Thailand's second city Chiang Mai is renowned for its shopping and, in particular, its gargantuan Night Bazaar which operates every day of the week. But visitors to Chiang Mai should know that it hosts many other captivating markets.
During my two trips to the city I visited another five markets, some of which are off the tourist radar but which offer the kind of authentic experiences many travellers cherish.
Thipanet Market (8am-4pm)
Locals outnumber tourists ten to one at this undercover market which specialises in arts and crafts, and Buddhist amulets.
It is the latter of those items, religious lucky charms, which in particular draw Thai people to this market but which also make meaningful keepsakes for travellers.
The strength of Thipanet is that it offers products you won't find at the bigger tourist shopping destinations. There are more than a dozen small shops selling hand-crafted wooden pieces and intricately-designed bronze Thai statues at very reasonable prices.
If you fall in love with one of the larger artworks the sellers can help organise affordable shipping back to Australia.
Walking Street Market (Sunday 4pm-Midnight)
Stretching for about one kilometre along the main thoroughfare in the Old Town (and overflowing into several neighbouring alleyways) this enormous night market owns a charming location.
Several large temples flank this street, allowing tourists to combine shopping and cultural experiences.
The range of items for sale is remarkable – art, clothing, accessories, tech gadgets, shoes, hats, sunglasses, mobile phones and on and on.
Don’t miss the big food court halfway down the market on the southern side where you will find perhaps the city’s best Khao Soi (a delectable curry noodle soup which is a speciality in Thailand’s far North).
Warorot Market (7am-6pm)
This roofed market has the advantage of being open during the day, when the Night Bazaar and weekend tourist markets are closed.
Visitors can buy anything from clothes and accessories to artwork, electronics, souvenirs and cosmetics.
It is a local market and is great for people watching, particularly early in the morning when Chiang Mai residents are bargaining hard with vendors as they buy fresh produce.
The sellers here seem to be particularly fond of bartering so join in the custom and smile broadly while negotiating your way to a great price.
Get to know your way around. Getting To Know Thailand’s Northern Gem – Chiang Mai
Another side of the second city. Chiang Mai’s Top Wats
Tonyamlai Flower Market (7am-6pm)
This market can offer a welcome change for weary shoppers not only because of its laid back atmosphere but also due to its pleasant aromas and attractive riverside location.
Just to the East of Warorot Market, Tonyamlai stretches along the road which flanks the Ping River. The local vendors are fiercely proud of their flowers and will usher intrigued visitors into their stalls to inflame their senses.
Feel free to accept their offer – there are no hard sells here, the vendors are just very friendly and like to show off their glorious flowers to tourists.
Wua Lai Market (Saturday 4pm- Midnight)
Just when you think there can't be any more food for sale, another clutch of vendors come into view. This huge night market offers a wide variety of tourist-friendly items like traditional Thai and Western clothing and accessories, CDs and DVDs, sunglasses, watches and souvenirs.
But the highlight is the phenomenal range of ready-to-eat snacks on offer, which vary from local sweets to American hot dogs, Greek souvlaki, Mexican cuisine, Pizzas, Northern Thai curries and even crunchy insects.
As it’s open on Saturday nights, the market has numerous makeshift bars set up in alleyways just out of the main action along Wua Lai Street. Pull up a chair and sip on a cocktail or beer to the sound of lively Thai pop music.
These five markets serve to supplement rather than replace the experience of visiting the Night Bazaar. It may be the most touristy market in the city, but prices there remain very reasonable, most sellers are polite and relaxed, and the atmosphere is wonderfully vibrant.
Compared to the Silom Road and Khao San Road markets in Bangkok, you are far less likely to get ripped off or heavily pressured into purchases in Chiang Mai. It’s reflective of the city’s much slower pace of life.