The night bazaar in Chiang Mai holds legendary status. Located on Thanon Chang Khlan (Chang Khlan Road) a string of stalls lines the road for a kilometre or so, with cavernous arcades set back from the main strip. Open seven days a week, you can buy everything from branded t-shirts and fake designer watches, to handicrafts and handmade soap.
Although modern-day Chang Khlan brims with tourists, the market dates back several centuries: Chiang Mai was once on an ancient trade route, which saw Chinese merchants from Yunnan province selling wares from their caravans as they journeyed between Yunnan province and Myanmar.
Famous throughout Thailand, when I visited Chiang Mai in October I made a beeline for the market on my first night in the city.
Good to know
Renowned for its low prices and great food, Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is an excellent place to pick up souvenirs, grab a bite to eat, or simply wander and take it all in. There's no need to eat before you get here – from street stalls to cocktail bars and burger restaurants, there's a huge range of options.
To see the market in full swing, arrive after 6pm – when I wandered along the road at five-ish, the first few stalls were just setting up and the food stands were lighting their coals. An hour later, the market had started to fill, with delicious smells wafting through the air.
For the best prices, remember to barter and, if possible, take cash in smaller notes. Stall owners expect you to haggle, so there's no shame in offering 20-30 per cent less than the asking price. And there are local banks, ATMs and Money Exchanges along the road, so you don't need to carry big wads of cash around.
There's no need to rush, as many stalls stay open until midnight. To make sure I didn't miss anything, I wandered along one side of the road and dipped into the arcades along the way, then crossed over and did the same of the other side. If you want to see it all, I'd suggest at least two hours – but if you're short on time, you can easily nip by and just see a few stalls.
What to spend your money on
The main focus of Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is clothing, food and souvenirs. This isn't a domestic market for locals, so you won't find fresh vegetables, meats or hardware stalls. Instead, Chang Khlan Road is the place to come for local handicrafts, home furnishings and fake designer goods.
Just off Chang Khlan Road, the main arcades – the Kalare Night Bazaars and Asunarm Markets – are bursting with stalls and are far bigger than they look from the road, so it's well worth venturing in (to find them, look for the signs above the street).
T-shirts and vest tops are sold in abundance. The same designs are sold at several different stalls, giving you plenty of opportunities to haggle for the price you think is right. Chiang Beer hoodies and t-shirts are particularly popular, as are tie-dyed dresses and Thai fishing trousers.
If you're a fan of hill tribe culture, there are hand-woven trousers and ethnic jackets to buy, and a few stalls sell traditional headwear and jewellery. Suits, dresses and trousers can also be made to measure – although you'll need to return a day later to pick up your purchase.
The market is a good place to buy beachwear and outdoor apparel, with bikinis and boardies on sale, as well as North Face jackets, fleeces and raincoats – handy if you're heading into the hills and forgot to pack your wet-weather gear.
Other than clothes, there's a whole world of souvenirs to spend your money on. From soaps and cushions, to lanterns, rugs, toy frogs and wall hangings, you name it, they've got it. When you're all shopped-out, treat yourself to a late-night massage, have your feet nibbled by fish, dress-up in traditional Thai clothing, or get your portrait painted. And, even if you don't want to spend any money at all, this is a great place to wander, window-shop and people watch.
Eating and drinking
Food stalls are dotted along Chang Khlan Road but, for more choice and the best seating areas, veer off the main drag and into the arcades. Both the Kalare Night Bazaars and Asunarm Markets have excellent food-courts with seating areas.
Smaller eating areas include Ploen Ruedee food market, which has live music and a more relaxed feel – away from the bigger arcades, it feels much less hectic in here.
Local specialities to try include Chiang Mai sausage seasoned with lemongrass and chilli, and the city's famous Khao Soy soup – a blend of noodles and curry broth, this much-loved dish comes with sides of sliced onions, pickled cabbage and wedges of fresh lime. Crispy noodles are sometimes thrown in on top, and you'll find it in chicken, beef, seafood or veggie versions – trust me, it's delicious!
For Western food or a formal meal, there are permanent restaurants along Chang Khlan Road and, for a break from Thai food, you've got burger bars, pizza joints and other Western eateries that include a KFC, Burger King, Starbucks and Hagen Dazs parlour, as well as Chiang Mai's very first McDonalds.
Cocktail bars, pubs and live music are another reason to visit the night market. I particularly liked the cocktail bar and Sangria stand in Ploen Ruedee market, which had a great band and a relaxing seating area.
Other bars in the night market and arcades include Colour Bar and O'Mally's Irish Pub in Anusarn Market, as well as The Red Lion pub and Hofbrauhaus bar on Loi Khro Road.
If you'd rather just grab a juice, you'll find plenty of vendors ready to stick a straw in a coconut for you, or whizz-up some fresh pineapples and papaya. And there are plenty of 7Eleven grocery shops along the road where you can buy fizzy drinks, snacks or bottles of water.
Three more markets in Chiang Mai
If Chiang Mai Night Bazaar has whet your appetite for Thai markets, there are many more to experience in the city. Here are three of the best:
- Sunday Walking Market, Ratchadamonoen Road – Open from midday, part of the old town is turned into a pedestrian-only area with authentic artisan products and food courts.
- Saturday Night Walking Market, Wualai Street – Smaller than the Sunday market, this market has excellent arts and crafts. Starting at 5pm, it's located in the old silversmiths quarter.
- Warorot Market, Chinatown – This historic, multi-storey market is mainly visited by locals who arrive before dawn to buy fresh meat and vegetables, as well as dried ingredients and clothes. You can also grab a cup of local coffee here, or visit the adjacent flower market – it's a great place to see a real slice of daily Chiang Mai life.