Shopping sometimes seems to be Chiang Mai's reason for being. It is after all the primary night-time activity. You'll find shops selling local handicrafts - silk, cotton, woodcarving, saa paper, silver, etc. - all over town, but the real scene can be found in two areas:
- Night Bazaar
- The place to browse for local handicrafts, clothes, luggage, silver, spices and much, much more. You can find most anything here, but the "big" products that most stalls offer tend to follow trends. For a while it may be lamps with brightly colored saa paper set in wooden frames that are "in" but in a year or two it may be mango wood boxes.
The epicenter of the night bazaar is a three story open air building next to the D2 Hotel (formerly the Chiang Inn) on Chang Klan Road, but you'll find sidewalk stalls on both sides of Chang Klan road from where it starts at Tapae Road going on to Anusarn night bazaar. Shops open around 7:00 p.m. and stay open until around midnight.
- "Factory" Row
- Spread along San Kamphaeng Road are a number of large stores selling "traditional" crafts such as silver, bronze and silk. Although some are presented as "factories" few are actually making the products on sale in the premises. The whole setup resembles the American style of outlet malls, but it can still be an interesting and rewarding way to spend an afternoon.
Some places do put up a good pretence at being factories. The silk shops that demonstrate how silk is made, from worm to loom, can be a good place to stop for families with kids, as can the silver and umbrella factories. The selection at all these places is very good, but be warned that prices can be much higher than what you can get for the same item in the night bazaar.
Just about any tuk-tuk or taxi driver will be more than willing to take you out to factory row, and they'll ask a ridiculously low fee, like 50 Baht (1.30 USD) for what may amount to a two hour trip. The reason for the low fares is that the driver gets a payment or commission from the factories he takes you to. Some people don't like this system, while some just go along with it. The choice is up to you.
- Handicraft Villages
- There are other handicraft districts in and around Chiang Mai. You will find many silver shops along Wualai Road just outside the Chiang Mai gate to the old city. Hang Dong, on the road to Doi Intanon, is home to many woodcarvers.
- There are more markets in Chiang Mai than just the night bazaar, which is mainly for tourists. Some of these are definitely worth a visit, if only for some colorful photo opportunities.
- Contemporary Design
- Chiang Mai is home to many shops selling a variety of housewares using traditional Thai handicrafts interpreted through contemporary designs. There are of course a number of shops in and around the night bazaar, as well as along Tapae Road. In addition to these, there are two other areas you might want to check out: Nimanhemin Road is west of town, on the way to Suthep Mountain. The second is along the east side of the Ping River, opposite the main portion of town.
If you'd rather do your shopping in air conditioned comfort, there's another slightly more sterile option: In the Central Airport Plaza shopping center you can visit the Northern Village craft center, with branches from many of the shops from elsewhere in town.
- They aren't a local product, but Chiang Mai is a good place to shop for used books. It's probably the large number of people who stay in Chiang Mai for a long time that generates the demand for used book stores. If you need something to read, or finished one book and want to trade it in for a different one, you'll find a collection of book stores just off Tapae Road near the Tapae Gate.
Chiang Mai Street Markets
In addition to the night bazaar, which is open every day, there are a couple of street markets that sell mostly local crafts and food, and only operate on certain days. There are weekly "walking streets" on the roads below, when the streets are closed to cars from 5:00 to 11:00 p.m.
- Ratchadamnoen Road
- On Sunday evenings, the street running from just inside Tapae Gate up to the center of the old city, along with some side streets, is closed to traffic. The streets are filled with stalls selling local handicrafts as well as foods of every kind. This market has become something of an institution, although many foreign visitors don't ever know it exists.
- Wualai Road
- Held on Saturday evenings, the main street of the traditional silver village is closed from where the road starts just outside Chiang Mai Gate up to Tippanet Road. The market is a lower key affair than the Ratchadamnoen Road market, although the overall flavor is very much the same.
Thailand Shopping Guide
If you need more "help" to find just the right thing, or at least where to look, then check out this tome from the recognized experts in shopping the world: