Going to the mall does have its place in our lives, more about health but don’t let the lure of the food court and luxury goods make you forget the joys of exploring the myriad markets that have been and still are an integral part of life, especially in South East Asia.

Each SpiceRoads trip is designed to bring you up close to the local cultures and landscapes of every location visited. There are reasons why malls aren’t included on the itineraries!

Local life in action

While some markets may feel like tourist traps, we visit markets that are still hubs of local activity. Before the advent of supermarkets and shopping malls, the local market was where people went to find whatever they needed or to buy that special something to commemorate a holiday or occasion. This is still the case in many places today.

Zegyo market in Mandalay is an amazing network, heaving with life and trade. Although there is a nod to the coming of malls with several modern buildings of wholesale shops, there is still so much going on in the streets outside. A major centre for the people of Mandalay, you can find everything from fresh ingredients to cooked meals, from fabric to ready to wear clothes, from gems to jewellery.

Come see for yourself and join us on an exploration of Zegyo market and much more on Mandalay’s Monasteries by Bike 

Inexpensive shopping

Photo by: AsiaWebDirect

No trip is complete without buying a little something for yourself (or maybe as gifts for friends and family back home). A t-shirt from the mall could be a little too generic and probably costly when compared to the bargains you can find at the market.

Less “floating” and more “by the water”, Bang Nam Pheung market is tucked away in an area of Samut Prakarn known as Bangkok’s “green lung” for the abundant, lush plant life flourishing in the community. The market is a popular stop for city denizens needing a breath of fresh air, and for bargain hunting for local fruits, foods, housewares, and clothing.

Discover a quieter aspect of Bangkok on a trip to the Bangkok Jungle 

Traditional handicrafts

Some shopping malls may reflect local cultures, but, let’s face it, the usual suspects like the Gap, H&M, and Body Shop, are what you’re likely to encounter. Most traditional artisans probably can’t afford the rents. But they do converge at the local market.

The Night Handicraft Market on Sisavangvong Road in Luang Prabang is an incredible destination if you’re looking for indigenous arts and crafts. Here local artists and craftspeople from all over the region congregate to hawk their wares. You can find delicate silver trinkets, homespun textiles, handmade wood utensils and carvings and so much more. The shopping fun begins around sunset, so you’ll be saved from the sun’s heat while exploring these treasures.

Cool down and pick up some local Lao handicrafts on the Luang Prabang Night Ride 

Local delicacies

McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks may be a familiar sight with offerings you know well, but is that why you’re on holiday? Eat like a local and visit one of the many markets where you can find exotic fruits at their peak of freshness or where you can try a dish that you’ll never see on a Dean & Deluca menu!

Wandering around Klong Lad Pli and Damnoen Saduak floating markets will not only give you a visual feast, showing you how life in Bangkok once relied on merchants travelling by boat to sell their products to communities along canals and waterways, but you can also literally feast on mouth-watering foods like nowhere else. Don’t just look for mango and sticky rice — have some Kuay Teow Reua (Boat Noodles) fresh off a boat or try a grilled coconut patty (kanom paeng jee).

Visit two floating markets and other quaint sites on the Floating Market ride 

Incredible people watching

In some places, people go to the mall to be seen as much as to shop. This may lead to an artificial ambiance, although that might just be the lighting and the air-conditioning. But a visit to a local market can provide not only singular shopping and eating opportunities, but you can observe people in their natural habitat, so to speak, while most likely being observed yourself as well by bemused locals!

The road to Sankampaeng market offers remarkable insights into the lives of artisans in Northern Thailand. The market itself is a bustling centre for locals buying fresh fruits and vegetables. Then, you can visit various craft centres and watch craftspeople at work, creating the wonderful handicrafts giving you a better understanding of what went into each piece and hopefully an engaging story to share when you get home.

Find out how those works of art and souvenirs are made during a trip to the Lanna Countryside 

Different times and places

Malls are reliable. We know what shops are there; we know when they open and close. But sometimes, you may get a late-night shopping urge that can only be met at one of the many markets that don’t start going until sunset and stay open very late. No need to wait for that extended hour sale like you would for your favourite mall.

In the centre of Chiang Mai, the Night Bazaar on Chang Klan Road is a fascinating panoply of local arts and crafts, often sold by the local hilltribe villagers that made them. All of this occurs under starlight (and streetlight and market stall light), so you don’t have to hurry through dinner to get your shopping done. This place is open until midnight!

Enjoy an evening of market fun with the Chiang Mai Night Ride 

Every market has so much more to offer

Please don’t get me wrong, just because I mentioned one market under one description doesn’t mean that that market doesn’t offer the joys I discussed in another section (call it writer’s prerogative). Each and every one of these markets exude an intriguing local charm, with its own local delicacies, wares, and riches that all deserve a visit. And the best part, all these featured trips are either one or half a day, so you can fit any of these into your holiday schedule (or if you live nearby, for a quick getaway).

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