THE markets of Chiang Mai are where you want to go pick up souvenirs, but navigating your way through the crowds to get to these goods can be a less-than-pleasant experience.
But if you know when and where to look, you’re likely to walk away with memorable gifts for yourself and your loved ones back home.
Here are a few of the city’s most popular markets.
Arguably the most popular market in the city, the Night Bazaar is a major draw because of its many shopping stalls, nearby restaurants and bars, as well as entertainment.
Vendors line the street outside the bazaar selling cheap Ray-Ban sunglasses, tacky t-shirts, lanterns and jewelry, and are usually open to negotiating a bit on prices.
Inside the bazaar complex you’ll find a much wider range of goods like hand-carved wall hangings, colorful scarves, handbags, kitchen goods and elaborate pieces of artwork. Although it is often quite crowded, the Night Bazaar has a great range.
While there, you can grab a beer at an Irish pub or take in a ladyboy cabaret performance for a uniquely Thai experience. Come prepared to haggle, as prices at the Night Bazaar tend to be higher than at other markets.
Sunday Night Walking Street
On Sunday evenings, the plaza in front of Thapae Gate and a large stretch of Rachadamnoen Road turns into a sprawling market where you can buy all manner of souvenirs and fine goods.
You can buy elaborate tapestries adorned with beaded elephants, Buddha statues, backpacker-friendly Thai fisherman pants, handmade Christmas ornaments, jewelry, and an assortment of other items.
The best part of the Sunday Walking Street, however, is the food. In two courtyard temples, you’ll find rows of an array of foods, selling everything from samosas and sushi to kebabs, and everything is quite cheap, typically US$1-2 or less for a dish.
Tip: Go early, around 5 or 6pm, or wait until the crowds lighten around 8.30pm. The in-between hours usually see wall-to-wall shoppers, making it difficult to browse.
Saturday Night Walking Street
If you’re not up to the throngs at the Night Bazaar or Sunday Walking Street, try the Saturday Night Walking Street on Wualai Road. It has many of the items you’ll see at the Sunday Night market, plus more variety when it comes to hill tribe handicrafts and clothing.
These make especially good souvenirs, as they reflect an important aspect of Chiang Mai’s culture and proximity to these ethnic communities. Prices are also lower at the Saturday market, so you can save a few baht.
This daytime shopping area is a much smaller market with a distinctly Chinese flavor, but it is less touristy and you can turn up some good finds here if you’re willing to look.
However, you can also find shops that sell purses, pillows, knapsacks, scarves and other clothing with colorful hill tribe prints. You can buy material to take to a tailor and have it turned into a custom outfit for a fraction of the price it would cost in Western countries.
Warorot also has traditional Thai lanterns, which you can set off over the river for a memorable, intimate experience of the city; lanterns can be purchased for 30 baht (about US$1).
This is a small food market, so you won’t find much in the way of elaborate souvenirs here but you will find tasty eats, such as grilled fish, mango with sticky rice and sweet Thai teas.
You can also pick up pre-packaged spice mixes to bring home, so you can prepare your favorite Thai dishes even after you’ve left the Land of Smiles.