Markets in Thailand are some of the very best and most interesting places to observe ordinary Thai people going about their everyday business of shopping for food and other items. The markets are always a hive of activity where all kinds of people rub shoulders, and the most popular ones inevitably attract people from miles around, both for shopping and to sell their fresh produce. Markets are considered by many to play a key and very important part in daily Thai society, probably much more so than in western countries. One advantage and reason they are so popular is that you can find many goods selling far cheaper than at the more modern supermarkets and department stores.
For a slice of the real Thailand, you can do much worse than spend an hour or two at a local market, even if you are not really intending to buy anything. Once you see what’s on offer, you just might be tempted to sample some fresh exotic fruit or enjoy a snack at one of the many food stalls. At the very least, it will provide you with some great photo opportunities and a welcome insight into life in Thailand away from the bars and beaches. Most of the Thai cooking classes in Phuket also take you to the markets to buy fresh produce under the guidance of the chef or class tutor.
Many Thai people as well as farang (foreigners) make full use of markets in Thai cities, not just the large ones in Bangkok and Phuket. Most of the smaller towns and provinces all over the country have their own local markets. Ask any expat or local resident in Phuket and they will tell you that they often shop for groceries at a market, especially anyone that owns a local restaurant or food business. For the low prices and sheer variety of products on offer, it’s hard to beat local markets in Phuket and you can choose between many different vendors.
As a foreigner, if you don’t understand any Thai then the smaller markets out in the provinces might appear a little bewildering at first, but it’s easy enough just to point and indicate which items you want. In Phuket, many of the locals speak at least some basic English, and that certainly makes life a little easier when shopping. Make sure that you have enough small denomination change and coins at the ready though, as the vendors are likely to be rather annoyed if you buy 20 baht’s worth of limes and try to pay with a 1000 baht note! You may find that you attract some unusual looks and smiles from the stallholders as you walk through a local market in Phuket, especially in the smaller ones where fewer foreigners tend to visit. Thais are friendly and usually appreciate the fact that you are shopping the local way, which makes it very easy to strike up a conversation with almost anybody when wandering around.
In contrast to western markets, in Thailand there are all sorts of strange things happening that might surprise you. For example, it’s quite common to see small motorbikes speeding down the isles delivering goods or huge baskets of ice balanced precariously on the back. However after you’ve been in Phuket for a while, you start to accept such things as normal! In all indoor markets, the floors tend to be very wet and slippery, and the outside markets can be downright muddy especially in the rainy season. Hence it’s a good idea to wear something a little more sturdy than just flip-flops when visiting a Thai market. You might also have trouble parking nearby especially at peak times, when you might be forced to park a few blocks down the street and walk.
Fresh and Appointment Markets
Markets in Thailand come in several varieties. The first type is known as a Talat Sot or Fresh Market. They usually open every day in the same location and tend to stock mostly fresh food items, but not always exclusively. Sometimes, it’s possible to pick up a range of other goods in the talat sot markets besides food, even though this is the predominant type of items on sale. These days, many markets are housed in permanent structures with decent roofs and well built stalls, with adequate space to walk between the isles. Older ones are often much more cramped and you’ll be elbowing, hustling and bustling your way eagerly past other shoppers to find what you’re after.
The second type of local market in Thailand is the Talat Nat or Appointment Market. These normally take place on several days or nights every week, and the traders travel from all over the surrounding area to sell their fresh produce, quite often straight from the farms themselves. The sellers might also travel between markets on different days of the week. Almost every town and village in Thailand has a variety of each type of market, with some specialising in certain types of produce such as household goods, electronics and clothing, or just fruit and vegetables.
If you stay in Phuket for any length of time you’ll soon come to know the items that each market specialises in, and which are the most enjoyable simply for browsing or for an interesting few hours. For example it’s quite entertaining just to walk around the night markets perusing all the different stalls, or make an evening of it by having a meal at one of the many food outlets. For Thai people going to the market with a group of friends can often be all part of a good night out.
Due to it’s size, Phuket has a very wide selection of all types of market in many different locations. Unsurprisingly, Phuket Town probably has the largest concentration of markets but most of the smaller districts have regular ones too, so you won’t have to go far to find what you need.
Deliciously Fresh Food
When you visit a Thai fresh food market, the colourful sights and amazing smells will strike you almost immediately. Huge piles of exotic looking fruit (such as the pungent durian and weird looking dragon fruit), vegetables, herbs and spices, many of which you may never have come across before, nestle next to stands selling meat, fish and fresh seafood, all laid out temptingly on beds of ice. Since Phuket is an island particularly renowned for its delicious seafood, you can expect to sea rather exotic looking fish, fresh squid, prawns, various types of sea shells, lobsters and much more besides. Items of similar type are usually located close to each other in the same area but it’s not unusual to find a fruit stall situated right next to a clothes stall. Besides the wide variety of fresh food on sale, there are usually at least a couple of stalls inside the permanent markets selling cooked foods such as curries, deep fried chicken or noodle soup.
The Markets in Phuket
Some of the main markets found throughout Phuket are mentioned below. There are so many that it’s impossible to list them all, but when exploring the island you’ll no doubt come across a few small or interesting ones that have a wide selection of goods. Locals buzz around the markets all day, coming to-and-fro on small motorbikes laden with goods.
Banzaan Fresh Market (Patong Beach)
Just over the road from the Jungceylon shopping mall, Banzaan is a large covered fresh food market that has a decent selection of meats, fruit and vegetables. It’s located almost immediately opposite the Thai Boxing stadium which is round the back of Soi San Sabai in central Patong.
Open: every day between 9am and 7pm
Beach Road Night Market (Patong Beach)
Although not really considered a market in the normal sense, but there are countless small stalls along the beach road and the adjacent side streets, the majority of which sell all kinds of souvenirs and clothes firmly aimed at tourists. Common items include T-shirts, handbags, shoes, souvenirs, jewellery, Thai arts and crafts, as well as thousands of pirated movies and games. Many items are counterfeit so just check the quality of what you are buying before you pay, and don’t necessarily expect to be able to get a refund later on. The stalls tend to open most of the day, and remain open in the evenings to catch the continuous passing trade of tourists.
Patong Fresh Market / Mae Ubol (Patong Beach)
This fresh fruit, vegetable, meat and fish market is also colloquially known as the Nanai Road Fresh Market due to its location in the eastern side of Patong Beach on the back north-south road. Upstairs, there is a whole floor housing a rather large Andaman seashell and souvenir collection. There are dozens of rows of Thai souvenirs, trinkets and some rather attractive sea shells meticulously laid out. However, there was nobody there when we visited but the displays and objects themselves are quite attractive. Out the front, there are a selection of newly built beer bars and a couple of popular restaurants.
Open: every day from 8am to 8pm
Located almost halfway between Phuket Town and Patong Beach, Kathu is home to a very popular and large market aimed squarely at the locals. Thankfully, you won’t find stalls selling overpriced tourist tat and useless souvenirs, but instead there are huge amounts of fresh food, clothing and such. It’s a fabulous place to obtain fresh meat, fish and vegetables. Just like many markets in Thailand, countless stalls set up shop outside selling delicious Thai snacks and takeaway meals.
Open: every day
Downtown Market (Phuket Town)
The oldest market in Phuket is located in Phuket Town on Ranong Road. It’s one of the best fresh fruit and vegetable markets and opens extremely early in the morning between 3am and 9am so you need to be early if you want to visit. The very freshest foods are sold here and come direct from the local farms, so many Phuket restaurants shop at this time to get the best produce. There’s a small extension to the market on the other side of the road selling fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the day.
Open: every day
Expo Market (Phuket Town)
Also known as Phuket Square Market, the expo market mainly sells furniture, clothes and other household items. It’s one of the best places on the island to find cheap clothes. Open between 10am until late, it’s located on Tilok-U-Thit Road.
Open: every day
Kaset Market (Phuket Town)
Talat Kaset is near the main Robinson’s store in Phuket Town, and sells the usual fresh produce such as meat, vegetables and fish. In the evenings you can find cooked foods, drinks and Thai desserts.
Open: every day between 6am and 9am, and early evenings
Weekend Market, or Talat Thai Rot (Phuket Town)
This is by far the biggest market in Phuket and opens on Saturdays and Sundays only from mid afternoon until late at night. It’s very close to Central Festival and so is extremely easy to find. Some people call it JJ Market (Jatujak or Chatuchak) just like the famous Bangkok equivalent, and since it’s not isn’t primarily aimed at tourists you won’t find the same selection of fake T-shirts and souvenirs on sale, but there are delicious fresh foods, cheap clothes, countless accessories and much more to be found. It’s certainly well worth a look and you can find a massive range of products at great prices. For a tasty and different snack, try the fresh deep fried crickets at only 10 baht for a cupful! “A-roi”, as they say in Thailand…
Open: weekends only
Rawai Seafood Market
Near the pier by the Chao Lay gypsy village in Rawai is a very small local market selling fresh fish, shell fish and seafood. It’s not something that you’d go out of your way to visit, but it’s definitely worth a look if you’re in the area. There are also a couple of good restaurants adjacent to the market and it’s a good spot to people-watch.
Open: daily, mid afternoon until evening