Chiang Mai is known by many has having some of the best markets in Thailand. I would definitely be one of the many, I can't count on two hands how many food, hand-made, pop-up, and tourist markets I've been to that all but changed my life. Of all of these, the one that stands out the most is the Sunday night market. There have been fewer Sundays that I didn't go to this market than I did. Nine times out of ten, you'll find me here, I'd go alone if I had to. This place is the perfect place to shop for friends, find new treasures for yourself, and to gorge on amazing food.
One of the great things about living in a city that sees as much tourism as Chiang Mai is the look on the locals' faces once they realize you're not leaving for a bit. There are so many vendors and musicians who know our faces, love to speak Thai with us and help us out in the bargaining department. It's definitely a whole new perspective when you aren't just breezing through once in a lifetime. You get to really take in all that the market (or whatever you're frequenting) has to offer, you get to notice the trends as they come and go (matching banana shirts, anyone?). And you become a little wiser about what foods to eat and not eat, what deals to jump or ignore, and you find the little booths that no one knows about or makes it to 'cause they're too distracted by the glitz of some other vendor.
The Walking Street goes directly through from one side of Old Town Chiang Mai to the other, with various sections clustered at different points. Wat Phan On, the first wat on the left along the street, is home to a "food court" of sorts. Though there are several areas that specialize in food and snacks, this is the largest of them all and has all of our favorites: chicken shwarma, gyoza, etc. There are places all over the market where you can find ice-cream, smoothies and tea, this wat is a good place to start. There's usually some sort of chanting going on, kids ringing bells in the temple and the band playing right outside the entrance never stops.
As you walk along the road, the booths get increasingly more interesting, the most unique items can be found in the center of the street and beyond. You'll also find little hidden sois with gardens and restaurants, don't let the craziness of the market let you forget that the street also has shops of its own that are open all week long, and thankfully, some of the pop-ups have shops of their own elsewhere in the city.
Chiang Mai Sunday Night Walking Street is a crowded, loud, nutso mess of people and stuff to buy. It's a great place to soak in all that Chiang Mai has to offer as far as souvenirs, but it's also a good dose of culture, or at least culture plus Chinese tourists and backpackers. Locals come to this market just as much as foreigners do, and that's how doggone good it is. Like most big markets, It gets hot, it gets close, but it's usually one of the highlights of my weekend. Markets like this will be one of the things I miss most about Southeast Asia. American state fairs can't compete.