A fraction of the size of Chiang Mai’s more famous night bazaar, the mini version in downtown Chiang Rai is still a pleasant and fun place for an evening stroll and an excellent option for snacks and a beer or dinner.
The offerings are similar, though much reduced in choice, to the vast Chiang Mai version: hill-tribe handicrafts, pirated DVDs, T-shirts, carved soap candles and so on — though how many Hmong shoulder bags can one possibly need? One welcome improvement on the big city’s version though is that the Chiang Rai one is entirely pedestrian only so you don’t risk being run over by a tuk-tuk crossing from one row of stalls to another.
Another aspect we like at the Chiang Rai market and which makes it a worthwhile evening destination, even if you don’t want to shop, are its excellent eating and drinking areas — a nice alternative to Chiang Rai’s other downtown eating spots.
There are two adjacent sections, one comprised of wooden furniture and waiting staff wearing north Thai costumes, and another more aimed at locals with aluminium chairs and staff in jeans and T-shirts. The former has all the usual Thai and north Thai dishes and a very tasteful, traditional Lanna dance show (though you may have to put up with a guitarist singing Hotel California between dances), while the latter has live Thai pop and country singers, cheap draught beer, lots of fried insects and snack food, and…you still get the traditional dancers.
Both areas are reasonably priced and fun; – you could have a couple of pre-dinner drinks and snacks in the ‘local’ area, move to the nearby ‘tourist’ section for a more formal style dinner then perhaps head back round the corner to catch a local band or a Chiang Rai United game on the big screen TV. (The local team is very popular and, unusually for Thailand – Buriram excepted – you’ll see as many residents wearing the orange Chiang Rai shirts as you will wearing those of top English Premier clubs.)
Apart from the fried insects and various drink snacks the food section also offers variations of sukiyakis or hot pots which are filling enough if you just want to stay local for dinner. These consist of bowls of stock on hot coal heaters, (though modern ones are electric), accompanied by plates of fresh noodles, vegetables, meat etc which you add yourself to the bubbling pot. Prices for a ‘set’ vary depending upon which ingredients you choose but a basic ‘set’ starts at 79 baht for 2 persons and you have the choice of a mild or spicy stock plus free dipping sauce. A fun and cheap dinner.
The night bazaar’s open every evening from 18:00, closing down midnight-ish, and is located off the main drag, Phaholyothin Road.
By Mark Ord.