With Mandalay being centrally located in Burma (Myanmar), items from all over the country are trucked in and sold here, giving the city one of the most diverse (and cheap!) selections of markets there is, offering everything from gems and jade to local foodstuffs not even found in Yangon.
The name of Zegyo (Ze Cho) Market translates as “sweet price” and not only is this the most famous market in town, it’s also the city’s oldest, with the site dating back to the days of King Mindon. It’s a place to find a bit of anything you might want wholesale, such as Indian spices, Thai silk, Kachin jade or local handicrafts, arts and jewellery. The plethora of food and spices are great eye candy for photographers who should take an extra memory card for the trip. Head to the market early to catch all the shoppers in traditional garb or finely designed business longyis.
With nearly 3,000 stores in a five-storey, modern-mall-looking building called Diamond Plaza (or Yadanarbon Market as the older generation knows it), this market sticks out like a spaceship in the middle of town. Don’t let the modern feel fool you though, as it still offers many Burmese-made goods and a local vibe. Yadanarbon Market is officially on the ground floor with more than 1,500 shops, and creates a foundation for the four floors that Skywalk Shopping Mall sits on; the contents of the shops overall are not as varied as Zegyo (nowhere else is!) but you might be interested in one of the three air-con movie theatres at the top, which show Western and Burmese movies from around noon. Thanks to the nearby arcade and rows of tea and beer stations surrounding the plaza, this has become a hub for Mandalay teenagers and tourists looking to escape the heat.
If Diamond Plaza’s modern mall-vibe doesn’t feed your fancy, you can quickly hop a block over to Shan Ze Night Market, which sets up at dusk under dim stall lights to replace the Chinese Market there during the day. Produce of high quality spills into the streets and the activity culminates at a tight intersection with many Shan traditional restaurants and food stalls. Open-fire fried dumplings and noodles drowned in melted tofu are a must-try or sample a Shan style hotpot from one of the less-than-pristine-but-tasty restaurants. The market doesn’t sell much else besides food, so if material items are what you’re looking for, try the Night Market across town.
Nya Ze Dan (the Night Market) offers mostly clothes and books and although it’s less exciting than other night markets, it still offers good wandering. Secondhand books pile in the middle of the street and lucky visitors may witness the arrival of a shipment of secondhand, Western-style clothes from Yangon which locals will plough through to snare a bargain. Probably the most interesting vendors are the army surplus stalls that set up just outside the market in the early evening and sell items such as canteens, knives, military hats and jackets.
The gem of the Mandalay market scene is of course the Jade Market, which is also known as Mahar Aung Myay Gems Dealers’ Market. This place has awkward hours and a 1,000 kyat fee for entrance and parking, but it’s worth every bit of effort to see. The show starts at 04:00 when jade and gems are unloaded by the truckload and boatful. Huge chunks of jade sit outside the fence while Chinese and Burmese wholesale buyers wander around the complex looking for their best deal. Foreigners are allowed to buy at this seemingly unending market, or you can just sit at one of the many local restaurants inside and watch the business deals go down. The market closes at 10:00 but then opens again at 14:00 for a couple of hours for the smaller, leftover gems polished and cut for jewellery. We suggest getting there early, as during afternoons it can feel almost empty. Visit soon while the market is next to the river, because a new location is planned for the market in a remote area outside of Inwa.Zegyo Market: Between 84th & 86th Sts and 26th & 28th St, Chan Aye Thar San Township, Mandalay; daily 06:00–17:00 Diamond Plaza / Yadanarbon Market: 78th Street between 33rd & 34th Sts, Chan Aye Thar San Township, Mandalay; daily 06:30 – 21:00 Shan Ze Night Market / Chinese Market (daytime): Intersection of 34th & 76th Sts, Chan Aye Thar San Township, Mandalay; daily 17:30–23:00 Nya Zay Dan / Night Market: 84th Street between 27th & 29th Sts; daily 18:00–22:30 Jade Market / Mahar Aung Myay Gems Dealers’ Market: Between 39th & 40th Sts and 87th & 88th Sts, Mahar Aung Myay Township; daily 04:00–10:00, 14:00–16:00
By Christopher Smith
Last updated on 14th September, 2014.