An ultimate must-see when visiting Asia, night markets contain the trifecta of traveling perfection: ridiculously good shopping, cheap and delicious street food, and an unbelievable array of unusual services. And you can experience them all… after dark. As long as you’re prepared for serious haggling, insane crowds, and the occasional tourist trap, you’ll be ready to fully embrace these cultural wonders.
Singapore is known for being a country rich in diversity, and it’s exceptionally popular night markets reflect this melding of cultures.
Little India is an ethnically Indian neighborhood in Singapore that boasts one of the busiest night markets in the country, not only because it sells imported Indian goods that appeal to the local population, but because the market leads directly into the Mustafa Center, Singapore’s only 24-hour shopping mall.
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Chinatown, another ethnic enclave in Singapore, is the oldest neighborhood in the country; it was allocated to Chinese immigrants to Singapore in 1828. Although many things have changed in the country since then, the Chinatown night market is still a bustling hub of market activity, especially after dark. Located on Pagoda, Trenganu, and Sagu streets, this market is known for selling traditional Chinese crafts like painted opera masks, wooden clogs and calligraphy. Chinatown is especially busy during Chinese New Year where stilt walkers, dragon dancer, and martial artists come to the market to give free shows.
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There are over 300 night markets in Taiwan, all of which are popular for buying clothes and goods. But the number one specialty of Taiwanese markets? Xiaochi, or finger foods. These bite sized dishes are sold on the street to tourists and locals alike and give people the opportunity to try a bunch of different items to make an entire meal or to just get a snack to nibble on.
Vendors cook up their specialties in both outdoor and indoor stalls, and a few more established restaurants have store fronts within the market, offering patrons a place to sit down and enjoy a more substantial meal. Some public tables are set up throughout the winding market streets and lively groups of Taiwanese of all ages hang out with friends and family here, eating, drinking, and people watching.
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One of the most popular markets in Taiwan is the Shilin Market in Taipei which offers an astounding array of different kinds of xiaochi. Some popular items include: stinky tofu (fermented bean curd), oyster-filled omelets, rice wrapped sausage (pork sausage wrapped in glutenous rice and fried), and snow flake crushed ice (layers or flavored ice cut and stacked).
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Night markets in Malaysia are called pasar malam and offer a ridiculous array of “designer” and “name-brand” goods at exceptionally low prices. Although not everyone is impressed with knock-off heaven, the shear amount of products would astound even the most jaded visitors. Night markets in Malaysia cater to tourists who come in looking for bargains, and Malaysians who have trouble affording the high priced actual designer goods shipped into the country. Some vendors even claim their goods are simply overstock and are made at the same factories in Thailand and China where the legitimate brand items are made.
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In Malaysian state of Penang, the city of Batu Ferringhi has one of the most popular night markets with over 1,000 stalls lining the main road of this beach town. But since Batu Ferringhi mainly caters to tourists, expect this market to be on the more commercial side.
Another incredible Malaysian night market can be found in Kuala Lumpur’s China Town, located on Petaling Street. Given that this market is in the heart of the country’s capital, it is more urban and the goods are significantly more regulated. At any given moment, vendors will simultaneously pack up their knock-off goods and quickly close up shop after being tipped off that law enforcement is on its way.
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Hong Kong is known for having the highest population density in the world and the night markets in the Mong Kok district serve many of the millions of people living there. Since the night markets in Mong Kok are organized into thematic sections, shoppers are able to navigate the insane matrix of markets and go to the street that will have exactly what they are looking for. Some of the mini-markets in the district include the “Bird Garden”, “Goldfish Street” and “Flower Market Road”, but the most popular two are the Temple Street Market (also known as the “Men’s Market”), and the Tung Choi Market (known as the “Ladies Market”).
Temple Street Market opens at 2 p.m. but only starts getting active after dark. The stalls sell everything men could ever need in terms of fashion: watches, t-shirts, jeans, ties, and tons of accessories. But what draws many visitors to the “Men’s Market” are the tiny tailor shops nesstled behind the market itself. These shops offer custom-made suits and shirts at a fraction of what many western stores charge and are tailored to fit the buyer absolutely perfectly.
The “Ladies Market” on the other hand caters primarily to women and children. The stalls on this street carry everything tons of jeans, purses, watches, jewelry, and clothes and toys for kids.
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Although night markets in Thailand offer an exceptional array of trinkets, CD’s, clothes, and snacks, markets in Bangkok are known more for the extensive array of services and entertainment associated with them then the goods actually sold there. The two most famous night markets in Bangkok, Suan Lum and Patpong, are unlike many markets because they have so many permanent store fronts sprinkled within the stalls. They are also located in the dense, urban neighborhood of Silom, and are seamlessly integrated into the bustling nightlife there.
Suan Lum is especially known for it’s massages and spas, including three salons that offer “Fish Spa” where people dip their legs in tubs of water filled with Knagal fish that nibble at dead skin, leaving feet and legs totally exfoliated.
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The market is also home to the Joe Louis Puppet Theater, a puppet group that performs Hun Lakhon Lek, a traditional Thai play. The Joe Louis Puppet Theater group is the last in Thailand still regularly performing this ancient art.
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The Patpong Market, on the other hand, is flanked on all sides by different types of “erotic” clubs, that get more and more crowded the later the night gets. Surrounding the market itself on the ground level are “Go-Go” clubs where scantaly clad dancers draw patrons into, noisy, crowded dance clubs. And one story up from the market level more elicit bars promise X-rated shows for the most undiscerning of patrons.
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What Asian night markets did we miss? Any special item left off this list? Leave a comment!
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