Nothing gives a better insight into local shopping like a loud and sprawling market and I happened to bump into the Chiang Mai local markets by sheer accident. It was while trying to find a famous Gate in the old city when I got drawn by the Warorot market’s busy local vibes. Housed inside a 3 storeyed building by the Mae Ping river Warorot delightfully spills over into the sidewalks. Tuk tuks, songthaews, and cars waited patiently as people shop, eat, and walk around. In the evening, strings of naked bulbs reveal endless carts and neatly ordered hangars of cheap clothes, lingerie, shoes, counterfeit bags, food, and plants. Chiang Mai local markets are big masses of energy and you have a feeling that they sell just about anything.
The flower lane of Warorot Market is very photogenic
I smelled the market even before it came into view and all of a sudden, I found myself by the river, gazing at masses of exotic blooms. This was the back end of Warorot Market and the entire stretch belonged to the florists. Orchids, lotuses, roses, jasmines, marigolds, gardenias and many other blossoms were sold in stacks and ladies busily garlanded while minding babies, shops and husbands. Funeral wreaths lay in huge circles, next to impaled gardenias on sticks and small floral necklaces meant for offerings to gods. I wandered in, lazed past the floral jungle and got caught in a sharp tangle of smells and sounds. Fruits, vegetables, dried fish, livestock, turtles, clothes, and lingerie attacked my senses and this was just the beginning of my experience of Chiang Mai local markets. After that, my walk was all about chilis, stinky beans, mushrooms, limes, durians, and mangoes, and the list of colours, textures, and smells seemed endless.
Chiang Mai local markets are incomplete without food
I refreshed myself with a huge green coconut, sat on the curb watching the busy shoppers before ducking out to the building on the opposite side. It was another one of Chiang Mai local markets, which sold eclectic mish-mash and was packed with locals. That was just before Songkran and people were in the mood to shop. The massive food court was jam-packed and every table had diners slurping, crunching, and indulging in steaming bowls of aromatic Thai food. Street food and flowers are my favourite Thailand highlights and it is incredible how this country passionately loves both. Come evening the whole country seems to light up with millions of street food vendors frying, chopping, crushing and stirring. While most of the Thai street food dishes are simply awesome, some of them may not be for the faint-hearted.
Be prepared for some culture shocks
It was during one of my Chiang Mai local markets walk that I saw an old bent lady smashing heads of struggling frogs before crushing them into a fiery salad. Now, that was a major culture shock, which made me lose my appetite for days and I stayed off street food in Thailand for quite some time. However Chiang Mai local markets, especially Warorot, are famous for their delectable cuisine and the people from Bangkok throng there for the famous (sai oua) northern-style grilled sausage, (nam prik ong/nam prik noom) red and green chili dip and (cap moo) crispy pork skin. I often ate huge stinky durians at Chiang Mai local markets. It is a habit I picked up in Malaysia a few years back and Thai markets sell really good durians. I always slush my durian smell with some freshly squeezed carrot juice and Chiang Mai local markets, thankfully are exotic fruits galore. In Chiang Mai, however, I never bothered with this etiquette since their aromatic food overpowered everything else. Especially, their food courts always smell heavenly of the smoky aroma of grilled sausage and delicious aromas from cauldrons filled with curries waft through the air. Now, those curries are also not for the faint-hearted and the local specialty of kaeng hangle, khao soi noodles and chili dips are really fiery stuff.
People watching in Chiang Mai local markets
One of the best things about Chiang Mai local markets is people watching. Those places are street photographers’ haven and you should keep your camera always ready for some unforgettable shots. Once, I saw a demure saffron-robed monk there, busily shopping for lottery tickets as his friend stood next to him awkwardly gawking at a naughty lingerie store. Chiang Mai loves its lottery ticket stores and there is at least a dozen of them at the Warorot Market, including the ones sold from makeshift tables by local grannies and their grouchy pooches. While the sight of monks going about regular chores is as normal as possible but even after many Thailand visits, I could never get accustomed to the idea of monks not being above materialistic pleasures. Monks buying lottery tickets, gawking at naughty things seemed as unreal as mermaids and monsters and I have shamelessly clicked away such moments in a super touristy way.
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The best of Chiang Mai local markets
Looking for great bargains, that perfect people photo or an insight into the local life? Check out this list of the best of Chiang Mai local markets.
- Sunday Market – Outdoors, very Instagrammable, and family friendly ( every Sunday 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm, located at the intersection of Rachadamnoen Road and Ratpakinai Road)
- Saturday Market – Also known as Wualai Walking Street Market, Outdoors, Touristy (every Saturday 4:00 pm – 11:00 pm, located at Wualai Road opposite Chiang Mai Gate)
- Warorot Market – Also known as Khad Luang, Indoors, Local, Specializes in food (Mon-Sun:
5:00 am – 11:00 pm, located at Chang Khlan, Muang Chiang Mai)
- Sompet Market – Local food market, Specializes in traditional Lanna food (Mon-Sun:
4:00 pm – 12:00 am, located at Soi 6, Th Moon Muang)
- JJ Market – Indoors, Lesser Known, Specializes in antiques, local designer clothes, handcrafted products (Mon-Sun: 8:30 am – 8:00 pm, located at Chang Phueak, Mueang Chiang Mai District)
- Muang Mai Market – Outdoors, Wholesale fresh produce, Local, very Instagrammable (Mon-Sun:
12:00 am – 11:00 pm, located at Witchayanon and Mueang Samut Road, Chang Moi)
- Chiang Mai Night Market – Touristy, Instagrammable, visit their website for more information
- Chang Puak food market – Local, Specializes in authentic Thai food, outdoors, Instagrammable (Mon-Sun: 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm, located at Manee Nopparat Road, Chiang Mai)
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