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Where to find the best bargains in Chiang Mai

Want to know where to find the best markets and shopping in Chiang Mai? If you’re a bit of a shopaholic, or just want to pick up some gifts for the poor unfortunates back home, there’s plenty of options for you in and around Chiang Mai. Whether you want to buy silk clothing, fake watches, pirate music or DVDs, bamboo fans and umbrellas, handicrafts or just a t-shirt, there’s something for everyone.

One of the best and most famous is the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, which fires up almost every night of the year starting when the sun goes down. You can make your own way to the night bazaar by heading to Chan Klan Road and looking for the street stalls. Or any tuk-tuk driver will take you there for about 20B.

Beware. There is more than one night bazaar and some tuk-tuk drivers might get paid a commission to take you to a particular one, rather than to the street market in general. The actual street market is about one kilometer long and fronts both sides of Chan Klan Road, with a huge variety of clothing, jewellery, souvenirs, food, handicrafts, antiques, music, movies, computer games and almost anything else you can imagine. It helps to know how to bargain, as the prices are set for gullible tourists but can usually be negotiated down to half or less.

We usually attack the night bazaar by working up one side of the street, then down the other. If we still feel like doing more, there is a semi-enclosed night market area off behind one of the street markets which has a whole lot more market stalls plus a great range of outdoor restaurants and bars where you can fill up on fabulous Thai food and cheap beer or fruit shakes. I believe this is known as the “royal market”, but not completely certain about that. The street markets have probably grown from this original off-street market.

As well as the night bazaar, there are big street markets on both Saturday and Sunday starting at or near the city wall.

The Wu Lai market on Saturdays starts out near the Chiang Mai Gate and runs up Wu Lai Road away from the city center, through the south-western part of the city for about 1 kilometer. It kicks off about 4pm and closes around midnight, but does not really get active until the sun goes down.

The road is completely closed to traffic but it does get very full of people and once the lights come on the insect life gets pretty full on as well. There are lots of street performers – mostly from some kind of music school for people with disabilities – as well as pupeteers and other entertainers.

There are street stalls selling all kinds of delicious foods as well as bags, clothing, perfume, shoes and more – much of it from small boutique manufacturers of quite good quality.

Because Wu Lai Road is home to a lot of silversmiths and the like, there is often some very fine jewellery and similar craft on sale at the Saturday markets that you sometimes don’t find elsewhere.

But the bigger and more popular street market is the Sunday street market, starting near the Tha Pae Gate and running through the old city along Rajdumnern Road right to the city police station at the opposite end, about six blocks away. There are also side streets, the biggest being Prapoklao Road, that fill up with stallholders  who can’t get space along the main street of the market, so there’s always plenty to see and buy.

Although the stalls start setting up around 5pm, the show doesn’t really get going until after 7pm when street performers and dancers start working the crowd. One of the main areas if you’re looking for a meal is in the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang, where tables and chairs are set up to service food sellers offering fast food and Thai specialities like papaya salad.

One of the great things we love to do at the Sunday night market is to grab a cold fruit shake and then book a mat in one of the off-street massage halls to get a refreshing full-body massage to take away the aches and pains of a day on foot.

And if you’re still not over markets, there’s always the Wararot Day Markets, which start early in the morning just around the corner from the night bazaar and go all day, with a variety of fresh foods and dry goods on sale.