A lot of people come to Thailand to spend a few days in Bangkok and then head straight to the southern part of the country, which is where the beaches are, and of course the famous beach town of Phuket. It makes more sense to people on vacation as Thailand is famous amongst tourists for its lovely beaches and beach life and the fashion scene. It was really difficult for me to pick a place when I was deciding to select my base in the country. I wanted to come here and spend enough time to have known the country and its people more than just its night life and glamour. So, I picked Chiang Mai – a city in the northern part of the country which is often known as the ‘traditional capital of the country’ and for all good reasons. Chiang Mai has the most number of tribal people living around, mostly in the mountains. The tribes include people from Burma, Thailand (of course), and a few other neighbouring countries. Anyway, I will write a detailed post on it when I have met some but for now I will introduce to you the “Sunday Walking Street market” of Chiang Mai.
As obvious by the name, the market takes every Sunday at 04:00 PM and goes till midnight and is situated right inside the old walls or the fort gates. It starts at the Tha Phae gate and extends for roughly about a kilometre. Yes! It’s huge! The road is totally closed to traffic during the market hours, which is a good thing, because it lets you walk freely inside. Besides, there will be no space for any vehicles even if they were allowed because by late evening around 08:00 PM the market lanes and streets are packed with crowd. There are locals with makeshift stalls selling everything from fancy clothes to tribal accessories and garments, traditional Thai apparels for men, women and children, wooden products, handmade lanterns and Thai umbrellas, a lot of coconut products such as oil, lotions, and soaps, souvenir shops selling different artworks and even the small magnets, jewellery, and food. The trick here is always to bargain. But, smile and be polite when you do so because Thai are really polite and warm people and they will never be rude or mean to you (at least I haven’t met any in the last one week).
There are several Buddhist/Thai temples around the market and they are open till very late. Do not miss Wat Phan Tao and Wat Chedi Lung (they are hard to be missed anyway) when you are visiting the market. If you intend to visit one of the temples (or more), be dressed properly – no exposing clothes, your shoulders, legs, and arms should be covered. Also, if you really wanted to appreciate the beauty of the temples, you may want to visit before its dark. Outside the temples, there are many shops selling different food traditional Thai food items such as Pad Thai, and Mango Sticky Rice, but you also have a lot of seafood BBQs, pork, chicken, and vegetarian dishes. There are several stalls selling fresh fruit juices and ice creams.
It is also not surprising to find food stalls selling worms and insects – yeah it sounds really scary but that’s the fact.
One of the best things about the market is that there are several massage shops here and there and the ones in the market are really cheap as compared to anywhere outside of it and in Bangkok for that matter. A decent half hour massage here will cost you around 80 BHT whereas in Bangkok I paid 250 BHT for an hour long massage (though it was a great experience).
I felt it’s better to go a little late to the market, maybe after sunset, to see the market in full throttle. There are several impromptu music and cultural shows. There are many artists playing different musical instruments like violin or guitars, some singing, others performing traditional Thai dance on the streets of the market. Most of them are people with special needs but you also see some really young children performing there – maybe to raise money for their school or future education. It may feel a little sad to see the kids especially, but if you really like the performance, it is nice to leave some donation as most of them have a box kept right in front of them. It doesn’t have to be much – 1, 2, 5, or 10 BHT or anything that you feel like.
The way to the market is also a great place as it has several cafes and restaurants. There are also many travel agencies selling tour packages for as short as half a day to several days. You can book a mountain hill tribe tour with them or a sightseeing to the waterfalls, snake farm, Elephant Park, monkey school, and the most famous Tiger Kingdom. (I haven’t tried any of them yet but I will post as soon as I do).
It is a good idea to carry water with you because walking so long can really make you thirsty but it is okay even if you don’t. You can buy a bottle of water for BHT at the market (and don’t worry they have plenty of clean and nice bathrooms though you have to pay 5BHT for it).
This is also a good place if you like watching local artisans make things. You would find people painting boxes and creating souvenir items. If you want to click photos, you should ask the shop owners. They never really refuse but it’s polite to seek permission if you just want photos and not buy anything from them.
There are a few other nice and famous market like the Saturday market which takes place near the same area (which I will try soon) but the Sunday Walking Street in Chiang Mai is really a place you want to be if you loved shopping (and even if you didn’t it’s an amazing experience).
If you are staying in the city then its easy to walk till there. Otherwise, there are yellow and red mini vans and tuk tuks which run and to and fro to the gates just outside the market to the nearby places in and around the city.