Southeast Asia is home to many amazing things, but there is one thing in particular that they’ve gotten right, and that’s markets. Whether it’s food markets, art markets or knockoff clothes and purses, Southeast Asian markets are second to none. Here’s 10 of the best to consider for your next trip across Southeast Asia.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
One of the worlds largest weekend markets (or so they say), Chatuchak in Bangkok contains more than 8,000 stalls selling just about everything you can think of, from handicrafts, to antique wood carvings, local souvenirs, furniture, and fashion. Make sure to arrive at the market as early as possible to try and beat the rush of tourists and locals. The market itself is divided into sections based on themes, which makes it a bit easier to navigate, but not that much easier. If you find something you like, buy it, because the chances of you being able to retrace your steps are slim. It’s also wise to pick yourself up a market map from one of the security guards to help make navigating a little bit easier.
(Chiang Mai, Thailand)
You may want to come back multiple nights to visit this market, because although it isn’t as large as the Bangkok weekend market mentioned above, you could walk the streets and rows of stalls for what seems like hours. The history of this market dates back to the original Yunnanese trading caravans that stopped here along the route from Simao, China and Mawlamyaing, Myanmar. Today you’ll find just about anything in this market, along with great restaurants and cafes and live entertainment lining the three blocks this market takes over nightly (until midnight). You may even catch sight of some lady boys while visiting!
Long Bien Market
This market may not be on the usual list of Southeast Asian markets, but it should be. The Long Bien Market gives you the opportunity to truly experience the culture of Hanoi, as this isn’t necessary where the tourists shop, it’s where the locals shop. This is a fruit and vegetable wholesale market, and if you wake up really early in the morning, or don’t go to bed and come by around 3:00 or 4:00am, you’ll witness the best action at this market. Just sit back and observe the Vietnamese people in their everyday life.
Luang Prabang Night Market
(Luang Prabang, Laos)
Open daily from 5pm to 10pm, the Luang Prabang Night Market is one not to be missed if you’re in town, and in fact, it’s pretty hard to miss. With Luang Prabang’s small size, when they shut down the street for the night market every night, you are almost forced (or at least intrigued) to walk down it. You’ll find many unique items here that you may not find in other neighboring countries, including jewelry made out of aluminum from planes and bombs from Luang Prabang’s devastating history. Looking for cheap and delicious Laotian food? There is a lane that comes off the main street that is lined with a buffet. For around $1 USD you can have an all you can eat, heaping plate of steaming traditional food.
One of the most popular markets Bangkok is known for, the Floating Markets is an experience that you don’t get just anywhere. I mean, how often can you float through a market passing by boat after boat that is stacked high with vegetables and fruit, food, souvenirs and everything else in between? Most people don’t realize that there are actually several floating markets in Bangkok that you can visit and despite them not being the most conveniently located, it’s worth the trip to visit at least one. Damnoen Saduak is known as one of the more touristy and popular floating markets, but if you want a more authentic taste, where you get to mix in with the locals, try Amphawa Floating Market.
(Hoi An, Vietnam)
Southeast Asian markets aren’t just a daytime activity.
In a bid to clean up the streets of Hoi An, many market traders and food stalls were pushed out of the old town, forcing them to relocate outside the guarded boundaries. In 2011 an area across the river was cleared that was once the barely inhabited banana plantation of An Hoi, which made way for one of the most beautiful night markets.
The main attraction of this night market is the silk lanterns that Hoi An is famous for, and the styles are endless, if you don’t find one in the pattern or material you like, a local tailor will whip you one up on the spot. Aside from the coloured lanterns, you can find jewelry, fans, souvenirs and the regular trinkets you’ll find in most markets.
The best time to visit this market is when the sunsets and darkness creeps over the city, as An Hoi becomes the island of a thousand lit up lanterns!
Bugis Street Market
Bugis Street has a long history. In the 50’s it was made famous for its night activities of “ladyboys” that would attract sailors and military personnel from overseas. The street has since gone through a lot of change and is now home to over 800 shops selling cheap clothes, shoes, and food. The bottom floor stores offer cheap souvenirs and is a tourists dream, wander to the upper floors and find other hidden treasures, and where most of the locals shop for things like designer labels, art, and books. The prices are actually cheaper upstairs, as they’re not the tourist prices you’ll find downstairs.
Angkor Night Market
(Siem Reap, Cambodia)
This is one of the newer markets in Southeast Asia. It’s only been around since 2007 and was developed with the mission to preserve traditional Khmer handicrafts, while also alleviating poverty and helping to improve the life of those in Siem Reap. This market has over 250 stalls, which are all made using natural and raw materials such as bamboo and wood.
You can find clothing, art, and traditional handicrafts in this market. One of the other popular items you’ll be able to find here are the recycled products. Wallets, bags, and pouches all made from recycled materials such as reused concrete bags. On top of the products you can buy, you can also stop for a massage or 3D movie here that teaches you about the history of the Khmer people.
Sukawati Art Market
Established in the 80’s this market is filled with paintings, sculpted wooden figures, handicrafts and handmade products. The two-story market is located 20km from the main tourism hub in Bali, but is worth the visit. This market will give you a more traditional experience as opposed to the large tourist “souvenir centres” you’ll find scattered around Bali.
On the main floor of this market you’ll find clothing items like shirts, sarongs, and fabric, at the back of the market you will find aromatherapy goods, and at the front you can find yourself gorgeous and colourful bedcovers. This market is open from 8am-7pm and is known to have some better prices then other markets in Bali (but that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t barter).
(Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
The Central Market in Kuala Lumpur has been around for a long time (since 1888) and is conveniently located a short walking distance from Chinatown. This market started traditionally as a regular wet market and has since evolved into a landmark filled with culture and heritage. This market is a great representation of the multiculturalism in Malaysia and is divided based on the groups of races. Just like the other markets, you can find all the traditional crafts and souvenirs you could want here, and also stop at one of the many delicious food places along the way.
You can also make a stop at the Annexe Gallary, which is a newer addition to the market and showcases local artists work, and if you’re lucky you can catch a traditional cultural performance on the stage outside the market.
Founder & Blogger – Twirl The Globe: Travel Blog (formerly Wanderlust)
Social Media & Marketing Freelancer – laurenmarinigh.com
Thanks to Dennis Jarvis, Abdul Rahman, US Mission to the United Nations Agencies in Rome, and Gregor Dodson for the excellent pictures from Flickr. Please note they were under Creative Commons Licence at time of publishing.