For foreign visitors to Thailand the word ‘market’ can often conjure up images of huge outdoor shopping areas that sell everything from food and clothing to dodgy ‘designer’ handbags and copied DVD’s. Some of the most popular markets in Thailand often occur at night and some of the largest can be found in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Cha Am.
When in Thailand visiting one of these large markets can be a great experience and can give you a real insight into true Thai culture.
However, up until fairly recently many of the markets that could be found on Koh Samui were a little different to those that could be found elsewhere in the country. Originally, one of the main differences with many of the markets on the island was that they were almost solely made up of people selling a wide range of different foods, rather than selling many of the other non food goods and items that you can find at the other markets throughout Thailand.
For this reason the markets on Koh Samui were only generally used by the locals to buy fish, meats, fresh fruit and vegetables and herbs and spices.
Many of these food markets are still going on the island, with one of the most popular being the night market at Nathon, which consists of a large selection of food stalls and eateries that are usually all assembled in one specific place in the town.
Some of the other food markets that can be found on Koh Samui include, what are known as the ‘vegetable markets’, which is well worth visiting in its own right. Whatever you do make sure you take your camera with you as you will no doubt be amazed by the wide range of exotic fruits and vegetables that are available for you to buy. You will honestly never have thought that fruit and veg could be so interesting!
The different types of fruit and vegetables you will see at these markets include the enormous durian fruits, which are as big as a football and look like some sort of weapon from the middle ages, with their spiky outer shell. You might also see large bunches of bananas that are so big they can sometimes weigh more than a couple of kilos.
Some of the other things that are sure to catch the eye at some of Samui’s food markets will no doubt be the selection of grubs and insects, such as grasshoppers, cockroaches, scorpions and dragon flies, many of which will have been deep fried in soy or fish sauce or other herbs and spices. You can also buy some will have been coated in palm sugar or honey that you can have for desert! There is very much a thought in Thailand that if something moves then you will almost certainly be able to eat it and these crunchy little critters are definitely testament to that. Certainly an acquired taste, these insects remain popular with the locals on Koh Samui and are well worth trying if you are feeling brave!
Due to the fact that Samui is an island, fresh seafood is in abundance and because of this it is very common to see fish and seafood markets throughout the island. These markets are normally at their busiest first thing in the morning, when the produce is at its freshest. From around 4.30am you can expect to see locals scrambling to the market in order to by fresh ingredients that will be used in the hotels and restaurants all over the island.
Ever Expanding Markets
As mentioned above, it wasn’t until fairly recently, that the markets which could be found on Koh Samui started to sell other goods such as clothing, kitchenware, sunglasses and counterfeit handbags, similar to those that can be found in other areas of Thailand.
One of the main reasons for this is that as a tourist destination, foreigners have only really been visiting the island, in considerable numbers at least, for the about the last twenty years or so. And it is fair to say that it is only the last ten years or so that Koh Samui has really developed into one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of South East Asia.
It is largely down to the islands recent tourism growth that the traditional food markets have now expanded to include a wide range of other goods. In fact, they have now grown to such an extent that nearly all of the the once famous Samui food markets now sell a variety of other non food items, which are more in line with the other famous traditional markets which you can find throughout Thailand.
Probably the best example of one of Samui’s growing night markets can be found at Chaweng, where the market here has grown to pretty much run length on the main Beach Road. Open from about midday, you will normally be able to see the stall holders and marketing traders setting up their stalls and stands from mid morning onwards.
The market then runs right through the afternoon and continues to grow as more and more traders come to setup their stalls. However, it is in the evening, anytime from about 6pm, that the market really starts to come alive as the hustle and bustle of the night time trade is created by tourists fresh from a day sightseeing or relaxing on the beach, who might be looking for a bargain or two.
The main Beach Road in Chaweng is several kilometres long and when the market is in full swing each block is packed with a large number of stalls and outlets selling a wide variety of different goods. Some of the goods that you can expect to find at Chaweng Market include everything from electrical items and copied DVD’s to cleaning products and handmade souvenirs.
In fact, the copied DVD stalls are usually amongst some of the most popular in all of the market, particularly with foreign tourists as they are able to purchase the latest DVD’s at just a fraction of the price of what they would cost back home. However, it is important to remember that buying pirated DVD’s and CD’s is illegal, but these laws are very rarely enforced in Thailand. Also, whilst the quality of some of the copied DVD’s can be excellent, on many occasions, it tends not to be so good. This is just one of the risks you take if you decide to purchase pirated DVD’s at Chaweng Market.
Some of the other stalls that are also popular with foreign tourists are the t-shirt stalls, which sell every design of copied or fake t-shirt, polo shirt or vest you can think of. It is easy to see why these stalls are popular as the t-shirts that are on sale will usually be copied to a very good standard and the chances are that untrained eye wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between, let’s say, a Lacoste or Ralph Lauren polo shirt that was purchased at Chaweng Market or one from an official outlet. The only difference you would notice would in your pocket!
Some of these clothing stalls are so popular amongst many foreign tourists on Koh Samui that you only need to walk around Chaweng or Lamai in the evening and you will have never seen so many people kitted out in what looks like the latest designer t-shirts, most of which will have been bought at the local night market!
Of course, sunglasses are probably the other most popular ‘designer’ item of choice that is readily available at the market. Therefore, you will see a number of stalls selling a wide variety of counterfeit sunglasses from different designers or big name brands. Amongst the most popular are the fake Ray Bans; like the fake designer polo shirts, at times it seems that almost every foreign tourist on Koh Samui is walking around wearing a pair of Ray Bans! At a cost of around 400 Baht a pair you can probably understand why, just don’t expect them to come with a lifetime guarantee!
Don’t just think that Chaweng Market is full of copied and counterfeit goods. The market is also a great place to pick up some souvenirs that you can take home for friends and family or for yourself as a reminder of your stay on the island.
Some of the most popular souvenirs that can be found at Chaweng Market include a wide range of hand carved sculptures and other small ornaments that are made from either wood from a mango tree or coconut. Things such as small carving or an elephant (a national symbol of Thailand) or other religious icons make for particularly good souvenir gifts.
As well as handmade wooden carvings, you will no doubt come across some pretty amazing hand crafted fabrics and locally made, traditional Thai clothing and other accessories. Items such as sarongs, fishermen trousers and shawls can be great to wear for lounging around the pool or on the beach or for walking around town. The lightweight cotton material from which these items are made is not only extremely comfortable to wear but will also help to keep you cool in the heat of the midday sun.
You can also purchase items such as small bags or satchels which are perfect for putting sun cream, a book and bottle water for when you head down to the beach. Many of these garments and bags are available in some pretty colourful and exotic designs and patterns, which will almost certainly be very different to anything else you have in your wardrobe currently.
One of the best ways to experience Chaweng Market is to spend a couple of hours one evening going from stall to stall looking for a bargaining and checking out the wide variety of everyday items, souvenirs and exotic goods that are sold there.
If the hustle and bustle of the crowded market gets a little too much, you can always break up your shopping trip by taking a bit of time out buy sipping on an ice cold bear or fresh coconut water from one of the open air bars that are situated in and around the market itself.
When visiting Chaweng Market or any of the other market on Koh Samui be prepared to barter for absolutely everything! Negotiating and bargaining for goods at a market is simply the way things are done in Thailand and Chaweng Market is certainly as good as any other place to put your negotiating skills to the test.
Don’t forget to visit our How To Shop in Thailand page for more information on bartering and negotiating at markets.
Koh Samui’s Other Markets
The market at Lamai is much smaller than the one that is located at Chaweng and it also tends to be a little bit cheaper too. What is traditionally a food market, the market at Lamai is still a buzzing with activity and it is here where you can sample some traditional Thai street food. The range of food that is available at the market is very impressive and here you can buy everything from fresh fruit and vegetables, deep fried fish and barbecued duck to pancakes, sweet sticky rice and Thai style waffles.
Around the outside of the market there are a number of smaller shops, boutiques and stalls, which sell a range of other things including clothes, DVD’s and electronic goods.
Lamai Market is located on the islands main ring road, just next to the PTT gasoline station and the local branch of the Ayudhya Bank. The market usually opens around 5pm and goes on well into the night.
Mae Nam Market
Mae Name is home to two markets, one which is open in the morning and the other open in the evening. The morning market mainly sells fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices and fresh seafood. It is here where many of the local restaurateurs and cafe owners purchase their produce ready for the day’s trade. This market is located not too far from the towns old ferry pier and normally opens around 4am and on some days can be closed as early as 9am.
The other market in Mae Nam operates in the evening and is mainly another food market, similar to the one at Lamai. This market is located on the Koh Samui ring road, close to the centre of Mae Nam.
Bang Rak Market
A little smaller than the markets that can be found at Chaweng and Lamai, Bang Rak market is predominantly fresh fish market as this was its main trade many years before the tourist boom that embraced Koh Samui.
However, today the market still sells fresh fish but has grown to include other food stalls and traders selling a range of different items such as clothes, DVD’s and tourist souvenirs . The market itself is located right opposite the road main road that joins the airport and the beach.
You are almost spoilt for choice when it comes to markets in Nathon. First and foremost you can visit the town’s famous night market which is located on the concourse of the towns old ferry pier. Here small food carts and trailers start to gather from around 4pm and stay there late into the night. From around 6pm is when this particular night market starts to get really busy. One of the great things about the Nathon night market is that you can buy just about every kind of street food that Thailand is so famous for.
Further along the main beach road there is also a much smaller market, which is somewhat sporadic in terms of when it is open. This small market mainly operates when the majority of islands fishing boats come so they can sell their freshly caught fish. Like we say, it is a case of being in the right place, very much at the right time with this market.
Finally, if you carry on along the beach road through the centre of Nathon you will eventually come to a large fresh fish and seafood market that operates on both sides of the main road. At this market you can purchase an incredible range of some of the best and freshest seafood that can be found on the whole island. However, for the really absolute freshest produce you are advised to get there nice and early in the morning.