Markets are repositories of culture: tradition that comes alive through colorful fabrics, delicious food and the chatter of ordinary locals haggling for a bargain. In fact, the Mekong Sub-Region’s markets are as lively as ever even in the supermarket age: families still prefer the low costs and superb freshness from traditional markets.
In the markets we’ve listed here, you’ll find traditional crafts at bargain-basement prices; food kiosks specializing in the local cuisine; and a slice of local daily life at its most authentic.
In Thailand, Bangkok’s Khlong Bang Luang offers an artisanal experience like no other. This century-old “floating” market is actually just adjacent of the Tha Chin River, where its western bank hosts some 60-plus wooden shophouses selling handmade items and Thai food. The market looks much the way it did when it was founded in 1903: a fusion of Thai and Chinese cultures dictate the style of the shophouses and the merchandise found here, anything from Chinese herbs to clothes to noodles.
For entertainment, visit the artist-run café and performance space Baan Silapin (Artist’s House) to see a traditional Thai shadow puppet show that runs every day of the week (except Wednesdays) at 2pm. The market itself is open on weekends from 8am-5pm.
In Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta, the Phong Dien Floating Market offers a diverse retail experience on river waters. You’ll find locals haggling over agricultural products, household appliances, fishing tools, and a wide assortment of tropical fruits: including (but not limited to) coconuts, durian, and mangoes.
Unlike other floating markets in the Mekong Delta, Phong Dien is a small retail market with less motorized boats – the rowing sampans commonly used in this market means you can hear more talking, less engine noise. For an absolutely local experience, top off your visit to Phong Dien with Vietnamese breakfast served fresh off a vendor’s boat: pho, porridge, and coffee are on the menu.
Phong Dien opens very early, from 4am, and stays open until the afternoon. To see the market at its most vibrant, visit before 8am.
In Myanmar, the Bogyoke Market in Yangon (formerly known as Scott Market) has over 2,000 shops selling traditional clothes, gems, coins, antiques and more. The stores inside are quite tourist-friendly, with its hallways all selling a vast assortment of Myanmar cultural souvenirs.
The money-changers in Bogyoke Market offer cash conversion from almost any major world currency, though most are not accredited by local authorities. For a more authentic (and legally legitimate) local experience, try one of the Burmese food stalls here, where you can try the national breakfast mohinga, or maybe something more adventurous like pig tripe and innards.
Bogyoke Market is open every day, from 8am to 5pm, except Monday and public holidays.