Coming to South-East Asia soon and planning to explore the local markets ? You’re in luck, this part of the world is known to have the most diverse ones you could dream of. Stalls full of souvenirs, noisy alley selling the latest electronic goods, auctioning buffalo or boats passing by with fresh fruits, there is something for anybody. In search of culture, bizarre or just in need for some time in the crowds, you’ll surely find what you’re looking for in this list of some of our favourites. Here is a selection of the best markets in South-East Asia.
Bac Ha Market, Sapa – Vietnam
I’ve mentioned Sapa before. A town tucked in the mountains of North Vietnam, people usually end there looking for a trek, or simply trying to escape the heat that might have invaded the rest of the country. If you are one of them then you should go and check out the Bac Ha Market while you’re there.
Every Sunday Bac Ha fills up with buses of tourists and Hmongs and while the quota might easily be a good 40/60, it’s still worth the trip. The locals happily ignore the horde of tourists to join the bidding on a few buffaloes, judging their quality by checking horns and teeth. The sellers set up their little stalls on the floor and get their fresh products ready for inspection and families take the occasion to enjoy some food before shopping. It’s a strange world where you clearly feel that you don’t belong there. An invisible barrier is clearly drawn between the tourists and the Hmongs and if you only wish to observe then it’s fine but if you wish to get a bit included then get out of the tourist lines and join in, check the products, smile and get a proper feel for a prominent culture in the Northern areas of South-East Asia.
Where is the Bac Ha Market located? Near Sapa, this market can be reached by bus from the station in Sapa when coming from Hanoi. It’s easy to do alone so avoid the tours.
When is it? In the morning every Sunday.
Tha Kha Market, Amphawa– Thailand
Thailand is probably people’s favourite destination in South-East Asia and for a reason: it’s easy to travel there and the local culture is amazing, so when it comes to markets it’s no surprise that some of the best ones are to be found there. One of the most popular markets in the country is Damnoen Saduak: locals row their boats filled with fruits and vegetables around the water giving striking colours to the floating markets that haunts most travellers dreams. A floating market has got to be on your wish-list.
There is one little problem though: what if you want to experience something like this, a bit of culture and yet avoid the tour groups? Then there is Tha Kha.
The Tha Kha Market not far from Bangkok is a little floating market that, somehow, doesn’t seem to attract a lot of tourism, and that’s probably something you might want to experience in Thailand. Old Thais row their boats on the quiet water, chat for a while with each-other and sell a few products before heading home. You’d almost think of it as a social gathering more than an actual place of business and that’s the charm of this place and that’s what we loved about it.
Where is the Tha Kha Market located? A few hours away from Bangkok, the Tha Kha Market is located near Amphawa. It might not be the easiest thing to find so we’d recommend to come the night before and stay overnight in Amphawa. Hotels aren’t numerous, but they are cheap.
When is it? Every week-end from 06.00 to 12.00. We’d recommend to go early.
Mae Salong, Chiang Rai – Thailand
Second on the Thai list is the market of Mae Salong. Let’s be honest: you wouldn’t go to Mae Salong just for the market but it would be a shame to go there and miss it.
If you’ve made it to this town in the mountains of Northern Thailand then go enjoy one of the smallest local markets you might get to witness.
The town itself is small, and falls under a strange history. The market, every morning, attracts the villagers from the surroundings to come shopping for fresh products. You might see them wait at the side of the road before hopping on the back of a truck, the whole 30 of them, to head back to their small village.
So why would you go to that market? Because it’s probably the most truthful of them all. Seasonal vegetables and fruits, meat waiting to be cut on demand, this market is raw and might give you a good idea of what it’s like to live in those areas. The only problem: you might have to get up very early.
Where is the Mae Salong Market located? From Chiang Rai you can reach Mae Salong on buses or by motorbike. The road is steep! From there you can find the market near the main square.
When is it? Every morning, around 5.00am.
Mae Sai border market – Myanmar
Thailand’s lovely neighbour, Burma, sure knows how to get people to come, even just for a day. If you’re not in the mood to apply for a visa or just don’t have time to go and experience Myanmar in full, then go and sample a piece of it at the Mae Sai border market.
From Chiang Rai it’s a fun day trip. Hop on a bus, pass the border and get to the market. You’ll start feeling in Burma as soon as you will witness the ladies wearing Tanaka while serving some local snacks.
There isn’t much to see and buy on this market where copies of old DVDs pile up near the clothes copied from famous brands, but go for a snack and a wonder before getting back to Thailand. You can go back home feeling that you’ve seen a bit of Burma and it will probably leave you wanting some more!
Where is the Mae Sai Market? At the border between Thailand and Myanmar, the Mae Sai border market is on the Burmese side. From the Thai side you can get there in an hour from Chiang Rai by bus.
When is it? Everyday at anytime, it’s hard to miss!
Chatuchak Weekend market, Bangkok – Thailand
Chatuchak is one of the world’s biggest markets so be warned! Once in there it’s fairly easy to not find your way out. And with over 200.000 visitors a day each weekend you might easily get lost in the crowds. Different from the rest of the markets we’ve mentioned, this one is the perfect match if you’re looking for… anything: shoes, trinkets, clothes, electronic goods, you’ll find them! It’s far easier to come with nothing in mind though and just stroll for a while.
This market is modern and popular. Street food is plentiful and tourist shops now mix up easily with local hardware shops.
If you fancy seeing what a buzzing capital town might look like then this is the perfect place for you. You’ll sample a bit of everything that makes Bangkok so unique.
Where is the Chatuchak Weekend Market? Once in Bangkok you can take the BTS Sky train to get there. Stop at Mo Chit.
When is it? While open from Wednesday to Sunday, we’d advice the Saturday and Sunday. Week days only have a few shops open and you want to experience the full scale of it.
Luang Prabang Night Market – Laos
Are you leaving Laos and you’ve bought nothing for your friends back home? You still haven’t tried the Lao Lao and, most of all, didn’t have time to sample a bit of street food? Don’t panic, Luang Prabang is here for you.
Not only a Unesco site, the town of Luang Prabang holds a night market that most tourists appreciate. A mix of local handicrafts and freshly cooked food, it’s the perfect spot if you don’t want to spend too much on dinner, or if you are looking for something to bring back home. Clearly targeted to tourists, this market is fun and a nice addition to an exploration of the old town at night. Prevent the heat with a freshly made juice, try a bit of liquor and enjoy the town lights.
While this is not especially our kind of market (can’t buy too many souvenirs without having to then explore a post office and that… is my definition of hell), it’s enjoyable and perfect if you’ve finished your trip. (and the sandwiches are just so good! As are the pastries!)
Where is the Luang Prabang Night Market located? Easy to spot, this market is in the centre of the Old town of Luang Prabang.
When is it? Every night.
If you are going to loop around those countries you will certainly find many more but those few are a nice little selection to follow once in the area. Don’t overdose too much on street-food and try a few of the more cultural markets to get a bit of an insight of the country you are visiting.
We’ve tried to offer a bit of variety to our selection but I can easily tell you that my favourites are the top two, now it’s your turn to explore them and tell me what you think!
And if the names don’t mean too much to you, here is a map of those markets.
Markets SE Asia
Have you been in this area of the world and if yes, which were, for you, the best markets of South-East Asia ? Let us know in the comments!
Share it on Pinterest!
Did you like this post? Then pin it!