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Top 5 Markets to Visit in South East Asia

By on Oct 16, 2012 in South East Asia | 0 comments

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Street Markets are one of my favorite places to visit whilst travelling in South East Asia. I enjoy meeting the unique characters, sitting down with the locals to eat the most exotic local delicacies and not to mention finding some great souvenirs to take home with me. The markets in South East Asia can vary in quality as well as product and produce depending on the region you visit. The hardest choice you will have when travelling through the region is to pick which ones to visit. From epic warehouse sized markets selling over priced “genuine” knock offs in big Asian Cities, to the smaller traditional markets in regional villages where you can buy everything from spices to buffalo. So with this in mind, I wanted to share with you my five favourite markets in South East Asia that are great for people-watching and shopping alike.

 1. Luang Prabang Street Market, Laos

Luang Prabang Night Market, Laos

Luang Prabang Night Market, Laos

After the sun sets on the main street of Luang Prabang, the red and blue tents of the night market take centre stage as the indigenous Hmong women flock to the town to sell their locally crafted and purchased wares. Surrounded by Wats and Temples, the market sellers intricately lay out their antique lookalike snuff bottles next to one off pieces of handmade jewellery, which wouldn’t look out of place on the streets of Paris. Walls of colorful paper umbrellas surround you in every direction as you search for fisherman pants in your size. And no visit is complete without a pair of Hmong pants – just watch the first ten washes or so as the colour runs out.

There are no crazy hawkers or intense crowds to deal with at this night market, just a very chilled out and relaxed vibe. The traders love a good conversation and it can provide an insight into the local indigenous way of living. Off the main road, the side alleys are full of freshly caught fish prepared on bamboo leaves  accompanied with steaming bowls of fragrant rice. Just pull up a seat with the locals and tuck into some amazingly delicious food. Once you’ve finished, try your hand at a street game, from popping balloons with darts to card games.

All of this is why Luang Prabang market is my all time favourite in South East Asia and worthy of the arduous overland journey it takes to get there. Also don’t forget to checkout our etiquette guide about visiting indigenous communities in South East Asia for some handy hints and tips about visiting the Hmong.

Best Buys: Paper umbrellas, snuff bottles, freshly cooked fish and Hmong clothing

 2. Malacca Night Market, Malaysia

Malacca, Malaysia

Malacca, Malaysia

A secret gem, the night market in the Portuguese town of Malacca in southern Malaysia is full of trinkets, local produce, cheap fashion and even the kitchen sink. Whilst not everything on sale will warrant a place in your luggage to take home, it’s a great place to dive into Malaysian street food and sit back and watch the world go by.

A community market at heart, the vendors wind themselves along Jalan Hang Jebat – a short stroll from the central square. Surrounded by world heritage listed buildings, the street is rich in history with fascinating Chinese and Portuguese fused architecture. Whilst the vendors have interesting wares, the shop fronts also sell a range of oriental products including Chinese medicines, artwork and housewares.

Best Buys: Antiques (Fake or real Ill leave it up to you to decide), trinkets, electronic gadgets and cheap oriental souvenirs.



 3. Ubud Art Market, Bali

Ubud Art Markets, Bali

Ubud Art Markets, Bali

Very touristy and slightly claustrophobic, the Ubud Art Market in the central mountains of Bali in Indonesia is an old favourite of mine. The market is known for is locally created art work, Balinese handicrafts, and its growing boutique fashion scene.

Many of the products are crafted in the out lying villages then brought to market to be sold. You will need your bartering skills at this market as the Balinese start high with their price, but its worth noting that your money often goes directly back to helping the local villages – so don’t barter too aggressively.

It’s best to stay in Ubud when visiting as you will be able to get up early or visit late in the afternoon to avoid the loads of tourists that arrive by  bus. Also, dont forget to try Pork Sucking at Ibu Oka, the best in all of Bali – the locals can point the way.

Best Buys:  Local handicrafts, artwork, wooden statues, Babi Guling (Suckling Pig) and colorful gifts



 4. Lantern Market in Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An Lantern Market, Vietnam

Hoi An Lantern Market, Vietnam

If you’re anything like Niki and think that your life would be complete if you were surrounded by thousands of colorful Lanterns, then the Hoi An Lantern market in Vietnam is for you.

Popular with the locals and travellers alike, this market in the streets of the old town of Hoi An comes to life at night as paper lanterns of all shapes and sizes light up the balmy evening. The streets fill with children as they run and play, the local river becomes a place of mystical creatures, whilst young couples canoodle on the ‘love’ bridge.

The relaxed Hoi An Night market is a mix of street hawkers and historical shop fronts selling local artwork, boutique homewares and everything in between. After a night of shopping, I would recommend stopping by at the Cargo Club for the best dessert in South East Asia.

Best Buys:  Lanterns, Pho and local Artwork.




 5. Bugis Street, Singapore

Bugis Street, Singapore

Bugis Street, Singapore

Once the home of Singapore’s cross dressing and transgender culture, Bugis Street has replaced its once colourful and wild nightlife with a sleek and modern market.

I first visited this market twelve years ago, which was just before the overhaul and have visited various times over the following decade. Whilst it has lost a bit of its character over time with the redevelopment, it still provides a great market experience – although for a different clientele.

The market is now more youthful, enticing young Singaporeans with locally designed fashion, families with delicious food and travellers with great bargains.

As in the past, Bugis Street is still best visited at night and if you take the time to stop, you may even see a Lady-boy or two walking past, reminiscing about the good old times in Singapore.

Best Buys:  Local fashion, knockoff watches, Singapore Noodles and colourful trinkets.


Whilst all of these are great markets and a must for your travel plans, there are plenty of smaller options that are well worth keeping an eye out for as well – especially in rural Indochina. Feel free to let us know below if you have a favourite market that you think we should visit.