Chiang Mai Gate Market - Farmers Market by Day, Food Court by Night

Chiang Mai Gate Market – Shapeshifter Par Excellence

The ancient walls that surround Chiang Mai were constructed in the late 13th century to protect the city from attacks by Burmese invaders. Their defensive function has long since disappeared, however the walls and their five stately gates are still the cultural heart and soul of the city. And none are more integral to daily life than Chiang Mai Gate, the original southern entrance into the walled city.

Morning dawns over Chiang Mai Gate as customers begin arriving at the fresh market

Morning dawns over Chiang Mai Gate as customers begin arriving at the fresh market

Each morning, as first light blooms in the eastern sky, trucks and motorbike carts loaded with fresh produce begin arriving at Chiang Mai Gate. Luscious mangoes; bunches of finger bananas; star fruit; oranges; and slices of watermelon, pineapple, and papaya are heaped onto rickety wooden stands. Three-foot long string beans, huge heads of lettuce and cabbage, multi-colored peppers, chilies, green onions, broccoli, pumpkin, and a myriad of fresh herbs are draped across battered metal tables. By the time the day has dawned, the open air hall is crammed with shoppers.

Fruits and vegetables are delivered direct from the surrounding farms to Chiang Mai Gate morning market

Fruits and vegetables are delivered direct from the surrounding farms to Chiang Mai Gate morning market

Vendor at the Chiang Mai morning market measures out roasted peanuts

Vendor at the Chiang Mai morning market measures out roasted peanuts

On a recent morning I joined the fray. My ears perked up at the sound of drums and horns coming from somewhere within the market. This was definitely not normal. I squeezed past throngs of shoppers, ignoring aisles where gelatinous candies jiggled in Easter egg colors. On any other day, I might have dallied over rice soup at the breakfast bar. But the cacophony was growing louder and I was curious.

Locals celebrate a Buddhist holiday by parading through Chiang Mai Gate Market

Locals celebrate a Buddhist holiday by parading through Chiang Mai Gate Market

At the rear of the market, I discovered the source. A long line of musicians snaked through the crowd, horns blaring and drumsticks thrumming. At the head of the line, women danced and swirled in a procession to honor Buddha on one of his many holy days. My curiosity satisfied, I concentrated on shopping for the day’s produce. Cherry tomatoes and eggplants went into my tote, as did sliced pineapple. I tossed in a bunch of finger bananas for good measure, and made my way to the other side of the market for a block of homemade tofu.

Homemade tofu, fresh bean sprouts, and pickled cabbage can also be purchased at the morning fresh market

Homemade tofu, fresh bean sprouts, and pickled cabbage can also be purchased at the morning fresh market

The sausage lady is one of very few vendors inside the open-air hall at Chiang Mai Gate who is open during the morning fresh market and the night food market

The sausage lady is one of very few vendors inside the open-air hall at Chiang Mai Gate who is open during the morning fresh market and the night food market

Out of curiosity, I walked through the butcher shop at the rear. It was a quick trip; I breathed through my mouth so I didn’t have to smell the meat and bought nothing. But I stopped dead in my tracks at the sticky rice and mango kiosk, where blue, pink, and green-hued sticky rice was being used to create Thailand’s most famous sweet dessert. With thoughts about my waistline, and great difficulty, I passed it by and headed home.

The butcher shop at Chiang Mai fresh market is located in the rear of the open-air hall

The butcher shop at Chiang Mai fresh market is located in the rear of the open-air hall

Mmmmm...mango and sticky rice, with pastel colored rice

Mmmmm…mango and sticky rice, with pastel colored rice

In addition to fresh produce and meat, customers can purchase all manner of novelties at the Chiang Mai morning market

In addition to fresh produce and meat, customers can purchase all manner of novelties at the Chiang Mai morning market

Later that same evening, too lazy to cook in the summer heat, I headed back to Chiang Mai Gate. The interior of the cavernous market lay dark and empty. Most tables had been cleared. Those that still held merchandise were covered with sheets. Now all the action was outside. Dozens of motorcycle carts, laden with folding tables, portable cook-tops, and supplies, roared up to the front of the market and began to set up.

At dusk, the open-air market begins its daily transformation to a local food court

At dusk, the open-air market begins its daily transformation to a local food court

By mid-afternoon, the stands in the open-air market are shut down and covered, awaiting the next morning

By mid-afternoon, the stands in the open-air market are shut down and covered, awaiting the next morning

Motorcycle carts arrive around 5 p.m. to setup portable food stands at Chiang Mai Gate Market

Motorcycle carts arrive around 5 p.m. to setup portable food stands at Chiang Mai Gate Market

A crazy quilt of wheeled kiosks slowly emerged from all directions. Owners pushed them into reserved spaces on both sides of the street and began to prepare their specialties. I considered eating at the Roti stand or Sushi stands, but ended up at my old standby. The lady at the vegetarian kiosk didn’t even have to ask; she just began preparing a plate of my favorite dish, extra spicy Pad See Ew. The cost? About a dollar.

Directly across the street from the market, food kiosks set up on the plaza that covers the moat

Directly across the street from the market, food kiosks set up on the plaza that covers the moat

This couple, who makes sweet and savory Roti (pancakes), have been a mainstay at Chiang MaiGate night market for as long as I can remember

This couple, who makes sweet and savory Roti (pancakes), have been a mainstay at Chiang MaiGate night market for as long as I can remember

Customers take away dinner in a plastic bag at Chiang Mai Gate night market

Customers take away dinner in plastic bags at Chiang Mai Gate night market

I carried my plate across the street to the plaza that spans the old moat and squatted on a baby-blue plastic stool. Motorcycles zipped up onto the sidewalk, narrowly missing pedestrians. To my left, huge slabs of meat hung in the window of a kiosk. In front of me, large plastic bins and baskets awaited dirty dishes, which would be washed and returned to their respective food carts throughout the evening.

Plastic chairs and stools magically appear on the moat plaza each night as the food market opens

Plastic chairs and stools magically appear on the moat plaza each night as the food market opens

On the moat plaza, plastic tubs and baskets are set up to wash dishes for all the food vendors

On the moat plaza, plastic tubs and baskets are set up to wash dishes for all the food vendors

Meat eaters flock to this kiosk on the plaza across from Chiang Mai Gate Market

Meat eaters flock to this kiosk on the plaza across from Chiang Mai Gate Market

To my right, the whir of blenders pierced the air; one kiosk owner was already busy making shakes from Thailand’s abundant tropical fruits. At another, employees watched a flat screen TV while waiting for customers. And in the distance, at the edge of the plaza, a black goat tethered to a rickety wooden wagon bleated pityingly.

One of several kiosks that specialize in fruit smoothies, using the abundant fresh fruits available in Thailand

One of several kiosks that specialize in fruit smoothies, using the abundant fresh fruits available in Thailand

More meat, though as a vegetarian I have no idea what it is - maybe pig knuckles?

More meat, though as a vegetarian I have no idea what it is – maybe pig knuckles?

These employees have even set up a TV to watch while they wait for evening diners to arrive

These employees have even set up a TV to watch while they wait for evening diners to arrive

By 9 p.m., the night market was winding down. Broken-down tables and stacked stools were loaded back onto motorcycle carts. Wheeled food stands were disconnected from electricity and rolled into the street for their long, slow journey back home. I shook my head in wonderment, knowing that in just a few hours, the entire area around Chiang Mai Gate would once again shapeshift into a fresh produce market.

For years, this woman has been arriving each night to prepare steamed desserts made from rice flour and coconut milk. They're one of my favorites!

For years, this woman has been arriving each night to prepare steamed desserts made from rice flour and coconut milk. They’re one of my favorites!

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4 Comments on “Chiang Mai Gate Market – Shapeshifter Par Excellence

  1. That’s quite an insightful post on Chiang Mai markets. I’m also the kind of traveler who likes to visit the local markets. I like the sights and sounds, the colors… It’s not just a great way to know a place deeply, but take some nice pictures, too.

    • I agree Renuka – markets are the soul of a place. I just can’t get enough of them.

  2. Good read, Barbara, and great photos! Love this market and shop here daily. Can’t wait to see my ‘market lady’ where I buy my sectioned pomelo! I gave her my turquoise blue sun hat just before I left to swap out her bamboo hat once in awhile!

    • Hi Crystal. When I get back, I also want to check out the market at Chiang Puak gate – they say it’s much different.

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