Sunday Walking Street Market, Chiang Mai

A visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand, never seems complete without attending the famous Sunday Walking Street Market. The market takes over four streets in the centre of the old city, beginning at the Tha Pae Gate at one end and running down the one kilometer length of Ratchadamnoen Road and spilling into nearby side streets. The area is closed to traffic from 4 pm until midnight. The market is popular with locals and tourists and is packed, especially round dinner time.

Fresh fruit shakes ready to be blended. 30 Bhat.

On one side, just after sunset, a lone singer appears dressed in a policeman’s uniform. This year he is a serious looking young man: he sings a mournful ballad in Thai. In previous years, that same spot was occupied by an older policeman with an Elvis slick back hairstyle and dark sunglasses, who only sang Elvis Presley songs. Sometimes his 8-year-old daughter performed alongside him. Bring back the Elvis cop. But are they really policemen? I’ll never know. I’m not sure who to ask in this crowded, stall filled corner.

Sunday walking market, Chiang Mai, ’17

Nearby stands the Thai musical instrument stall. Late at night, a troupe of elderly musicians will sit gracefully on a tiny platform and play traditional Lan Na music that is so haunting, it usually makes me cry. The instruments look and sound foreign to the untrained ear.

Ancient Thai instruments.

Midst this crowd, a troupe of blind singers suddenly appears. They move slowly holding a lamp: the crowds step aside as they make their way courageously through the throng, singing melodic Thai tunes in harmony.

Stalls with paper lanterns, stalls with far too much colour, handmade items are a feature of this market. The kitsch nestles side by side with the tasteful. Soft leather wallets and hand-made shoes, artistic etched calico shopping bags, carved psychedelic soaps and interesting fish patterned ceramics, hand printed t-shirts and indigo dyed clothing, home-made cakes, biscuits and sweets, and an abundance of street food stalls, the latter nestled into the front courtyards of temples, it’s a big night out for Thai families. Junk food abounds: there are deep-fried insects and grilled air- dried squid, Thai sausages and pad thai, mango sticky rice, and kôw soy, sweet tropical fruit drinks and some based on tinned Carnation milk. Dotted throughout are small areas offering massage for foot and leg or shoulder and neck. After walking slowly and hesitantly for two or three kilometers in a crowd, you may need one.

The annual Chiang Mai T-shirt purchase. One with a guitar please.

Feeling exhausted and slightly deranged, we wander back to our hotel near Wat Phra Singh and down a large bottle of Chang beer. The market’s sensory overload takes its toll but I wouldn’t miss it for Bhat.

16 thoughts on “Sunday Walking Street Market, Chiang Mai”

  1. How fascinating! And large!! Have only been to the Bangkok ones and one had to rise at daybreak to visit those!! Don’t remember singing ‘policemen’ either . . . or ‘junk food’ including deep-fried insects!!!! thank you for the experience!

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    1. The chatuchak market in Bangkok is huge. Tehre is a similar market here. This one is a walking market and so more like a Sunday Street Party with commerce. The more you travel north in Thailand, the more insects you see for sale. The night market at Chiang Rai has heaps of fried insects for sale, including deep fried large black spiders.

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  2. I’m guessing your expenditure is only controlled by the hideous cost of excess luggage. What anxious restraint you must suffering.
    What I really admired in SE Asia is the amount of teenagers rushing to the fresh fruit kebab or juice stalls and thoroughly savoring the tropical flavours as opposed our teenagers greedily consuming an overload of the typical fatty fare offered at most Aussie events.
    My first fried cricket experience occurred on a bus trip half-way between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The stallholder offered be a sampler hoping I’d delight the surrounding crown by spitting it out and scream & yell. Not so. They were delicious, sweet and crunchy having been cooked in a local honey batter. The Americans in the crowd were aghast that a Westerner could possibly entertain the thought let alone action of consuming a creature they would happily stomp on or spray “back home”. And much to their chagrin I purchased a large bad and took delight in munching them VERY loudly on the remainder of the bus journey.

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    1. Must have been the same bus stop. I saw locals at that stop buying bags of fried tarantulas. but unlike you, I was horrified. I can see you munching on those crickets Peter, sharing the living daylights out of the other Westies on board.

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      1. Ignorance can be bliss! Talking or eating critters: whilst working in China I was often the guest at large banquets. At one restaurant in particular nibbles were served as they are in small bowls. I immediately picked up the chopsticks and selected a small deep fried crunchy no bigger than a peanut and enjoyed a wonderful sweet explosion of flavour. The Chinese all in synchronicity said “Waaaahhh!”. It transpired that they weren’t expressing their amazement that I was eating fried honey bees but that my dexterity of using chopsticks was equal to theirs.

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    1. Mr T has at least 7 guitars. He seems fond of tshirts with guitars on them and this seller always has one. Phuket is no longer a nice place of Thailand. Love Bangkok an missed it this year.
      Thailand is an easy place to negotiate. It’s so spotlessly clean, after Indonesia, and the Thais are nice people, though a little reserved. Transport is efficient. Most things are quite cheap. Drivers can be organised, especially if you wish to meander along the Mekong river towns, away from more well know places like Chiang Mai.

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