Don Phayam market is a bit out of the way but well worth the trip if you’d like to visit, what for us is, the quintessential Chiang Mai market. Take all the Thai market cliches beloved of guide books and tour programmes: bustling, colourful, lively, traditional, vibrant, and you’ve got Talaart Don, (sometimes written Ton), Phayam. Add lashings of exotic fruit, vegetables and herbs, a smattering of fried insects and it ticks all the market boxes.
It’s actually a relatively small market, and its location at the junction of Suthep Road and the canal road make it slightly out of the centre of town, but perfect to combine with a trip to say, Wat Umong, Chiang Mai aquarium or Doi Suthep. Now despite all the awesome northern delicacies on display, there’s actually nowhere to sit and eat in the market itself so, it’s a great excuse to stock up and have a picnic somewhere else?
You’ll find mountains of pork scratchings fried in the largest woks you’ll ever see, mounds of various nam phrik (chilli dips) to accompany it, freshly grilled, sizzling Chiang Mai sausage sold by the foot (mild, medium, spicy, with lemongrass…), and all your favourite insects: worms, beetles and ants.
Don Phayam’s a good spot to stock up on very fresh fruit and vegetables — some familiar, some not — while in one corner of the market you’ll find hill-tribe women selling forest products such as mushrooms and orchids.
The range of fruit and veg in Chiang Mai markets is particularly impressive since, while all the ‘regular’ tropical crops are grown in the lowlands and valleys, the cool highlands around the city also support many of the more temperate products — more familiar to Westerners but exotic to Thais.
You’ll also find flowers, a meat and fish section, the usual mobile phone, bric-a-brac and household goods stalls around the edge. All in all, it’s a great place to wander: sample the local specialties, take some photos and smile a lot at the very friendly vendors — they don’t get many tourists up this way.
By Mark Ord.