When it comes to being a tourist, nothing gives you a better feel for the local fare and flair than the night markets and walking streets; not to mention, it’s a fabulous place for people-watching and sampling exotic edibles without much commitment. Strings of hawkers at their carts line the streets. Strange smells mingle thick in the air. The buzz of interest and delight spoken in numerous languages of those who have traveled far to be here, walking the streets and taking in the sights. It’s a place where everyone is welcome…locals, travelers, the old and young, the rich and the backpacking – anyone with a few coins is on the same level.
The walking streets are a “must” experience due to the variety of items found on one street and the eagerness of the merchants to sell them. Booths of sunglasses, incense, clothing and swimwear, toys, art, jewelry, and carvings, just to start, all offered in every color and size. From food to souvenirs, these are prices at their best. Merchants will welcome you at your approach and most speak enough English to make any tourist comfortable. At the very least, many items are marked with prices already, and those that aren’t, booth owners are more than happy to show you via calculator.
PRO TIP: Though many items are priced to sell, these prices are a starting place. If you are one of the more adventurous, feel free to negotiate them down. This is a common cultural practice and norm, not JUST in the night market, but also in souvenir shops, scooter rental stands, and most any non-franchise stores.
The tasty plates and bites are the main draw of these open-air areas, monopolizing most of the vendor spaces. Food pricing, however, is non-negotiable, but still extremely affordable. Most choices are under $2. There is no place to get lower priced tastes and treats. You can find familiar items such as fried spring rolls, chicken satay and panko shrimp, alongside stranger offerings such as grilled squid on a stick, mango sticky rice, fishcakes, and strings of sausage balls; mixed drinks too! Many of the options are small plates and skewers, allowing you to taste multiple things up and down the street instead of committing to one large dish.
PRO TIP: Though many foods are made fresh, travelers’ food sicknesses are possible to catch while dining a-la-“cart”. Pay attention to ingredients in the foods that could spoil in the sun and the visible conditions of vendor’s food stations. A vendor with locals in line is a good sign. These signals could keep you on your feet instead of in bed for the duration of your vacation.
Usually, some sort of live music adds to the night’s excitement. In many cases, it’s a collection of singers and musicians, each in earshot from the other, their turf measured by the size of their sound system. A general, polite rule of thumb for all street performers is to leave a tip if you photograph or record them, which most are usually eager to smile or pose for.
No matter which villa you are staying at on the island, not to worry; there’s likely a night market or walking street close by. If arriving by car or taxi, arrive early as traffic gets clogged near the streets. Keep a pocket of smalls bills, a smile, and an open mind, and it’s guaranteed to be a good time!
Here are the best walking streets on the island and which nights to catch them on:
Mae Nam: Thursday’s – 5pm til late
Bo Phut’s Fisherman’s Village: Friday’s – 5pm til late
Night Markets (food only): Lamai, Chaweng, & Nathon, every night – 5pm til late