Chiang Mai’s famous Night Bazaar is one of the city’s prime evening attractions and is one of Thailand’s oldest night street markets. Such bazaars, night markets or “walking streets”, where souvenir, handicraft and food stalls line footpaths, are these days a feature of many Thai towns, but they were innovative in their day. Chiang Mai now also has Saturday and Sunday Walking Street markets in addition to its daily bazaar.
Originally started up by a few local Chinese-Thai merchants — the market lies close to the city’s Chinatown — it has expanded to include several city blocks, dedicated shopping malls, adjacent markets and outdoor food courts. The main axis is on Changklang Road running south from Thapae Road and culminating at huge Panthip Plaza (an electronics and IT mall) at the junction with Sridonchai — around a kilometre away.
While connecting areas such as Anusarn Market are pedestrian, the main area along Changklang is not a designated walking street, and a steady traffic flow separates the roadside stalls on each footpath.
This is the market’s major disadvantage. Overflowing displays from the permanent shops on one side of the footpath and curbside stalls on the other leaves a very narrow walking space between. If a couple in front of you stop to peruse rows of hanging Hmong handbags then things can back up for metres. A kilometre of weaving between shoulder-to-shoulder shoppers is an acquired taste. And with a few exceptions, bear in mind that you’ll see the same stuff over and over and over. Coachloads of Chinese tourists and speeding tuk tuks fill up the road between.
Browsing fatigue (or browsing rage for the less patient) can set in quickly and only shoppers with the patience of the proverbial saint can do the entire strip. Loi Kroh Road with its cafes, bars and restaurants does conveniently split the market into two though, so starting or finishing at that junction, and doing either the southern or northern section only, makes it more manageable. Alternatively more relaxed, and traffic-free, time can be had in one of the adjacent sections such as Kalare or Anusarn, just north and south of the Loi Kroh intersection respectively.
These also have the advantage of plentiful cafes, bars and restaurants with terraces so you can take a refreshment break or settle into one of the numerous footpath deckchairs for a foot massage. Small but busy mall-type complexes such as the Vieng Ping Night Bazaar are also perhaps more conducive to serious shopping. Its three floors of handicrafts, including some decent artwork, is located on Changklang immediately to the north of the central intersection. Thankfully, tuk tuks can’t fit up the stairs.
Goods on display are typical of any Thai night market, like Chiang Rai, Patpong, Khao San Road or tourist sections of Chatuchak: think Chang T-shirts, replica football shirts, pirated DVDs, carved soap dishes, designer lampshades, elephant statues, jewellery, Chinese electrical goods, hilltribe bags and bed linens. Some local flourishes such as silverware and Hmong embroidery can also be found.
There is a vast choice and if you have specific items in mind and can zap the rest it makes for excellent shopping, but for general roaming or browsing we prefer the walking street markets.
While it’s expected to haggle (politely) with vendors, do respect prices if they are written down on signs or inside the smarter shops. If anything, ask for a small discount at these places when purchasing multiple items.
While the main attraction of the night bazaar is the shopping, this area is also the focus for much of the city’s nightlife. At the main intersection the usual Western junk food and coffee chains predominate, but along side strips, such as Anursarn and Kalare, you’ll find some great local food and some excellent bars and pubs.
The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is centred on Chiang Klan Road, between Thapae and Sridonchai Roads, spreading into adjacent streets. It’s a 10-minute walk down either Thapae or Loi Kroh Road. Don’t pay more than 50 or 60 baht for a tuk tuk from say Thapae Gate.
By Mark Ord
Last updated on 15th April, 2016.