Forget the Mall,
Walk in Chiangmai's Open Markets !
When it comes to the open markets of Chiangmai, most newly arrived foreigners are steered directly either by guidebooks, travel agencies, hotel desk clerks and even tuk-tuk drivers to the Night Bazaar on Changklan Road between Tha Phae and Loi Kroh Roads. This sizeable market, with a gigantic, well-lit sign in English and surrounded by many familiar food chains of the west, is no doubt most oriented to foreign tourists. It's here where most western visitors get their first taste of a traditional Northern Thai shopping experience. Everything appears to be a willy-nilly sprawl of shopping, dining and entertainment both inside the main building and outside along Changklan Road after nightfall. Once amongst the tightly packed stalls stocked with handicrafts and foodstuffs, clothing and shoes, jewelry, ceramic knick-knacks and more, visitors very soon become acquainted with the bargaining game.
Prices are rarely marked, and sellers usually begin with a high quote (especially for foreigners). Don't feel obligated to fork over the first amount asked. Bargaining is expected! Watch and learn from some of the people around you and you'll be astonished at some of the bargains you can get.
While foreigners enjoy the Night Bazaar and go back time and again, there are many more markets in Chiangmai. Don't be intimidated by what is clearly not the western-style shopping experience of the air-conditioned mall variety. Prices are better for the same items you will find at the mall and supermarket chains, and no Thai-food lover can agree that western franchise tastes better than a delicious, fried snack from a sidewalk cart. Only half the fun of shopping in Chiangmai's long established open markets is having an experience you can't possibly get back home.
Variety & Quantity
One of Chiangmai's most interesting and easily accessible markets is the Warorot Market, located several blocks north of the Night Bazaar where Changklan Road intersects with Changmoi Road. Parking is nearly impossible, so it's best to arrive via tuk-tuk or songtheaw. If walking, you will no doubt be distracted from your destination by the abundance of shopping stalls on the blocks surrounding Warorot everything from gold jewelry to tennis shoes to fresh flowers. Unlike the Night Bazaar, the Warorot building is not marked in English. Look for the pedestrian overpass connecting two 3-storey buildings. Enter on the west side of the street under the overpass at the ground floor, or climb the stairs to go directly onto the second floor. Warorot rivals the Night Bazaar in size and variety. The ground floor is devoted to foodstuffs and produce. If you plan to stay awhile and have access to a kitchen, this is the place for pickled goods, herbs, spices and dried goods (More of these, as well as culinary utensils, produce, meat and fish, can be found in the Tohn Lumyai Market building just across the street). Clothing, handicrafts, beauty supplies, shoes, and anything else you could possibly be looking for aside from high-end electronics are available on the second and third floors. There's even a modest food court on the third floor where you can relax with a very inexpensive Thai lunch, snack or dessert.
A single, high ceiling makes it possible to see the floors below, which circle like large balconies around the ground floor. It's clear that this old, tried-and-true shopping center layout is the prototype for Chiangmai's two newer, western-style shopping malls (Airport Plaza and Kad Suan Kaew).
The best way to hit up several several smaller markets at once is to head north of the old city on Changpuek/Chotana Road. Look to the left for Chang Phuak, Erawan, Thannin and Khuang Sing markets. Careful, you might miss some of them if you move too fast. Most of these specialize in items most oriented to Chiangmai residents.
If It's Food You Want
In the Soi beside the Asia Bank just off Changklan Road in the southernmost part of the Night Bazaar area, visitors will find Anusarn Market. Not quite as varied in goods and certainly not overflowing, the area is better known for a variety of large, open-air restaurants featuring Thai as well as foreign cuisine. Not as pedestrian-friendly as other markets, parking is available in several nearby lots.
Pratu Chiangmai Market, on the southern part of the city moat on Bumroongburi Road and the Chiangmai Gate, is a buzzing neighborhood market most active at night when the local parking lot is turned into an outdoor restaurant area.
Fresh Produce & Meat
Almost all markets offer at least a few fresh Thai fruits to munch while shopping, but there are some that stand out in terms of finding everything you need to try out that Thai recipe you just learned. On Suthep Road just east of Irrigation Canal Road, is the sizeable Tohn Payorm/Suthep farmer's market, where buyers can bypass the middleman.
Sompet Market, on a soi just off Moonmuang Road, north of the Tha Phae Gate and Rajwithee Road, is easily accessible from most hotels and guesthouses in the heart of the old city. During the day, Pratu Chiangmai Market (mentioned above) is a great place to find tasty snacks as well as meat, fish, produce and other makings for a Thai, home-cooked meal.
Learning the Game
Many visitors to Northern Thailand don't understand that bargaining is an essential part of daily life throughout Southeast Asia, and some are afraid to try or are against it in principle. Try it with a smile. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. But if it makes you uncomfortable, at least you might enjoy watching other people bargaining away.