How do you find the best night markets in Southeast Asia? By looking for the perfect balance between street food and dry goods, tourists and locals, popular and off-the-beaten path.
It’s a delicate balance to strike, and some markets in SE Asia don’t quite get it right.
To me, a great night market is loud, noisy, packed with people, and filled with exciting things to see, buy, and – most importantly – taste.
Here are the five most memorable night markets I’ve visited in Southeast Asia (plus one market I recommend you skip completely!).
#1: Shilin Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan
The Shilin Night Market is Taipei’s biggest and most famous market, and for good reason. I visited several markets during my time in Taipei, and this was hands-down my favorite.
The market is packed with locals and tourists, has an endless array of food stalls and open-air restaurants, and there are even movies screening in the courtyard of a temple right in the marketplace.
I made the mistake of eating at a sit down restaurant in the market before I realized how much amazing street food there was to sample.
This was one of the first times I ate alone while traveling, and it was DEFINITELY my first experience with Asian-style seafood:
It’s a good thing I was too scared to eat shrimp that was staring at me.
By the time I stepped back out into the market, I was still hungry enough to sample a smattering of Taiwanese street food and peruse the curious phallic-shaped paraphernalia that can be found throughout the market.
How to get there
Take the Red Line and get off at the Jiantan station stop. As soon as you exit the train you’ll see crowds walking across the street toward the market. Follow the crowds!
#2: Wui Lai Market (Saturday Night Walking Street), Chiang Mai, Thailand
There are many, many different markets to be explored in Chiang Mai. Some are local, some are touristy. Some are filled with tantalizing food, others are packed with knockoff designer clothing and cheap jewelry.
I spent two months in Chiang Mai and the Saturday Night Walking Market was by far my favorite. Fair warning, it’s totally touristy. But like so many things in Chiang Mai, it’s super popular and overly-touristy for a good reason: it’s awesome!
The market runs over 1km down Wui Lai street, but it also shoots off onto some side streets too. You’ll find the food stalls on both sides of the street, plus more food located in offshoot areas with patio seating and additional stalls.
While you’re busy munching pad thai and cotton candy, you can listen to blind musicians playing the drums and buy all sorts of clothing, artwork, silverware, carvings – most of it cheap, some of it rare, all of it beautiful.
How to get there
The market begins right across the street from the Chiang Mai Gate at the southern entrance to the old city (alternatively called the walled city, the old town, the ancient town, you get the idea).
Careful because there are four different gates that “guard” this area – make sure you’re at the southernmost gate to find this market. Also, if you walk allllll the way down to the end of the market, and the market is really busy, you might just want to take a taxi or tuk tuk back instead of fighting the crowds.
#3: Luang Prabang Night Market, Luang Prabang, Laos
The Luang Prabang night market is beautiful, intimate, and packed with gorgeous clothing, bags, jewelry and souvenirs. Yes, a lot of the stuff is cheap, but a lot of it is just beautiful anyway.
Maybe it’s because the vendors display there wares like artwork, all spread out on brightly colored rugs on the ground.
Maybe it’s because all of the stalls are packed in tightly, so tightly that the tops of each tent converge to create this outdoor forest.
It’s like climbing through a giant closet. You seriously have to weave your way in and out of other people to get anywhere, but for some reason that didn’t bother me during my two weeks in Luang Prabang.
At first glance, you might miss the food altogether. Unlike the other best night markets in Southeast Asia, the market in Luang Prabang has a separate area for cheap, delicious street food (see how to find it below).
This covered food market has tons of cheap eats and cold Beer Lao. It’s always packed, there’s not enough seating, and the strangers packed together at picnic tables are forced to make new friends.
I’ll be totally honest, the street food in Laos had nothing on Thailand or Vietnam, but the ambiance of this little food court more than made up for that. I met another solo female traveler while eating solo here, and we ended up doing a trek together and are still in touch to this day!
How to get there
Luang Prabang is tricky because there are a gazillion wats, two rivers, and it’s super easy to get turned around. The night market is in the “center” of town, but the trick is finding that center!
The market begins at Wat Mai, so find that on a map and get yourself there (it’s south of the Royal Palace on Sisavangvong Road).
From there, walk south along Sisavangvong Road enjoying the market. Just before you get to Kitsalat Road, which is a big intersection, you’ll see a little alley off to your right. Duck inside with your Kip and get ready to nosh!
#4: Bến Thành Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam
Huge, famous, and smack dab in the center of the biggest tourist district in the biggest city in Vietnam, the Bến Thành Market is at the top of most HCMC must-see lists.
It has an indoor day market, but at night the streets begin filling with vendors and outdoor pop-up restaurants.
Don’t bother going until after the sun goes down – I was there at dusk and ended up hemming and hawing during that awkward time between the closing of the day market and the opening of the night market stalls.
The surrounding area is massive and sprawling, with clear views of enormous skyscrapers and the giant Bitexco Financial Tower.
This market feels bigger than the Shilin Night Market in Taipei, but a bit more spread out. Food, clothing, and other goods are everywhere and nowhere. Instead of one main street, the market wraps around several blocks.
It’s sort of difficult to get your bearings, but damn if it’s not exciting.
Like everywhere else in Ho Chi Minh City, just make sure you watch out for motorbikes!
How to get there
If you’re staying on or near Phạm Ngũ Lão street in District 1 (which you’ll probably be since it’s the main tourist area), you can walk along east along Phạm Ngũ Lão all the way to the market.
The north side of the street hugs a giant park that is packed with kids doing martial arts, couples taking ballroom dancing classes, and students passing shuttlecocks through the air with just their feet.
It’s well lit and I felt very safe walking through it “alone” (you’re never really alone in a city of 20 million) at night.
#5: Pai Night Market, Pai, Thailand
Pai‘s night market, like the town itself, is small when compared to the other best night markets in Southeast Asia. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in charm and unexpected culinary delights.
I had the best burger of my life at the Burger Queen, an indoor restaurant just off the market (Okay, it’s a few blocks away, but still worth a mention and a visit). And don’t even get me started on these RIDICULOUS pancakes:
How to get there
Go to Pai. You’ll find it.
The Night Market to Skip
I’m a huge traitor because Hoi An, Vietnam is my home away from home, but the night market on the south side of the river across from the main entrance to the Ancient Town SUCKS!
It’s dinky, barely takes up half a block, there’s hardly any street food (mostly just donuts) and the stalls are filled with cheap souvenirs. There are some cool lanterns for sale at the beginning of the market, but you can get them much cheaper from a local vendor anywhere else in town during the day.
In a city that’s so filled with rich history, amazing artisans, great cooks, and neverending tourists, why is there (basically) no night market to speak of? Maybe it’s because there are so many permanent restaurants and shops that line the banks of the river and they’re always packed, so there’s really no need for a night market.
Still, I’m a firm believer that all great Asian cities (and perhaps all cities) should have a killer night market to write home about. Hoi An may have amazing beaches, delicious food, cool history, and breathtaking scenery, but without a great night market, it can’t take it’s rightful place as the best place to visit in Southeast Asia.
Don’t skip Hoi An, but skip the market and go enjoy dinner at Cargo or have hot pot at a local noodle shop instead!
Southeast Asia or Bust
If you’re itching to hop on a plane and sample some authentic street food and night markets for yourself, first thing’s first – you have to figure out how to get there and where you’re staying!
For flights to Asia, I love Skyscanner and can almost always find a one-way ticket from the States to SE Asia for under $600 (usually much less!).
For hotels, I’ve just recently discovered Travel Ticker, which searches 100,000 cheap hotels from a single dashboard (none of those annoying pop up windows). The site’s interface is great because you can easily find your city, select your travel dates, and let their robust search engine do the work for you.
Which cities top your list for having the best night markets in Southeast Asia? Have I missed any? Let me know in the comments below!