Every Sunday evening, the streets in the centre of Chiang Mai’s old town are transformed from free-flowing scooter thoroughfares and become instead arteries clogged with the cholesterol of slow moving human traffic; some selling, others buying, and all not moving very quickly whatsoever as the Chiang Mai Sunday night market is held.
As the market is in the centre of everything in Chiang Mai’s old town, it’s good to spend the daytime exploring the streets and a few of the temples nearby before the market is set up.
Of course, Chiang Mai’s Sunday night market is a massive draw for the tourists, but I have actually found myself visiting a few times even when living here.
The place just seems full of energy, and some of the street food is really good too. I like walking around in the early evening as the sun is setting, during the golden hour, as the main walking street itself runs east/west.
Arriving early, around 5pm, also means you’ll be there before the crowds really get too bad.
Most people seem to like going after dark, to get the night market feel, but it gets too busy for me to enjoy. I prefer the golden light and more space of the early evening.
The whole scenario of activity happening in a picturesque setting at the best time of day for photography makes it perfect for shooting, and knowing it happens every week means being able to plan a visit specially for shooting in the golden hour.
Once the light has gone though, the shots you can get after dark are not to be sniffed at either.
Don’t worry if you happen to be in Chiang Mai on the wrong day(s) and don’t catch the Sunday market, as there is also a Friday morning market in a different place too.
And in between the Friday morning market and the Sunday night market, there’s the Chiang Mai Saturday night market.
Don’t worry either if you’re not in town for any of these, because the Chiang Mai night bazaar (below) is held every night anyway, again in a different place.
It’s huge, and you could easily spend an entire evening perusing the stalls while eating and drinking along the way.
I was using my Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 for these pictures, which meant I could get a few candid shots in amongst the ones of the stalls and goods.
Robert Capa famously said that if your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.
Other common photography wisdom states that the longer your lens, the creepier you look.
Using a 55mm lens (especially on an APS-C sensor) meant I could get these shots without having to get too close, while still kind of maintaining a look of someone not doing anything wrong.
The lady eating clearly saw me though.
Being able to open up the Super-Takumar to f2.8 (I never go wide open) also meant I could keep the ISO sensibly low, especially as there was enough ambient light from the market stalls and street lamps to work with.
In truth, if you’re in a city, there usually is.
I personally spend as much time looking for light to use as I do subjects to shoot, and rarely (if ever) use a flash.
The Chiang Mai Sunday night market is something that anyone who has the chance should visit once. My tip is to arrive early whilst the light is best for photography, and stay until you’ve had your fill of night shots and street food too.
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