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Gift Shopping at 5 Top Markets in Asia

Updated on June 21, 2011

Gift shopping at 5 top Flea Markets in Asia

Shopping in flea markets is a great way to buy and souvenirs and interact with the local community, especially in Asia. From the relatively well known shopping market in Thailand’s Khao San Road to the isolated traditional Bac Ha market in north Vietnam, each one has its own flavor and appeal for this shopper.

Alluring and cheap displays of products encourage the traveler to add momentos or gifts to take home in their luggage, bargaining is expected.

Five of my favorite markets are:

1. Thailand – Khao San Road …. This is street shopping at its absolute best. Small shops line the road side in a complex labyrinth. Everything is on offer from clothing, to souvenirs to food, DVD’s, leather goods and much more. It’s cheap and easy to get to. The food stalls offer cheap, tasty food. I bought a cheap skirt for USD5. Bargaining is encouraged.

Getting there: I went by public boat along the wide Chao Prayo River. There is a stop very close to the markets. It cost me approximately USD1.

Best time to go: I recommend going in the morning because later in the day (the stalls are wedged between traditional stores and the street), it gets very hot as the temperature rises.

Girls in traditional dress Bac Ha markets.
Girls in traditional dress Bac Ha markets.
Sapa village lady.  Beautiful silver jewelry.
Sapa village lady. Beautiful silver jewelry.
Night market Luang Prabang, Laos
Night market Luang Prabang, Laos

Laos Flea Markets

2. Vientiane…..I loved the markets in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. It’s a big undercover market. You can get lost here and they sell all manner of consumer goods like refrigerators and televisions (try getting that into a traveler’s suitcase!), scarves, clothing, jewelry (the silver is particularly good and cheap), stationery, shoes etc. In fact this is the best place to get everything you might want. I bought the silver jewelry box (in the photograph below) along with numerous scarves. The scarves were a bargain at about USD3 each.

Getting there: I walked from my hotel in the city centre but if it’s too hot, you could take a taxi or tuk tuk.

Best time to go: I went about 10a.m. just as they were opening for the days trading. With each purchase I made (bargaining is expected), the stall owner took my money and putting it between her hands prayer like, moved around her stall and touched the display multiple times. It's good luck to do this and because they’d made an early sale, they believe it will be a good day. It was very touching and humbling. 

3. Luang Prabang ……Even getting to Luang Prabang is an adventure, but its well worth the effort and journey.  Luang Prabang has one of the most wonderful night markets which are full handcrafts.  Divine local hand stitched cotton goods tempt travelers.

Each night from about 6p.m. the ladies begin to set up there wares on the pavement of the closed main street of Luang Prabang. Over a coffee, I enjoyed watching them take each item out of their massive bags, shake it out and carefully position it on their mats. The hand worked duvet and cushion covers are spectacular. Lamp shades, wood work, jewelry and tee shirts are all excellent buys and bargaining is expected and respected. The duvet covers are unique though.

Getting there: The market is in the main street of this quaint old town, so it’s hard to miss when in town.

Best time to go: Any evening from 6p.m.

Travel Vietnam Flea Markets

4. Vietnam – Sapa ….. Here the markets come to you. Just being in the town of Sapa. The village women walk, sometimes for days, to bring their goods to sell to tourists visiting this gorgeous town. They seem to “adopt” you in an attempt to engage you in conversation and then sell their goods. If you let it, it could be annoying but I found them very sweet.

One day I was walking to another village and a village lady walked just a few steps behind me. Every time I stopped to take a photograph, she stopped. After about an hour of this, we talked. She sold me some hand embroidered friendship bracelets then after concluding the sale, and posing for a photograph, she turned around and walked uphill back towards Sapa. They sell, blankets, belts, postcards, hats etc, all carried on their backs in a bamboo woven basket.

Getting there: Sapa is high in the mountains of Vietnam; a 12 hour overnight train ride from Hanoi.

5. Vietnam - Bac Ha Markets…….I’ve saved the best and most special market until last. This is a superb market, and like Luang Prabang, getting here was very interesting, challenging and another story. Bac Ha is high in the Vietnamese mountains and close to the border of China.

This is a very traditional market and is mainly for the locals but it has adapted somewhat (but only a little) to cater for tourists. They still dress in local costume and it was a very special experience to be here. They sell tobacco (displayed in piles on a mat on the muddy ground), livestock, food supplies and for the tourists, scarves, wooden carved goods,

Getting there: About a three hour mini bus trip from Sapa.

Best time to go: You can only experience these markets on a Saturday. If you are planning to go to Sapa, I strongly recommend you see if you can combine your trip with a visit to these markets. It’s a challenging experience, but worth every bone rattling, dusty and hair-raising minute of the trip.

Scarves and jewelry box from Vientiane market.
Scarves and jewelry box from Vientiane market.

South East Asia

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A markerThailand -
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B markerLaos -
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C markerVietnam -
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    • American_Choices profile image

      American_Choices 7 years ago from USA

      You are brilliant to include the best time to go. Shopping can be a struggle unless it is well planned.