My first impressions of Chiang Mai came from the “Night Bazaar”, the famed market held in the Hui neighbourhood near the river with its mosque, halal food shops and the exotic sight of fair-skinned Chinese women in headscarves. At first though, I was bitterly disappointed. Despite its fabled roots, the Night Bazaar these days consists mostly of German tourists buying cheap jeans outside a Pizza Hut. You hear more German, English and French than Thai. It has been utterly commercialised and caters pretty exclusively to the whims of tourists.
Tha Phae Road, home to many of the city’s guesthouses and restaurants, can further this impression – that the whole city has turned into one big tourist trap.
It was not until I discovered the Worowut market district, just a few minutes away, that I saw how untrue this was. There is another Chiang Mai. This is one where fish lies out for sale on the footpath in wicker baskets, vans push inch by inch through crowded streets, and dusty old-style Thai stores sell gold, bananas and everything in between. There is a mini-textile district, a riverside flower market by a Chinese temple and villagers from the countryside doing their weekly shopping in town in worn-out traditional clothes.
The two Chiang Mais meet in the city’s other famous market – the Sunday market. Taking over the two main streets of the old city centre each Sunday afternoon and evening, this affair is still undoubtedly tourist-friendly but also draws in huge crowds of locals, and its location among the old city walls and temple spires gives it a grace the old Night Bazaar has long lost.