Warorot Market or Gad Luang (Big Market is Northern Thai) is more than meets the eye. A place so large and diverse that it would take many hours if not days to fully explore. The area actually houses a few distinct markets, the main one being Warorot.
Across the one way street filled with tuk tuks and connected by a sky bridge is the sister market, Tom Lamyai. This could better be called its twin, as the two house most of the same items and look very similar on the inside and out. Tom Lamyai also holds the long standing 24 hour flower market.
In the surrounding area there are a number of separate shops that sell just about everything: Hmong clothing, bulk plastics, deep fried crickets, hard ware supplies. A place where the diverse shopping list can be met in most of an afternoon.
At night the inside portions of the markets wind down and the streets leading between and around them come alive. Deep fried meat vendors selling by the 100 grams, roti stands, fruit stalls, and of course bug purveyors, all wheel out their mobile shops and set up for the hordes of tourists and locals alike. This article will be focusing on the Night Market here, as Warorot in the daytime deserves its own piece to adequately explain.
Warorot Night Market is primarily a food affair, although there is a good offering of non-food items: knickknacks, clothes, perfume, Buddha medallions, etc. these are generally of good quality and fairly priced. However, If I’m this close to the Ping River at night it’s more often than not because I’m hungry and trying to eat.
Like any decent sized night market in Thailand near a tourist hub you’re going to find the same set of items. There will be pad Thai on offer, fried chicken, and fruit shakes. However, what differentiates one tourist market from another for me is the more specialty foods sold. These are the ones I recommend when visiting an epicenter of sustenance such as this.
First on the list is the lady and her giant bowls of Nam pla waan (sweet fish sauce). They may look and smell a little… “off”. Almost as if they’re past their prime, but that’s exactly what makes them taste so good. The smell and appearance is the product of fermentation, or at leas the fermented ingredients they contain. Chief among them being fish sauce.
Fish sauce is basically what it sounds like, “sauce” made from fish. You essentially take a heap of fish and salt, pack them in a barrel and wait many months, before straining off the juices. It is salty, pungent, and incredibly rich. This is a lesser known ingredient in Western cuisine, but actually has roots there. The ancient Romans had a sauce very similar to this called Garam (almost certainly brought over through trade with the Far East long ago) and used it like the rest of the World thinks Americans use ketchup.
This is essentially a dip eaten with crunchy veggies like eggplant or unripe fruits like green mangos. The stuff is actually pretty mild mannered as far as taste goes, sweet being it’s primary flavor with heat and funk taking a close backseat. If you can get over how it’s made and the way it looks, it will more than likely become a cherished light snack. Particularly among those trying to watch their weight without compromising on flavor.
About 20 meters down the main road from the 7/11 is a little table selling an assortment of bugs. Insects are commonly eaten through Thailand and given the way they are prepared I’m not surprised. More often than not they are fried, salted, and cooked with Thai aromatics. This takes away from their mineral esque and “bug like” flavor – the crunchy texture not so much. But if you think of them like chips, or chirps if you will, then the hurdle to new experience gets that much lower.
While most of the bugs served here will crack between your teeth, as well as getting stuck between them, the silk pupae are more of a Gusher like experience. That’s not to say they are bad, I actually rather enjoy them – when in the mood. But fair warning, the slightly stiff exterior they have will not match their interior. Insects are also a great source of protein at low environmental impact, and much like the nam pla waan will become a sought after treat if you can get past that initial shriek.
Other favorites here of mine are the steamed corn vendor just a few spots from the opening to the 7/11, pork scratching sold in bulk just behind it, and the fried food cart hawking the breaded and GBD mild green chilies. Not to mention the buffet of deep fried meats sold by weight. Simply grab a silver plate and fill it to your hearts desire, don’t forget the sticky rice in that red “cooler” and sauce off to the side.
One thing I never pass up on at any market, and available at every market, is the roti. This may be the most common street food available in Thailand, or at least one of the most common. A ball of dough, masterfully slapped thin against a stainless steel work area, filled with an assortment of sweet or savory offerings, there is a reason it’s so abundant.
As stated before, roti are quite thin. This is achieved by pressing a ball of dough on a work surface until it becomes a small puck. The cook then performs a few maneuvers reminiscent of those preformed in Freestyle Dough Competitions. There are simultaneously slaps and rotations of the dough, using the tactile nature of the material for adhesion and centripetal force of the shape for expansion. the goal is to get that dough as thin as possible – you should be able to read a newspaper though it.
It is then laid flat against a conical pan thoroughly lubed with oil. If fillings are requested now is when they’re added. The most popular of which being egg and coming in second, banana slices. After a quick scramble of the yolk and albumin, it is folded into a little square package, flipped a few times, then taken off the heat. This is then smeared with hydrogenated vegetable oil, cut into little squares, topped with sweetened condensed milk and sugar, and served on a styrofoam or cardboard container – eaten with a pointy stick.
Alternatively if you wish to have a roti without fillings, the same procedure is followed until just before lying flat on the griddle. Instead they take the now laminate thin sheet of dough and entwine it into a little coil. This creates little folds and with them an assortment of crunchy layers after frying. It is then smashed a few times beneath a cloth town to promote flexibility, rubbed with a butter like substance, topped with the aforementioned condensed milk and sugar, then rolled inside a soon to be translucent piece of white paper. To consume simply tear at the top and eat like you would a hot greasy candy bar. The last few bites being the best due to the effect gravity has on the sweet dairy and granulated sugar inside.
There are also a good number of options when it comes to fresh fruit. The stalls start at the 7/11 and go all the way to the road adjacent to the Ping River. The fruit is usually high quality, and fairly vast in variety. It can be a little over priced, but very much worth trying if you’ve never had say rambutan, mangosteen, or durian before.
As I mentioned about a thousand words above these ones, there is also a 24 hours flower market in the adjoining Tom Lamyai. I don’t quite understand why a flower market is open 24 hours a day, but this seems to me a common thing in parts of Thailand. I guess after a long night of drinking when you should have been at home tending to your Maew Yai (Thai for big cat, and a slang term used for and upset wife or girlfriend), a gift of flowers can go a long way to ease her brooding claws.
This isn’t Chiang Mai’s largest flower market, that goes to Kham Thiang Garden Market, but it’s probably the most famous. They sell mostly prepared arrangements, but you can also get phuang malai here. Some of which meant to be worn around the neck and others strictly as a garland, given as an offering for good luck. They are also commonly sold at stoplights on highway intersections from hawkers wearing large rimmed hats and long sleeve shirts to avoid the beating sun.
A number of bouquets and larger decorations pieces you might see at a Thai funeral or wedding are also available. And if you want just a few roses or other single flowers, those are on offer as well. All the flowers here are sold at a good price and most are hand crafted into the arrangements by the people who sell them.
If you happen to come an hour or so before midnight you will be treated to a splendid juxtaposition to the delicate and aromatic flowers. A little ways after you turn the corner on the the main stretch of flower shops, sits one of the main entrances to the larger indoor market. This is where they bring in the primal sections of pork that will later be dissected into more familiar and manageable pieces.
This is done by pulling a truck along the sidewalk and forming an impromptu assembly line. One man hops into the cab and effortlessly flings the carcasses over the extend side panels. They are caught in large barrels on trolleys maned by his fellow workmates. A puddle of red myoglobin seeps into the sewer systems below. It’s all rather theatric and thought provoking in an ironic sort of way.
Towards the end of the food stalls, inside the still open market hallways, and past the archway next to the most confusing unregulated intersection in Chiang Moi, you will find the non-food based stands. These sell a range of items from clothes, shoes, general knickknacks, cups, perfumes, and even medallions adorned by Buddha.
This is a good spot to window shop while you eat, and maybe even stumble upon something special. However, when at Warorot Night Market, the food is what I’m after.
Warorot Night Market
Price: prepared foods are fairly priced and slightly on the cheap side depending who you ask. Fruits are a little over priced, but still quite fair for the quality and setting.
Open: The Night Market starts to get going around the time the main markets lock up, 6 pm or so. There is a gradient to when vendors shut down for the evening, this starts around 11 pm or so.
The Good Stuff Chiang Mai