One of my favourite things to do in Thailand is to stroll around the night markets at a leisurely pace. I find them very relaxing, especially the Chiang Mai night market and like the idea of people unwinding in social clusters at the end of the day. It so happens that night markets originated exactly for that purpose and the medieval Chinese Tang dynasty gave birth to this concept. Though initially, the Tang officials put strict restrictions on night markets and their operations, in later years with economic prosperity, these sanctions were relaxed. Between 960 to 1279 AD, during the Song dynasty rule, night markets were booming and they played important roles in Chinese after-hours social life. The popularity of night markets soared and these could be found in every corner of large cities. They stayed open for long hours and during the Song rule, brothels and food courts got included in them.

Strings of decorative lights for sale

Chiang Mai Night Market is an explosion of smells and sights

By the mid 20th century, night markets evolved into migrant urban workers haunts and they used to throng there for cheap food and gossip. Slowly the urban intelligentsia and artists started patronizing them until night markets took their current avatar of extremely popular after dark watering holes. Nowadays, night markets are an eclectic mix of traditional goods and services, juxtaposed wisely with modern chains like 7 Elevens and McDonald’s. Of all the night markets I have visited, the one in Chiang Mai is my favourite and I have spent many post-dinner hours there. Located near the Ping River on Chang Khlan Road, the Chiang Mai night market is famous for its handicrafts stalls. They also have a substantial amount of cheap clothing shops, counterfeit goods on sale, massage parlours, and places to eat. It is one of my favourite spots in the city and I never missed a Sunday without ambling down the entire length of the Chiang Mai night market; simply absorbing more than 1 kilometers of colours, smells, sounds and textures.

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It is an explosion of sights and smells.

Soap flowers, beaded accessories, and traditional toys

Every Sunday the entire stretch of Ratchadamnoen and Phra Singh Roads come alive with an explosion of anticipation. Tourists outnumber the sellers at times and it is always an energetic mishmash of musicians, artists selling lovely handicrafts, paintings, knitted booties, wooden artifacts, Thai jewelry etc and street food vendors. Beautiful hand carved soap flowers bloom in dozens and peep from their hand-painted varnished shells under glittering strings of hand made silk flower lights. Indigenous musical instruments and paintings jostle next to glass boxes of fish foot spas and temporary chairs offering neck, back and foot massages cram every available inch. Restaurants beckon with an unbelievable range of cuisines and fresh seafood sell off the racks in minutes.

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Beaded baby booties

A mix of authentic and counterfeit at Chiang Mai night market

The market is incredible and buzzes with crackling energy. An amazing array of food roll out from lightning-fast fingers of street cart owners and sweet and savoury smells of mouthwatering dishes fill the air. Freshly chopped exotic Thai fruits wink like jewels and cheap knickknacks, touristy clothes and pop up bars push blind musicians to perform in the middle of the thoroughfare. It’s a shopper’s paradise and cheerful noise of skillful bargaining ring throughout the evening.

Delicious food is cheap and fast

Chiang Mai night market is as relaxing as it gets

Every Sunday without fail, cheap, wholesome food, blind musicians and funny cricking sounds of wooden frogs sold by Laos ladies in indigenous Laos hats, worked their magic on me. I used to indulge in all the girly fun ( window shopping, people watching), alternate between street food and cheap restaurant seafood dinners and struggle to make tough decisions of choosing between fish spa or foot massage. Those decisions were hard but they always made my Chiang Mai night market Sundays, the most pleasant day of the week.

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Have you been to any night market?

The 8 must visit Chiang Mai night markets

  1. Sunday Night Market The Sunday Night Market, aka “Walking Street,” is located in front of the highly revered Wat Phra Singh on the west side and runs along Ratchadamnoen Road. The market is only open on Sundays, from 4 PM to 12 AM.
  2. Saturday Night Market (Wualai) The Saturday Night Market is located on Wua Lai Road to the south of the Old City and is open from 5 PM to 10 PM; it’s within walking distance of the Tha Pae Gate.
  3. Kalare Night Bazaar,
  4. Anusarn Market,
  5. Chiang Mai Night Bazaar All the three are open every day till 12 AM and are all located between Chang Klang Road and Tha Phae Road.
  6. Central Kad Suan Kaew Night Market (on Huay Kaew) This small market which specializes in local Thai food runs from Thursday to Saturday, 5 PM to 10 PM.
  7. The Suandok Park Night Market Located right in front of Suandok park it is an outdoor shopping mall/hang-out area. This market is open on Mondays and Tuesdays, and generally till 9:30 PM.
  8. Warorot Market  Held every day between the Ping River and the Old City on the east side, just to the north of the Kalare Night Bazaar. The official hours of the market are from 5 AM to 6 PM, but there are markets that stay open on the outside well past that time (till about 11 PM). It is one of Chiang Mai’s most popular landmarks for both tourists and locals. The locals refer to this market as Kad Luang, which stands for “Big Market.” It has a 3-story indoor component and a surrounding outdoor area teeming with shops and stalls.

Enjoying the very ticklish and relaxing

Fish spa at one of Chiang Mai night market pop up salons.

Every day, after sunset,

Especially on Sundays,

Chiang Mai Night Market comes alive

With beautiful textures,

Vibrant sights, and

A wide range of

Incredible shopping: some authentic handicrafts

Along with plenty of fakes.

Have you been to any night market? Which one is your favourite?