By Lisa on Jan 10, 2013 with Comments 1
Step into my shoes… From the Christmas markets of Cologne we are journeying across the world to warmer climes for some real Thai-style bartering.
Prepare for vibrant colours, amazing bargains, pushy yet delightful sales people, superstition, music concerts and fiery Thai whiskey…
Before we left Spain we had already been told that the best market experience in Thailand was to be found in the night bazaar and the walking streets of Chiang Mai in the north so we were very much looking forward to buying even more things to somehow fit into our backpacks.
Before we left Spain we had also been warned about the Thai whiskey too, but did we listen? Nah!
The first time we went to the night market we went early, just as the stalls were setting up, as we had read that the people had a strange superstition that was very beneficial to the first buyers of the night:
We had read, and it turned out to be true, that if you go early to the night market and manage to be the first customer at a stall, the vendor will do anything to get the sale; this means reduce the price.
Why? Well, the people believe that the first sale attracts many more sales and the earlier they make the first sale means the more sales they will make, even if the first sale earns them only a pittance. So as soon as the stall is set up the main objective is to sell something, anything, and for practically any price; then this opening sale will bring many other buyers and will make for a successful evening even if that first sale itself did not bring much profit. Get it?
This means that if you go early you can try to be the first customer of the night and get yourself some excellent deals.
Once that first sale has been made, the vendor will take the cash that you hand over and touch every object on the stall with it for good luck!
In Chiang Mai you don’t need to barter as hard as in other parts of the country as the prices here are already so much cheaper than elsewhere due to its close proximity to the source of products and the lower cost of living in Chiang Mai.
Even so, the sales people expect you to barter so they generally double the expected price when they start out. You can use this as a guide; whatever the asking price, pay about half.
Do remember though that these prices are already very low and that the people here live on a low income, so when they will go no lower it is normally because they can’t.
The market starts on Chang Klan road, between Tha Pae and Sri Donchai roads and continues into the indoor three-storey arcades and to heart of the Vieng Ping Night Bazaar. This is open every night and in addition there are the walking streets in different locations of the city on different nights. The best nights for the walking streets are at weekends and the prices are even lower than in the bazaar.
Chiang Mai’s night market is famous for handicrafts and portrait paintings as well as “designer” wear. However, you can buy everything from a Rolex watch to a suitcase here.
Just opposite the Vieng Ping Night Bazaar, is the Kalare Centre, where you can do more shopping and get something to eat. The restaurants are not great here but there is normally live music and Thai dancing to watch.
Just a note about clothing which sports a designer logo: the copies here are so good that it is often hard to tell the difference between genuine and fake.
There is also a fine line between genuine and fake in the actual sense: many clothing factories are in and around Chiang Mai, meaning that the things that you buy with an international designer label which also says “Made in Thailand” could well be made here.
A lot of items made in these factories somehow find their way out of the factory and into Chiang Mai’s night bazaar. Shocking!
This doesn’t technically mean that the Custo handbag you are looking at is fake because it has been made in the Custo factory to the designer’s specifications. However, often the finishing touches are made to a garment in another country, so as the very handbag in question has not been shipped to Barcelona to receive that extra stitching and another label so that it can now be classed as “Made in Spain” the item is not quite finished.
So is it real or is it fake? You decide. Having said that, there are some things on sale which are just plain and simple fakes. So good luck with figuring out which is which!
If you are shopping hard, sooner or later you are going to need refreshments. Right in the heart of the outdoor night market is a huge space filled with tables and chairs where they serve food and drink and where there is a stage with live music.
We sat down and ordered just a few things to share; spring rolls, noodles, etc. We had a Chang (my favourite Thai beer) and then decided it was time to try the Thai Whiskey. We had been in Thailand for nearly two weeks and still had not tried it.
There were two of us, Toni and I, and we just ordered a small whiskey to share, just so we could try it. And when it came, the “small” whiskey was a small bottle! We tried it and choked, understanding why it was known as “fire water” so we took the bottle with us back to our guest house and bought a bottle of coke from the Seven Eleven so that we could actually drink it! And then it was nice.
The bottle of whiskey only cost us 150 baht. It was cheaper than the coke! Well, not quite.
After having bought so much at the Night Bazaar, we were going to give the walking streets a miss but we stumbled upon the Sunday Walking Street by accident on our way home from a restaurant. It was open until 11pm so we decided to take a look.
The Sunday Walking Street runs along the length of Ratchadamnoen Road (through the centre of the old town), all the way to Thapae Gate. The street is lined with stalls selling better handicrafts than the Night Bazaar, artsy items and souvenirs – displaying the full creativity of this city.
We came away with jewellery, belts, hair stuff, t-shirts; all very different and cheaper than what we’d seen in other markets.
The next day we were supposed to go sightseeing in the morning before we left Chiang Mai but we had to spend the whole time rearranging the backpacks instead!
See my Thailand photos here.
About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....