets, The Night Bazaar and The Sunday Walking Street, and write an article comparing the two of them.
Sunday Walking Street
We arrived at Chiang Mai’s Sunday Walking Street at around 5:30pm on a Sunday (the only night it operates, hence the name) and were surprised to find that it was already bustling with tourists and locals alike. The Sunday Walking Street is actually network of several streets which all seemed to come to meet at a major intersection within the old city. You could walk for hours and hours and still not see it all. We had such an amazing time wandering around and sampling food from the street stalls – including fresh fruit shakes, noodles, curries, and deep-fried delicacies. There were musicians on every corner, incredible artists, and beautiful artwork and crafts being made right before your eyes. This market was one of the highlights of our time in Chiang Mai.
Pros: Generally less expensive than the Night Bazaar, Many more Authentic Artisan Products & Crafts, Much more Music & Entertainment than the Night Bazaar, Less Begging & Poverty
Cons: Only runs once a week, Not as much selection of food as the Night Bazaar, More Crowded than the Night Bazaar
We went to the Night Bazaar the night after we went to the Sunday Walking Street, since we had enjoyed it so much. The Night Bazaar is laid out in sporadic clumps of shops, stalls, underground stores and courtyards. Just when you think that it is coming to an end, you’ll turn a corner and see an entire new section of the market. The Night Bazaar was our favourite place for street food – Noodles, Garlic & Cheese Breads, Mango & Sticky Rice, Fried Bugs (which I passed up)…you name it, they had it. We found that the shops mostly sold more of the same things – flowing hippie pants, penis keychains (what is with all of the penis keychains!?), Thailand bookmarks, mini Buddha Statues…if you’re looking for the typical, touristy trinkets of Thailand…then the Night Bazaar might just be the market for you. Plus, it was much less crowded than the Sunday Walking Street.
Pros: Runs Every Night, A huge selection & variety of food options, More touristy trinkets, Less Crowded than the Sunday Walking Street, More Selection of the Same Products
Cons: Generally more expensive than the Night Bazaar, Less Authentic Products, Less Entertainment, More Beggars & Poverty
Overall, while I definitely enjoyed both markets for different reasons, I would have to say that my favourite market experience was had at the Sunday Walking Street. I much prefer authentic handmade crafts over made-in-china souvenirs, and even though it was incredibly crowded by the peak of the night, it was my favourite market experience that I’ve had to date throughout all of my travels. Even Sean loved it – and he’s really not a market guy. If you are fortunate enough to be in Chiang Mai on a Sunday, go to the Sunday Walking Street. Otherwise, the Night Bazaar will surely suffice.
*Safety Tip – Be sure to keep your belongings safe while at these markets. They can be so overwhelmingly full of people that many travellers often don’t even feel their bags being slashed or their pockets being picked. Try to carry a bag that zips shut and hold it right against your chest or stomach against the front of your body.*
Have you ever been to any markets in Chiang Mai? Which did you enjoy the most?