By Casey Hynes
The market practically defines the Asian experience. The intermingled odors of spice, sweat, grilled meats, raw fish and the sharp, sinus-clearing scent of rice alcohol envelop you in the commerce and community of these often tightly packed microcosms of their colorful countries.
Asia’s markets are where to go if you want to immerse yourself in a culture. Let your ears ring with the lilt, or harsh growl, of the local language, sample the stinky but supposedly tasty durian, and marvel at the craftsmanship of handmade woodworks. And above all – be prepared to bargain. It’s a rare occasion that the initial price offered is the one you’ll pay if you’re not afraid to do a little haggling.
Here are five of the best markets in Asia, featuring superb street food to some of the freshest fish you’ll eat on the continent.
1. Sunday Walking Street Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Navigating Chiang Mai’s infamous Sunday Walking Street, held each week beginning around 5 p.m., can be an exercise in frustration if you’re not a fan of crowds, but it is well worth it. Rachadamnoen Rd. is lined with vendors selling traditional hill tribe clothing, handicrafts, t-shirts and home decorations. The real reason to come here is the food, however. The courtyards of two wats, or temples, are filled with food stands where you can purchase everything from noodles to kebabs and samosas to sushi and fresh strawberry smoothies.
2. Noryangjin Market, Seoul
Brace your nostrils and do not wear your best clothes to this sprawling seafood market in South Korea. The stench is almost overpowering but it’s worth braving to see the enormous crabs, squid, octopus and all manner of fish squirming in the buckets that line the aisles of this market. Come on an empty stomach because you can purchase the catch of the day, then take it to a nearby restaurant where the chef will prepare you a sumptuous meal of crab, oysters, salmon and whatever else you care to try. Wash it all down with a Cass beer, or even better, a few shots of soju.
3. Panjiayuan Flea Market, Beijing
This one is a little different than the others mentioned – but then, it’s China, so that is to be expected. Once a place for peasants to hawk their goods, the market is now a treasure trove for those looking to bring home interesting and eccentric items with which to decorate their domiciles.
4. Central Market, Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An has a reputation for being the place to go for getting custom tailored clothing, and what better place to do that than a bustling market where you can shop, order these inexpensive but great-looking outfits and eat your fill while you’re at it? Hoi An also happens to boast some of the best street food in the country so leave plenty of room for sampling the local eats while roaming the stalls.
5. Phsar Thmei Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Noteworthy for its location in a beautiful yellow Art Deco building in the middle of the Cambodian capital, this central market has everything you could want to buy on a trip to Phnom Penh. In addition to delicious foods – which almost goes without saying in a real Asian market – you will find unique and beautiful pieces of jewelry, inexpensive clothing and local souvenirs. Among the goods available are scarves, clothing, knock-off watches and stationery materials.
This article first appeared on TravelWireAsia.com