Kad Luang - shopping heaven!

Throw a stick anywhere in Chiang Mai and you’re almost certain to hit a local market! Whether daily, weekly or monthly, indoor or open-air, wet or dry, day or night, permanent or pop-up, traditional or contemporary, the city’s myriad of public markets represent an important social and economic focal point of the community. But there is one Chiang Mai market, above all others, that simply should not be missed. In search of authentic Indonesian batik fabric? Hankering after saffron from Kashmir or Pu-erh tea from Yunnan? Curious to sample deep-fried insects? Hungering after tasty Northern Thai gastronomic delicacies? On the hunt for an affordable custom-made suit or dress? Interested to discover genuine native handicrafts? Keen to practice or hone your conversational Thai language in a real world setting? Or, amid the city’s fast-evolving urban landscape, perhaps you yearn for an immersive glimpse into a time-honoured and ever-charming Chiang Mai way of life? For all these reasons and infinitely more, no trip to Chiang Mai would be complete without gracing the city’s oldest, largest and most charismatic commercial institution, the fittingly titled ‘Great Market’ of Kad Luang.

So what exactly is Kad Luang?

From its humble beginnings in 1910 as a riverside port to transport various commodities from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and as a staging post on ancient caravan routes between Burma (present-day Myanmar) and Thailand, Kad Luang quickly grew to become the trading centre for the entire Lanna region. No longer a single enterprise, Kad Luang is nowadays a thriving cluster of four ethnically diverse, geographically separate and administratively distinct day markets; along with the lesser known and smaller scale Nawarat Market (Kad Chek Ou) and Municipal Market (Kad Thesaban), the more renowned of the quartet are the multi-storey covered arcades of Warorot Market (or Kad Waroros) and, directly adjoining which, Kad Ton Lam Yai (or “The Lanna Culture Market”).

Why visit Kad Luang?

Ranked by TripAdvisor among the top things to do in Chiang Mai, Kad Warorot and Ton Lam Yai Market together are an Aladdin’s Cave rich in culinary treasures and a shopper’s paradise with precious few equals in Thailand. A relentlessly vibrant and forever colourful hive of activity, the ground floor of each venue is jam-packed with an almost dizzying assortment and extent of tantalising foodstuffs offering nothing less than a lifetime’s worth of foraging opportunities! Feast on whorls of succulent Northern Thai grilled sausage (sai oua), devour a hearty serving of Chiang Mai’s signature –and unimaginably sublime- curry noodle soup (khao soi), brave fiery Thai chilli pepper relishes (nam phrik) or savour any number of ready-to-eat regional specialities washed down with hill tribe mountain coffee, a mixed fruit smoothie or other satisfyingly refreshing beverage. Showcasing equally bountiful supplies of agricultural produce with several vendors purveying ingredients specifically for vegetarians, be sure to stock up on whole or pre-cut seasonal fruits, wild forest mushrooms, fragrant fresh herbs, eggs, highland rice, raw fish/shellfish, imported aromatics, spice blends and hard-to-find condiments or else take home a selection of conveniently packaged nibbles including crunchy rice crackers, crispy seaweed strips, roasted nuts and kernels, dried tropical fruits and, yes, even edible bugs!

The second and third mezzanine levels of both Warorot and Ton Lam Yai Markets are divided into discrete zones and similarly feature an eclectic cornucopia of consumer goods. Browse everything from casual clothing, footwear, fashion accessories, travel bags, household linens, gold and jewellery, cosmetics and personal care products to wigs, pharmaceutical items, musical instruments, toys and games, books and magazines, temple curios, basketwork, kitchen equipment, silverware, mobile phones, fishing gear, plant and vegetable seeds, souvenir keepsakes and on-the-roll textiles in the company of nearly a dozen tailor and seamstress workshops who’ll then happily provision a bespoke garment using your own material.

With the approach of nightfall, the area immediately around Kad Luang slowly transforms into a sprawling mass of roadside street food stalls hawking a wealth of mouth-watering pre-prepared Asian dishes, barbecued morsels, sushi and sashimi as well as, for those with a sweet tooth, a plethora of beautifully presented Thai desserts. Appetite well and truly sated, walk to the eastern fringe of Kad Ton Lam Yai to appreciate the dazzlingly resplendent and heavenly scented flower market, Kad Dok Mai, overlooking the gently meandering Mae Ping River and recently reconstructed Chansom Memorial Bridge.

Catering almost exclusively to a cosmopolitan melting pot of Thai, Indian, Chinese and Muslim residents but still a must-see attraction in Chiang Mai for any foreign visitor, merchandise throughout Kad Luang is far more honestly and consistently priced than at the tourist-oriented Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Still, when buying anything in bulk at either of Warorot or Ton Lam Yai Markets, it’s practically a civic duty among domestic folk to exercise their powers of negotiation!

What on-site amenities are there at Kad Luang?

Although there are lavatories (restrooms) dotted about the floors of the fan-cooled, CCTV-equipped Kad Warorot and Kad Ton Lam Yai, facilities are limited to the more conventional squat toilet, are of questionable hygiene and you’ll be expected to tender a 3 baht surcharge for the privilege (with extra for a pack of tissue) so best respond to a call of nature before you arrive or else hold it in! Should you wish to get online in order to share your adventures at Kad Luang live with family or friends, Ton Lam Yai Market is endowed with complimentary WiFi courtesy of the Internet Service Provider, TOT. And in the event you feel a collapse from shopping fatigue is imminent, take a well-earned breather by heading down into the basement food court of Kad Ton Lam Yai or, with a wider menu of cooked-to-order Thai fare and a much livelier atmosphere, that of Kad Warorot; otherwise, what better way to recuperate body and mind than a healing rubdown by virtue of the inexpensive Thai massage parlour on the third floor of Ton Lam Yai. Despite their somewhat labyrinthine layout and lack of lifts (elevators) or a functioning escalator, effortlessly navigate both of Warorot and Ton Lam Yai by picking up your free printed copy of the quarterly “Lively Map Chiang Mai” available from inside either market.

What are the business hours of Kad Luang?

Come rain or shine, the four day markets that collectively make up Chiang Mai’s Kad Luang open every single day of the year officially between the hours of 6AM and 6PM though, in reality, not all merchants accept customers in such a timely manner and many start packing up at least 30 minutes ahead of the scheduled closing time. To experience Warorot or Ton Lam Yai Markets at their most bustling, go early morning on whichever of a Saturday or Sunday; for a marginally more sedate and less teeming scene, get there around lunchtime during mid-week (assuming, of course, the day doesn’t fall on a Thai national holiday!).At roughly the same time as Kad Warorot and Kad Ton Lam Yai begin shutting down for the day, the evening street food carts start to set up and operate until 10:30PM to 11:00PM. The Dok Mai flower market, on the other hand, is accessible round-the-clock Monday to Sunday.

Where is Kad Luang located?

Occupying part of Chiang Mai’s Chinatown and little more than a 10 minute leisurely stroll in an easterly direction from Tha Phae Gate in the ‘Old City’, the pedestrian overpass-connected Warorot and Ton Lam Yai Markets oppose one another across half the length of Wichayanon Road (one-way southbound) with access to the neighbourhood from Tha Phae Road by way of Kuang Men Road (alternately dubbed Lao Zhou Alley). Kad Dok Mai stretches from the junction of Chang Moi and Praisanee Roads as far as the Pung Tao Gong ancestral Chinese temple (the first shrine of its kind in Chiang Mai and whose heritage, in fact, pre-dates Kad Luang itself!).

For more modern retail therapy, why not spend some quality time exploring the more popular of Chiang Mai’s shopping malls.

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