Chiang Mai’s shopping heaven
Chiang Mai is best known for culture and fantastic sights but it also has some of Asia's best shopping options for those looking to enjoy some retail therapy. There are plenty of places to get handmade bargains as well as luxury treats, both within the city walls and further afield. Do bear in mind that usually only the larger shops and those in shopping malls will accept credit cards, so always make sure you have some cash handy, just in case you spot a bargain.
The Night Bazaar is the most famous shopping area in Chiang Mai, with an exciting mix of locals and tourists browsing and socialising. The Night Bazaar is huge and includes a covered section as well as sprawling out into the surrounding streets. In truth, few Thais actually shop in this area but they still regard it as a popular place to meet.
You can buy almost anything here including handmade souvenirs, antiques, jewellery and even fabric if you wish to get clothes tailored. The Night Bazaar gets going at around 7pm and closes at midnight. Just remember to bargain whenever you're buying anything here, don't worry about offending the stall vendors, bartering is expected and part of the whole experience.
The Night Bazaar is more than just a market, there is also a large selection of bars and restaurants encircling the stalls as well as a hugely popular area full of food vendors serving Thai favourites as well as most other cuisines you could ever want. The importance of the Night Bazaar goes beyond shopping, it is a cultural experience that every visitor must try. Strolling through the rows of stalls listening to the excited chatter of street vendors and savouring the delicious aroma of street food must not be missed.
The area around the Night Bazaar also includes a couple of smaller markets, all with their own identity. Anusarn Market feels like an extension of the bazaar but is actually home to permanent shops during the day, although it does really come alive at night when the street vendors arrive. Regardless of the time, it's a good spot to grab a cheap and tasty snack.
Nearby Warorot Market is definitely worth a visit too and is where Thais tend to shop so you'll definitely pick up some new haggling skills if you spend some time here. You can find this market a few minutes walk from the Night Bazaar, sitting along the bank of the River Ping where it is open all day from early morning. Whether you’re looking for fresh fruit, fish, souvenirs or cleaning products, you'll find it here and prices are lower than at other markets, whilst the quality is often higher.
Saturday and Sunday Walking Markets
The Saturday and Sunday Walking Markets are not to be missed. These weekend markets have similar offerings, with many of the stall holders appearing at both. When these markets are in full swing, the entire road is closed as the stalls take over. The Saturday market is on Wualai Road, south of the city walls, in an area previously famous for silver-making workshops whilst the more popular Sunday Walking Market can be found on Rachadamnoen Road, in the heart of the old town. The Sunday market, in particular, is a must-visit as it feels like the whole city converges on the street. The 1km-long market can easily take a couple of hours to fully explore, as there are an ever-increasing number of stalls tucked away down side streets. Far more popular with the locals than the Night Bazaar, you'll join shoppers bargaining over arts and crafts, snacks or clothes. There's usually plenty of street entertainment dotted throughout the streets, so keep your eyes peeled.
Of course, there are places to buy big-name brands as well, Chiang Mai has several large shopping malls, mostly along the super highway which surrounds much of the city. If you're heading to one of these malls you’ll probably need to jump in a taxi or songthaew, one of the red trucks you see everywhere!
One of the largest and most popular shopping malls here is Central Festival which is a fairly recent addition to the city's shopping landscape having opened in 2014 (http://www.centralfestival.co.th/index.php). If you're staying close to the Night Bazaar then this is likely to be your nearest shopping mall, around 4.5km from the old town. Boasting over 300 shops, as well as restaurants, a food court, a cinema with IMAX screen and even an ice rink, you’ll find your favourite European and US brands here which can be hard to come by elsewhere in the city, including H&M, Topshop and Marks & Spencer. There is also Central Department Store which sells almost everything you could want.
This hugely popular mall is busy throughout the day and especially at weekends when you'll see plenty of Thais here indulging in some retail therapy before heading to the cinema in the evening. If the heat gets too much in the city, why not escape the sun and come here to enjoy lunch and a stroll with the refreshing air-conditioning.
Maya Lifestyle Shopping Centre
Maya Lifestyle Shopping Centre is one of the most impressive malls to recently open in the city. It's within easy reach of the old town, just a 20-minute walk along Huay Kaew Road. Located in trendy Nimmanhaemin, a hugely popular area with expats and tourists from across Asia, Maya fits into the local hipster vibe perfectly.
At first glance, Maya will remind you of the huge malls found across Bangkok, but its futuristic design doesn't look out of place here and the mall has become a local landmark. Many of the shops inside are more upmarket than many of the other malls across town, but there are still bargains to be had, particularly in the pop-up shops and stalls that are dotted around. International brands such as Adidas, Guess and Samsung are all found here as well as plenty of Thai designers as well.
Maya has two floors dedicated to food, the basement food court offers very cheap snacks and meals and is a popular lunch spot for local Thais and expats. The stalls mainly offer Thai food but there are also international menus with pizza, burritos and sushi. The fourth floor has several international food chains and other restaurants whilst the cinema, karaoke centre and rooftop bars with views across the city, mean you could easily stay here all day.
Shoppers looking for more unique products should explore the streets around Nimmanhaemin. Usually just referred to as Nimman, the area is home to many boutique shops selling clothes, gifts and handicrafts and it's well worth spending a couple of hours wandering here. Nimman is popular with the growing Thai middle class as well as expats, so prices may be higher than elsewhere but you're bound to find something unique hidden here!
Shopping is a huge part of daily life in Chiang Mai and there are always new markets or pop-up shops to investigate. Whether you're buying last-minute souvenirs and eating pad thai in the Night Bazaar or escaping the sun (or the rain) in a shopping mall, there's plenty to keep you busy during your time here.