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 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
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
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
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 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 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?