Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets

When it comes to street markets, Thomas and I are experts. From Lhasa to Chichicastenango, from Antananarivo to Santa Fe, we’ve seen them (and enjoyed them) all. So when we say that Chiang Mai’s Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets are good, it actually means something.

Thailand excels at open markets and we’ve sampled many of them including night markets in Satun, Trang, Krabi, Had Yai, Sukhothai, Chiang Rai as well as half a dozen in Bangkok. We’ve gushed about Chatuchak and Taling Chan. Even in a country where the street market is a highly developed art form, the sprawling Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets stand out.

You want it, they’ve got it: metallic alien statues, hill tribe pants, boot-leg CDs and DVDs, Coca Cola art, cell phones, fake Akha head dresses, posters of monks in exotic poses, sexually explicit T-shirts, Bibles translated into Miao or Karen, antique opium pipes, wooden penises, Buddhist paraphernalia, and balloon animals. Literally, something for everyone.

We like browsing the tourist crap, but we come to these markets for one thing and one thing only: street food. They’ve got coconut curries, homemade noodles, cheese cake, spicy tribal stir fries, pizza, sweet Chiang Mai sausages, fruit shakes, durian ice cream, meat-filled pastries, cotton candy, fish cake… and the sticky rice… oh, the sticky rice. Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets should satisfy even the most demanding street food connoisseurs.

Even if you have no interest in cheesy souvenirs or street food, these markets are a great place to chat with Thais out for the weekend, or simply sit on a corner and people watch. You can catch a performance by blind musicians, groove to a kazoo band, or watch a trendy teen apply his manga-style makeup.

There is some debate over whether the Saturday Walking Street or the Sunday Walking Street is the preferred experience. Personally, I liked the unending sprawl of the Saturday event better, but that was mostly because I liked the way it led into the beautiful Silver Wat, known locally as Wat Srisuphan. I also thought there was a better set-up for street food on Saturday.

Having said that, both events are very enjoyable and provide an overwhelming selection of tacky tourist souvenirs, some nice art and handicrafts, and great edibles. But one quick warning: the walking streets can become INCREDIBLY crowded as the night progresses, so if you have any problems with being trampled in a crush of bargain hunters, get there early.

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