I recently spent a few weeks in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This meant I had 5 chances to visit the Sunday Market, a historical street market in the old walled city. Needless to say, we went every chance we got! This vibrant, weekly market is famous among tourists and locals alike and offers food, clothing, crafts, art, and everything in between. After 5 visits to this busy street market, I learned a few things that will make your visit the best it can be.
Trust me. I learned from experience on this one. The market starts at 4 pm and runs until midnight. The market starts at Tha Phae Gate and runs about 1km down the full length of Ratchadamnoen Road.
A couple of hours makes a huge difference when it comes to how busy this market is. Over the course of our trip, we arrived at the market at 3:45 pm, 4 pm, 5 pm, and 6:30 pm. The difference between 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm is dramatic. In two hours the crowds get thick and it becomes difficult to move around easily, let alone see what the vendors have to offer.
In terms of the best time to arrive, I feel like we finally found the perfect time (for us anyway)
3:45-4 pm is a little too early. Vendors are still setting up as the street only closes to traffic right at 4 pm on the nose. Setting up early isn’t possible, so at 4 on the dot, vendors step off the sidewalk and start setting up their displays and merchandise. It’s actually pretty amazing to watch how this unfolds, so we recommend going early once if you can to watch this process. It’s a well-oiled machine and incredible how quickly the street transforms.
6:30-7 pm is too late for us. By then it is good and dark, the crowds are dense, it’s sticky and quite chaotic. This might be your cup of tea to which I say go for it. The market is truly alive and buzzing at this time and it is something to see. We did it once and that was enough for us!
4:30-5 pm is the PERFECT time in our opinion. It’s late enough that you aren’t waiting for vendors to set up or feel like you are in the way of people trying to work and early enough that the crowds aren’t out yet. We typically arrived at around 4:30 and would stay for two hours. At 6:30ish when we were leaving it was starting to get crazy. That’s an anxious girl’s cue to leave!
One of the main offerings of this incredible street market is the incredible food. Do NOT eat dinner before going to this market. Go with an empty belly and use your visit as a chance to try lots of amazing food. From traditional Thai classics to more “western” food options, there is something for everyone.
Lining the street, and off in smaller courtyards around temples, you’ll find vendor after vendor serving up excellent food. Here are some of the things we tried:
Desserts: Banana Nutella crepes, bubble waffles, coconut pancakes, chocolate waffles, mango sticky rice, fresh mango, sugar doughnuts, ice cream, fresh juices.
Savoury: Fried chicken, Pad Thai, spring rolls, pumpkin fries, Goyza dumplings, chicken satays, tofu satays, samosas,
Grab a bite from a vendor, stroll a little, nibble, repeat. It makes for a really fun 5-course meal.
Just note, there are very few garbage cans along the street. There are some in the central food courtyards, but not many on the street at all. Sometimes vendors will offer to take garbage from you if they see you carrying some. Otherwise, you can ask them to take it if you see they have a trash bag. Not a huge deal, but kind of annoying when you’re wandering around with garbage for half the night like me.
There is endless variety when it comes to food choices. Bring cash and most vendors are cash only. This goes for the entire market, not just the food vendors.
Start At The Right Spot
This sounds silly, but it made a difference for us more than once.
Take your Tuk Tuk, taxi, or Grab (Thai Uber equivalent) to the end of the market farthest away from your accommodation. This means as you walk the market you are walking back in the direction of “home”. Since a lot of roads are closed off for the market, and traffic gets insane, this means you’re ready to catch a ride on the end of the market closest to your accommodation. If you decide to walk home, it just means you are that much closer as well.
For us, since we stayed in the Nimman area of the city, we took our Grab to Tha Phae Gate and then walked West. It made life a little easier when trying to get home in the chaos.
Here is a map showing the market start and endpoint:
What If You Can’t Get There?
We realize most people visiting Chiang Mai on holiday may only have one chance, or zero chances, to visit this amazing market.
If that’s the case, we recommend the Night Bazar, which is on every single night starting at 6 pm. While a very different market in both size and style, it will still give you that Thai market experience if your trip doesn’t allow you to visit the Sunday Market.
To find out more about this market see local information here.
Have you been to the Chiang Mai Sunday Market before? Tell me about your experience in the comments?
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