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Going Local: Scenes from Markets Around the World

Posted By in Japan, Laos, Spain, Thailand | 21 comments

Going Local: Scenes from Markets Around the World

Markets have always seemed like the best place to get to know a new country. It’s a setting that brings together some of the quickest paths to understanding a culture: people-watching and trying local food. These are a few of my favourite markets around the world.

Hida-Takayama, Japan: Miyagawa Morning Market

takayama morning market

Takayama is a place that seems to exist only in extremes: It’s either full of tourists, or completely deserted, and never anything in between. The quiet moments can be tranquil at times, but I love this town so much more when it’s alive. The busy morning market is the reason why morning is my favourite time of day here. Autumn, in particular, is a wonderful time to walk through the market. The faded canvas tarps covering the stalls flutter in the chilly breeze. You can hear the water rushing over the rocks in the river, and the sound of leaves crunching under dozens of walkiing feet. There’s never a shortage of free samples in Japan, and I could easily make a breakfast (….and maybe sometimes I do) of free pieces of gelatinous mochi and bits of pickled vegetables

Ban Pong, Thailand: Night Market

ban pong thailand night market

The bi-weekly night market was definitely the highlight of living in this obscure Thai town. The nights were always sticky hot, and everything was illuminated with harsh fluorescent lights. Children ran from stall to stall still wearing their school uniforms, and the air buzzed with the sounds of people laughing, meeting and bargaining. There were greasy spring rolls, weird fried bugs, savoury pastries with strangely sweet glazes, and dozens of other foods that I tried but could never name. The clothing and shoes stalls sold the most wonderfully tacky items I have ever seen. The prices were cheap, but every shirt and every sandal was covered in rhinestones and fake gold.

Santa Maria del Cami, Mallorca: Morning Market

santa maria mallorca market spain

When people think of Mallorca, they often imagine overcrowded beaches and drunk, sunburned tourists; but this market was inland, far from the beaches. We were away from the tourists, and surrounded by locals bargaining over cheese, oil olive, purses and long skirts. The stalls were tightly crammed together, loaded with clothing, food, animals and handicrafts. The fruits and vegetables were laid out beautifully, and the bread looked so fresh I wanted to poke it just to feel how soft it was. The market area was ringed with cafes, making it an awesome spot for people-watching.

Luang Prabang, Laos: Night Market

luang prabang laos night market

Coming from Thailand, the first thing I noticed about the Luang Prabang night market was there weren’t really any stalls. Merchants simply laid down tarps or cloths, and then arranged their products on the ground. It somehow looked more elegant than the beat-up stalls I was used to seeing at Thai markets. Everyone still bargained, but the merchants were much less aggressive compared to other parts of SE Asia, so the whole atmosphere felt more relaxed. I felt like I could browse without being pressured to buy. There were crepe stands, interesting fabrics, beautiful artwork, and colourful paper lamps. I was particularly fascinated with the bottles of lao-lao whiskey with snakes, insects and other bugs fermented inside.

Bangkok, Thailand: JJ (Jatujak) Weekend Market

jj weekend market bangkok thailand

JJ Market almost deserves to be in a completely different category than the other markets on this list. It’s an absolutely massive indoor market with literally 1000s of stalls. I quickly learned that if I saw something I liked, I had to buy it on the spot because I could never find my way back to any given stall. You can find anything here:  food, clothes, shoes, animals, accessories and everything else, all at amazing prices. It’s insanely crowded, and painfully hot due to the tin roof locking in the heat, and the generally poor air circulation. Being in JJ Market was always the best and worst experience at the same time. I could always find everything I needed and more, but actually getting it wasn’t always fun.

Wajima, Japan: Morning Market

wajima morning market japan

Wajima is a located up on Japan’s Noto Peninsula, and this proximity to the coast gave this market a completely different feeling than the Takayama morning market. The air smelled like salt and fresh fish, and shiny laquerware glinted in the morning sunlight. Old women with leathery hands and white handkerchiefs tied over their hair, brought fresh vegetables from their farms. Still-wet fish was piled onto stall tables, against the backdrop of weathered, dark wood houses. Wajima’s market has been taking place in the same spot for almost 1,000 years, and it was humbling to watch the locals set up their stalls, and go through rituals that have been part of their families for generations.


Where are some of your favourite markets around the world?


  1. Naomi October 31, 2013

    I absolutely love markets, I think they're one of the most interesting ways to people (I'm nosey ok?!) Looking forward to doing this when I hit SE Asia in April.
    My recent post El Camino de la Muerte

    • waysofwanderers October 31, 2013

      You'll love it! I love that even the smallest towns seem to get busy when there is a market on.

  2. rashaadjorden October 31, 2013

    My favorite market was in Eu, France – a small town where I spent seven months as an assistant English teacher at a high school. I would go there every Friday morning to buy cheese – so many different kinds of cheese in France – and other goodies.
    My recent post Welcome to Scarborough

    • waysofwanderers October 31, 2013

      Sounds amazing! I could really go for some awesome cheese right now.

  3. wildbuttercup October 31, 2013

    I love going to markets around the world as well. One of my favourites is the Mindil Beach Market in Darwin, Australia. It has a great range of food and a "professional" whip-cracking show 🙂

    • waysofwanderers November 1, 2013

      Nice! I haven't been to a beach market before – adding that one to the list!

  4. cubiclethrowdown November 1, 2013

    I really miss the farmers markets in Canada now that I'm trapped on a tiny island with terrible vegetables 🙂
    My recent post Rain, rain, rain = new look!

    • waysofwanderers November 1, 2013

      Same! I realized I never took pictures of any Canadian markets, otherwise I would have totally included one on this list! Just an example of the things you don't appreciate until you don't have access to them anymore.

  5. Zara @ Backpack ME November 2, 2013

    Visiting markets is one of my favorite things to do in a new place.. specially in Asia, as there are so many new products to get familiarized with. Looking at fresh produce and then eating something typical from that place – that's pretty much the perfect "travel day" in my life. My husband even says "How many markets are you going to look at?!", but truth is there's always something new to see and eat!! 😉
    My recent post Happy dog in Goa

    • waysofwanderers November 4, 2013

      So true! It's really the best place to start understanding the food of a new country. I love looking at all the interesting fruits and veggies.

    • waysofwanderers November 4, 2013

      Cool! I'd definitely love to check out the markets in both places. I've heard the night markets in Taiwan are awesome.

  6. jilltravel November 5, 2013

    Checking out the local markets is so much fun! I always make a conscious effort to do so… it's the perfect window into what people actually cook at home which can be very different from what is served at restaurants.
    My recent post Reasons to Love My Time Out in Safranbolu

    • waysofwanderers November 12, 2013

      So true! It's definitely an unfiltered version of local food.

  7. Heather November 5, 2013

    Can you believe I spent four nights in Luang Prabang and never once visited the night market? I guess after two years in China and SE Asia, I was marketed out. I enjoyed the Indian market in Singapore and the Muslim market in Xi'an, China, but generally prefer European markets to their Asian counterparts. I'd rather shop for spices, cheese and cured meats 🙂
    My recent post Mount Vernon: Home of America’s First President

    • waysofwanderers November 12, 2013

      Man, if the Asian markets sold cheese I would never get tired of any of them!

  8. Sherry Nash November 6, 2013

    Luang Prabang is one of my favorite market because I have only listen on television about that. I always love to visit small market and courage theme to go ahead. I'm going to share your all image on G+. Thanks for share!!!!

  9. Amy November 7, 2013

    Great list. We're heading to Luang Prabang tomorrow and look forward to checking out the market you mentioned.

  10. Jessica November 7, 2013

    This is such a fun post! I love checking out all the markets when I travel. Those fabrics in the Thai market look absolutely incredible.
    My recent post A Colorful Trip Through Spain

    • waysofwanderers November 7, 2013

      They're really beautiful. We definitely would have bought some if we thought they would have fit in our bags!

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