Paper umbrellas, lanterns, cotton scarves, silk pillow covers, table mats, handbags, slippers, Thai spices, herbal remedies, handmade soaps, natural cosmetics, jewelry, Buddha statues, elephant statues, toys, silk ties, clothes, incense holders and incense sticks… I can’t think of many things that are not sold at the Sunday Market in Chiang Mai.
Ratchadamnoen Road, one of the main thoroughfares in Chiang Mai’s old city, becomes a pedestrian-only market street on Sunday afternoons and evenings. From around 5 pm, the long stretch from Tapae Gate to the Phra Singh temple fills with hundreds of stalls that stay open until late in the evening. The market seems to be getting bigger every year; stalls are now spreading further and further down the side streets. It is a major tourist attraction, but Chiang Mai locals come to shop and eat here too.
In Your Bucket Because…
- You can get all your Chiang Mai souvenirs in one place.
- It is a popular tourist attraction, but Chiang Mai residents shop and eat at the market too.
- Good for: locally made handicrafts, such as Sa paper products. Also good for street food and cheap foot massages.
Things to Buy
The Sunday market has always had a reputation as the best market for locally produced items, art and handicrafts, although in the recent years I have noticed increasing amounts of cheap, imported plastic toys in many stalls. However it is still more of a handicraft and art market than the more touristy Chiang Mai Night Bazaar (where you are more likely to find fake designer goods than local art). It is often said that at the Sunday market you can still buy handicrafts from people who actually made the products they are selling.
There are clothes and bags made by the indigenous people of northern Thailand. There are beautifully decorated paper umbrellas made from the local Sa paper and bamboo. There are all kinds of Sa paper products; this paper is made from the bark of mulberry trees, and is used to create lanterns, notebooks, paintings and other items that make great souvenirs from Northern Thailand.
Haggle, But Smile
Prices at the Sunday market seem lower than at the Night Bazaar, and it is easier to negotiate discounts. It helps if you learn the numbers in Thai, although most vendors speak English or will show you the price on a calculator. Knowing the numbers does make friendly haggling easier, though, and in Thailand haggling should always be friendly. Remember to smile, don’t show frustration, don’t look for confrontation, and try to find a price that is acceptable for you and the vendor. Confrontational tactics and anger are not acceptable behaviour in Thailand.
Eating at the Market
Ratchadamnoen is a long street and shopping is tiring, but foot massage is conveniently offered in most street corners. And then there is the food, the main reason I go to the market when I am in Chiang Mai, even if I don’t want to buy anything. The temple courtyards around the market turn into little outdoor restaurants, where lots of different stalls sell street food and snacks. All the restaurants in the market area also do a great trade on Sunday evenings.
I like to go to the market early, when it is just opening. Around 5 to 6 pm it is still possible to walk around at my own pace without getting stuck in the crowd. In the high season (December-February) the crowds can get a little overwhelming, especially late in the evening. Outside the high season the market is much more relaxed, prices are often lower and the vendors are happier to give discounts.
Practicalities for Shopping at the Sunday Market in Chiang Mai:
- When asking for a discount, stay friendly and remember to smile.
- Go early if you want to avoid crowds.
- Try the food!
- Take care of your belongings.
- Walk around before buying, because there is a lot to look at, and it’s easy to get carried away.
- The national anthem is played from loudspeakers in the early evening, and you need to stand up and stop shopping (or whatever you’re doing) while it is played. Don’t try to talk to vendors or push money into their hands while they listen to the national anthem.