At dealchecker we do love a bargain. And a holiday. And where can you bargain whilst on holiday? Why, at the market of course. When it comes to colourful markets few places can beat the vibrancy of south-east Asia. Tropical heat, exotic fruits, rich fabrics, urgent haggling and erm… adventurous street foods create a heady mix that shouldn’t be missed.
Here, in no particular order, are our favourite markets in south-east Asia. And remember the golden rule: never accept the first price.
Floating markets – Bangkok, Thailand
When it comes to deciding what to see in Bangkok, the floating markets are always high on our list. It’s true that they’re more for tourists than locals these days, but don’t let that deter you – they’re among the country’s most-photographed attractions for a reason. Seeing hundreds of little boats piled high with tropical fruit and vegetables and being served ‘boat noodles’ from a floating kitchen is an experience you won’t forget in a hurry. The most popular market, Damnoen Saduak, is about an hour’s drive from the city centre. One of the best ways to appreciate the markets is by taking a guided boat tour, some of which include a cycling trip afterwards.
Luang Prabang Night Market – Laos
© iroom Stock
When night falls in Laos, the town of Luang Prabang comes alive thanks to its night market, boasting perhaps the largest selection of handicrafts in the country. Known for its pretty paper umbrellas, this market also offers everything from textiles and ceramics to bamboo lamps and rare spices from underneath its many red and blue tents. Open from 5pm until around 10pm, this is the place to come for a more relaxing shopping experience than at the bustling markets of Vietnam and Thailand.
Central Market – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market is both a few minutes’ walk and a world apart from touristy Petaling Street, infamous for its pirated clothing and DVDs. It was founded in 1888 and is now a Malaysian Heritage Site, with city tours starting from the market building. It’s a one-stop shopping centre for Malaysian products like the sparkling woven songket fabric, and any number of food outlets. Try Secret Recipe and Ginger Restaurant for a delicious taste of the local cuisine. Every weekend, buskers, dancers and martial artists perform on the streets and the Annexe Gallery acts as an alternative free space for contemporary arty activities.
Night market – Hoi An, Vietnam
Most visitors passing through Vietnam will stop at Hoi An, a picturesque town right in the middle of the country and famous for two things: its abundance of tailors and its colourful silk lanterns. Hoi An’s night market is a really unique sight, with countless stalls offering lanterns in silk, lace and hand-painted cotton in every colour imaginable. Local tailors will even whip up a bespoke design for you on the spot. You’ll also find other handicrafts on offer such as silk fans and jewellery. Try to visit when there’s a full moon if you can, for ‘Hoi An Legendary Night’, when the river is lit by hundreds of floating paper lanterns.
Ubud Art Market – Bali, Indonesia
The arty Bali town of Ubud is packed with galleries and artists’ workshops as well as the Ubud Art Market, a two-storey treasure trove full of batik shirts and sarongs, paintings, wood carvings and much more. Haggling is a must, and start off low; most merchants think nothing of asking for 10 times the going price. Downstairs the traders are less interested in haggling, so head upstairs if you want to drive a really hard bargain. Once you’ve picked up a suitcase-full of bargains, check out more attractions nearby, such as Ubud Monkey Forest, Go Gajah (the Elephant Cave) and Ubud Palace.
Chatuchak Weekend Market – Bangkok, Thailand
Be warned when planning to visit Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok: you’ll need a map and plenty of Thai baht for the food and drink you’ll need to survive the several days it’ll take to find your way out again. Fine, we’re exaggerating slightly, but it is really the biggest weekend market in the world. It covers over 35 acres and welcomes around 200,000 visitors every day. It’s a great place to find traditional Thai iced tea, good for keeping you going when you’re browsing the handicrafts, foods and live animals, among other things, on offer at the 15,000 or so stalls.
Kreta Ayer Wet Market – Singapore
© gualtiero boffi
In the heart of Singapore’s Chinatown, the Kreta Ayer Wet Market is one of the world’s top 10 fresh food markets according to National Geographic. It’s spotlessly clean, like most Singaporean things, as its floor is hosed down regularly (hence the name). It stocks a wide and colourful range of Asian fruits and vegetables and staples such as bean curd and roasted pork. You’ll also find Chinese herbal remedies and exotic ingredients like turtles, frogs and even snakes – often still alive. Once you’re shopped out, head to the hawker centre upstairs where you can enjoy a feast of local specialities like spicy noodle soup.
Malacca Night Market – Malaysia
In the town of Malacca (or Melaka if you prefer), on the south-west coast of Malaysia, Jonker Street in Chinatown is transformed on Friday and Saturday evenings by its night market. It’s a hodge-podge of stalls selling Malaysian batik garments, tasty treats and everything in between, mixed in with tables from bars and restaurants that spill out onto the pavement. There are also plenty of street perfomers vying for your attention; our favourite is Dr Ho Eng Hui who not only eats fire and throws knives (yawn) but also thrusts his index finger into a coconut. That’s got to hurt.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar – Thailand
The huge Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is not for the faint-hearted, but wins our prize for most buzzing and vibrant market experience, and that’s saying something in Thailand. It’s one of the city’s main attractions, stretching over several streets and packed with visitors at night. From the street vendors selling typical touristy souvenirs to the Vieng Ping mezzanine arcade where you’ll find quality antiques and traditional crafts, you’re sure of a bargain. Amongst the shops and stalls are plenty of bars and restaurants with entertainment provided by Thai music and dancers.
Central Market – Phnom Penh, Cambodia
© Janelle Lugge
Whether you’re after a bunch of flowers, antique coins or a fresh seafood snack, the Central Market in Cambodia’s capital will not disappoint. The building is a well-known Phnom Penh landmark; it’s a bright ochre Art Deco rotunda branching out into four wings, built in 1937. Inside you’ll find pretty much anything you could want, from electronic goods and fabrics to silver curios and kramas (traditional garments with many uses, from scarves to carrying children). There is also an impressive fresh food section offering a wide range of Cambodian dishes.