The city of Chiang Mai is the main hotspot in Northern Thailand that attracts travelers like a magnet all year around. An integral part of visiting Chiang Mai is to experience its vibrant street market life. It may turn out to be a real paradise for shoppers.
If you’re spending a weekend in this city, there are two huge open-air markets popping up each week – a Saturday Walking Street and a Sunday Walking Street.
While you can find a street market or walking street almost in any SouthEast Asian city and expect more or less the same from all of them, these two Chiang Mai markets might end up standing way above the rest. No wonder many visitors, including myself, calls these their two favorite street markets ever.
Sunday Walking Street
What is the Sunday Walking Street?
Sunday Walking Street is a huge street market in the heart of Chiang Mai old town. Local craftsmen, artists, musicians, and other creatives gather together in this market every week to showcase their work. Some of the products are even being created right there on the spot.
The market is open every Sunday from 16:00. It stretches all over the Ratchadamnoen road, its side streets and a few temples along the way. The market is buzzing with people, tourists as well as locals, the whole time till it’s closing at midnight.
There are a lot of locals coming to the market as a family event. The kids, parents, and grandparents all come together mostly to enjoy the food stalls. Meanwhile, for tourists, this Walking Street is the ultimate shopping experience that’s later rewarded with lots of variations of Thai food.
The Sunday Walking Street Market is the place that perfectly embodies the rich culture, cuisine, arts and crafts of Northern Thailand.
Here you can witness how glass figures are being melted, how ceramic bowls are being painted, wood being carved and dishes rich with chilies and herbal spices being cooked.
Sunday Market quite often is also a place for different local events, for example, a concert of a local orchestra, dance recitals or even a local beauty pageant. You can experience all of that on either side of the main road where feature stages and performance spaces often pop up.
While in most Chiang Mai markets you’ll find designer knockoffs, the classic tourist elephant pants, and Chang t-shirts, this market is all about creative, quality handmade products and events. That’s what makes it different from other markets.
What can you buy on Sunday Walking Street?
The options of things to buy on Sunday Walking Street Market vary in style and purpose. You can find lots of eco-friendly handmade souvenirs, home decors, and cosmetics. There is lots of jewelry, ethical clothing, t-shirts with creative prints, Thai silk scarves, straw bags, hats, and other accessories.
My favorite things about the products in this market is that fact that clothing and accessories are stylish enough that they can even be worn back home, not just while on vacation in Thailand. Even though you can also find some of the classic touristy elephant pants and shirts, the general selection is high-quality handmade products.
This market is also a great place where to shop for home decorations. You can find hand-carved wooden figures, items made of brass or glass, beautiful paintings, creative coffee mugs for your kitchen, playful decorations for a kids room and way more.
Overall the prices are cheap. Jewelry starts from 10 THB, clothing and other accessories start from 50 THB and goes up to around 300 THB.
All the prices are usually written right there so the trade is fair. You can usually get a cheaper price if you buy more items, but in general, haggling is not so common in this market. If you ask for a discount, you might get a few THB off, but don’t expect anything major.
The old trick with saying “No, thank you”, walking away and expecting the seller to run after you and give the discount like you’re supposed to do in Mediterranean markets, will not work here.
If you’ve chosen the Sunday Walking Street Market for souvenir shopping, you’ve made the right choice.
Where to eat in the market?
While walking along the extremely crowded and steamy road, you’ll see temples and side streets along the way. During the market hours, these small streets and yards of the temples are turned into gigantic food zones.
We discovered the yard of the temple Wat Pan On to be the best food zone with a wide selection of dishes and a very lively atmosphere. It’s close to the beginning of the walking street at the Tha Phae Gate side.
There you’ll find hundreds of food stalls selling everything from the Thai classics – grilled meat or veggie sticks, Northern Thailand signature dish Khao Soi, variations of Noodle Soups, Pad Thai, Papaya Salad and more.
There’s also a choice of sushi, which as I’ve noticed all round different markets in Thailand, is an integral part of every food zone. They come in a variety of colors and tastes, coting 5 THB per piece. More options include grilles seafood, Indian cuisine, and my personal favorite – Kebab.
For a dessert, you can taste all the flavors of Thai ice cream in one order, or find out if locally made cheesecake, tiramisu or brownies taste just as good as they do in Europe and other parts of the world.
The prices of snacks start at 10 THB and main dishes from 40 THB.
And the very best part – if you happen to be in Chiang Mai during the strawberry season, which is November to January, you’ll find a variety of strawberry desserts and shakes. The sweet and fresh strawberry aroma in the air will not let you pass this food stall unnoticed.
Going to the Sunday Walking Street Market with a goal to eat something small and light is not the best idea. Be warned that it might be very hard to resist all the aromas and flavors that will surround you once you enter the food zone, and you might end up eating way more than you expected!
That’s exactly what happened to us as we left the market super happy with full tummies.
Fun things to see in the Sunday Market
You can experience the culture of Northern Thailand not just though the items you see and buy, but also through music and sights.
The first important stop to make in the market is the Wat Pan On temple. You’ll probably visit it anyway as it’s the main food zone of the market, but it’s also a beautiful temple.
What’s interesting about it is the fact that during the market hours you’re apparently not required to follow the temple dress code with having to cover your shoulders and knees while you’re in the area. But in order to respect the culture, don’t try to enter the actual temple if you’re not dressed properly.
At the end of the walking street, there’s another majestic temple – Wat Phra Singh. It’s one of the most visited temples in Chiang Mai due to its historical architecture, Lanna-style roofs and wall decorations portraying the lives of Thai people.
The Wat Phra Singh temple shines in the dark, marking the end of the Sunday Walking Street Market. It’s a nice place where to stop by for a photo, but be aware that it closes at 17:00 and you will only be able to see it from the outside after dark.
You’ll also hear different local musicians playing Thai traditional instruments. The most popular of them seems to be the blind musicians. There are two groups of them playing at each end of the walking street.
You’ll also have plenty of options to sit down for a moment and have your portrait be painted right there on the spot. Or if your feet will get tired of walking, you can enjoy a relaxing 30-min foot massage to get you back to speed.
Location and the best time to visit
The market is located along the Ratchadamnoen road in the Chiang Mai old town. It starts at the Tha Phae Gate and ends at Wat Phra Singh temple.
It’s open only on Sundays from 16:00 to midnight.
Generally, it’s crowded during all hours, but we’ve found the easiest time to walk around there is from 16:00 – 17:30 and later at night from about 22:00. From 18:00 the market gets so crowded that it’s hard to move at all.
PRO TIP: if you start to walk from the Wat Phra Singh end instead of Tha Phae Gate, it will be less crowded and easier to have a closer look at the items you’ll spot along the way, as most people start from Tha Phae Gate.
How to get to the Sunday Walking Street?
Since the Sunday Walking Street is located in the most central place of Chiang Mai, if you’re staying in the old town or a surrounding area of it, you can easily walk to the market within minutes.
Otherwise, you can always take a red-taxi or a tuk-tuk, that will get you to the market in no-time.
Saturday Walking Street
What is the Saturday Walking Street?
Saturday Walking Street is another large and wildly popular night market in Chiang Mai. It takes place every Saturday from 16:00 to 23:00 along the Wua Lai Road near the famous Silver Temple – Wat Sri Suphan.
You can find there are almost exactly the same as in Sunday Walking Street Market, both of these markets can be considered as pretty much the same just on different days and locations.
Even a large part of sellers is the same on both days. However, there are a few differences that could make you want to visit one of the other more. Keep reading to find out about them.
What can you buy on Saturday Walking Street?
Just like the Sunday Walking Street, this is another excellent place where to find creative, hand-made souvenirs, jewelry, different decorations for the home, artwork, clothing items and great selection of food.
For many visitors, including myself, the most interesting part of this market is the variety of the handicrafts made by Thai hill tribes. A variety of colorful hill tribe hats, wallets, clothing, and decorations is what differs this market from Sunday one.
While Saturday Market is also all about handmade products by local craftsmen and artists, you’ll see less action and items being created right there on the spot as they do on the Sunday Market.
But that doesn’t reduce the variety nor creativity of the products. You’ll be able to find handmade guitars, t-shirts with funny and smartly controversial prints, carved postcards, aroma-rich natural candles and more.
This is also where you’ll have a chance to get the latest wonders in electronics, such as “singing t-shirts” that comes with hidden mini speakers, camera tripods and countless gadgets for smartphones.
The prices and haggling principles are pretty much the same as in the Sunday Market. Only in a few cases, we noticed some prices being up to 10 THB more expensive on Saturday.
The food at Saturday Walking Street Market
We saw Asian tourists especially enjoy the Saturday Walking Street food zones. That’s because you can enjoy a huge variety of Thai seafood at very affordable prices. A grilled squid, crabs and different fishes start at 80 THB which makes many of them up to five times cheaper than in China, South Korea or Japan.
While Sunday Walk Street has a few food zones available, Saturday Walking Street has a lot more of them scattered all along the market.
Before you enter the Saturday Walking Street there’s a gigantic park full of food stalls, which is technically not part of the market. We’ve seen these stalls to be there on other days of the week too. So we suggest to keep walking past it and to explore the food courts of the actual Saturday Walking Street Market.
PRO TIP: don’t go all out on eating outside the Walking Street or at the very beginning of it, as there are way more options further along the way.
A great snack to have before getting to one of the many food zones is the colorful noodle salad. They are made from rice noodles, some greens, dried fish and a rich mix of Thai spices.
There’s a lady selling them for 40 THB about 100m in from the beginning of the street. You’ll recognize her by the big bowl of white, pink and blue noodles in front of her. Give a try to this appetizer and let us know in the comments if you liked it.
All along Saturday Walking Street Market, you’ll find food stalls of grilled meat, curries, noodles, seafood, and other grilled goodies. One of the food stands even sells such exotic grill as crocodile meat. If you’re up for trying that, it can be found only in this market.
Each of the many food zones has a quite similar kind of dishes. If you go to one side street, you’ll see more seafood. When you go to another one, you’ll have more Pad Thais. In the third, you’ll see Kebabs and untraditional foods.
While the choice of food is good, it’s not so easy to understand where can you find what and if there will be something better or more delicious, before you’ve walked through every part of the market.
This was not an issue in the Sunday Walking Street Market, as there are fewer food zones and you can see pretty much everything in one place.
Fun things to see in the Saturday Market
The entertainment on Saturday Walking Street is similar to Sunday Market. However, this one feels more bustling and loud.
While the atmosphere at Sunday Market is created by the sounds of the traditional music and craftsmen working on their art, Saturday night offers a mix of many things. Traditional Thai folk songs are overlapping with the latest world hits, reminding a bit of music festival vibes.
Even though it’s not allowed to drink alcohol in the market, the party mood is created by a small wine-stand in the middle of the market, serving real Northern-Thailand house wine. Have a glass of the Ginseng Dry to discover absolutely new wine flavors. You can have a glass on the spot or buy a bottle for a bit over 200 THB to take home.
There are also two temples at the end of the Walking Street that is a must-visit. The Wat Sri Suphan is a temple made fully out of silver, making it different from all other temples you’ll see in Thailand.
Right next to it is a smaller temple with a yard where exciting fire show takes place every Saturday night. Meanwhile, the yard of the Silver Temple is used for different musical performances.
The Silver Temple is open for visitors until 23:00. There’s an entrance fee of 50 THB until 21:00. Later the entrance is free. The Golden Temple is free all the time.
If you plan to enter the temple area, be properly dressed. You have to have your knees and shoulders covered to show respect. When we visited wearing shorts, we were not allowed in.
Also, women are not allowed to enter the actual Silver Temple, just the temple area.
Location and the best time to visit
The Saturday Night Walking Street starts at the edge of Chiang Mai old town and heads down the Wua Lai road, which is then closed for traffic.
This market gets very crowded around 18:00 just like the Sunday Market, so make sure to arrive early from 16:00 to be able to move around easier.
If you’re anywhere in the Old Town, walking to the market is your best option. You can also take a red-taxi or tuk-tuk to come here, but be aware that traffic during the market hours gets extremely busy along the edge of the Old Town. You might end up sitting in traffic for a bit too long.
Which of the two markets should you visit?
As you see, both of these markets offer high-quality shopping and dining experiences. Prices also seem to be quite the same, with a few items around 10 THB cheaper in the Sunday Market.
While Saturday Market is more about Hill tribe handicrafts and food zones, Sunday market offers more options to see local craftsmen in action and a bigger variety of Thai and international foods, even though the total food area is smaller.
None of these markets ever felt like tourist traps, but more like genuine experiences to learn more about Northern-Thai culture.
If you have enough time, do visit both markets! But if you end up visiting just one of these, you’ll not be missing out as both of them are excellent.