Eat your way through SE Asia…
Hey there travelling foodies! Looking to satisfy your munchlust? Well, you’re in the right space. Southeast Asia is a foodie’s paradise. The gourmet haven offers interesting local eats at night markets. Most of them operate over the weekend and get converted to walk-zones of sorts with lots, and we mean LOTS of FOOD. Let’s take a look at some of the most significant night markets across the SE Asian countries. Read what fellow travellers and food-lovers from across the globe have to say…
Night Markets in Isaan, Thailand – Live Less Ordinary
Almost every city and large town in Isaan will host night markets on the weekends, and the easy entry point to the northeast region and Isaan night markets would be the Night Ban Koh in Korat (NBK) which opens daily between 17:00 – 24:00.
The more rural you travel in Thailand, the more bizarre the foods will become, where vats of frying insects are not uncommon, as well as birds and animals that I’ve never even seen before. However, the region is home to many of the Kingdom’s most revered eating, and there undoubtedly is fantastic food to find including the iconic Isaan sausage, which is a plump pork sausage served with cuts of ginger, cabbage and fresh green chillies for a proper Thai kick. It is also hard to miss ‘Pla Pao’ grilled freshwater fish, and ‘Kai Yang’ marinated grilled chicken, which are two hugely popular staples in the region. But my own personal obsession comes in the ‘Yaa Dong’ liquor stalls, selling shots of moonshine ‘Lao Khao’ rice whisky, mixed with medicinal remedies that are said to enhance libido and whatnot, although I normally just drink them to get drunk, as there’s rarely a dull moment when around Isaan’s rural Thai folk.
Chiang Mai Night Market, Thailand – Travel Work and Play
My favourite night market for great eats is a little market that runs every Saturday evening just by Tha Pae Gate in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s often overlooked by the bigger weekend Walking Street and the nightly market at the Night Bazaar, but the food choices here are always way better. This is what happens when you travel in Southeast Asia. You end up exploring a lot of new hang-outs.
It’s small enough that you can collect foods from each different stall and have time to sit down and enjoy your delectable goodies. It’s frequented by tourists and locals (always a good sign) and the food is all freshly cooked and served piping hot. There’s nothing worse than street food which has sat out in the heat for a while. This little market serves up steaming piles of noodles, crispy fried quails eggs, freshly cooked seafood, BBQ meats and corn, little desserts and even excellent sushi. You pay for most items individually so you can enjoy a smorgasbord of flavours washed down with an ice-cold Chang. I visit every time I’m in Chiang Mai.
Chatuchak Market, Bangkok, Thailand – Travel With Maria
Chatuchak Market is Thailand’s biggest and one of the world’s largest weekend market. An estimate of 200,000 people come here every Friday, Saturday and Sunday to see some of the 15, 000 stalls spread across 25 acres of land.
If you’re haggling skills are good, you can buy twice the worth of your money. It’s also Bangkok’s premier destination for foodies hunting for authentic tasting Thai cuisine. With so many to choose from, you’ll never run out of what to eat, only time. Some of the best-selling local food are pad thai noodles, teh tarik (Thai iced milk tea), mango sticky rice, popcicles and gaeng keow wan kai (chicken curry). Wi-Fi is free for those who can’t wait to share their experience online. There are shuttles that offer free rides for those who are tired of walking. Please make sure you wear comfortable clothes. You’ll thank yourself when you get home for that.
Talad Rod Fai Ratchada Night Market, Bangkok, Thailand – Rice/Potato
Located right behind the Thailand Cultural Center MRT station in Bangkok, you’ll find Talad Rod Fai Ratchada, the more accessible sibling of the infamous Train market near Seacon square, further outside the city center. Just like the original market, this market is a foodie’s paradise. Here, you’ll find pretty much every type of food you can imagine: from Japanese sushi, Thai-style mini pizzas, to Thai BBQ and everything in between.
Highlights include the gooey cheese sandwiches by Holy Cheese, traditional Pad Thai at Pad Thai Kapo Bolan, super cheesy nachos by Doni Nachos, XXL Noodle bowls by Noodle Jompalang and the gigantic range of deep-fried goodies at every other stall in the food zone. Done with eating? The place is a fantastic source of vintage goodies and Thai designer wear as well.
Pulau Tikus Night Market, Penang, Malaysia – The Roaming Fork
One of the great benefits of visiting the night markets of Penang is having the chance to try many of the famous hawker foods that Malaysia is well-known for. And for food tasting, my favourite night market is Pulau Tikus, located in one of the more upmarket areas of George Town, Penang.
On the day our small group visited, we arrived fairly late, which meant we missed the rush hour, which suited us, as we were able to secure a table easy enough and we could avoid having to wait too long to eat. The range of food on offer was amazing. As we wanted to try as many dishes as possible, we decided to order a few dishes and share them, so we could all get a taste of what was on offer. To start with, we ordered a fried oyster omelette, a plate of char koay teow, some chicken rice, a bowl of duck meat koay teow soup, and two dozen skewers of different meats with the beautiful satay sauce. For seconds, we had the choice from plenty of other stalls offering other dishes such as chee cheong fun, mee sua tao, roti bread, spring rolls, putu mayong, hokkien mee, and the always very popular lok lok, where meats and vegetables are deep fried and served on skewers. My favourite dish of the night was the duck meat koay teow soup. It was so delicious that I went back and got an extra bowl for myself.
Where: Pulau Tikus Night Market, Jalan Pasar, George Town, Penang. Open 5pm to 11pm.
Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Tara Lets Anywhere
Jalan Alor night market is one of the best food markets in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Once a red light district, it is now home to authentic local cuisines. Here you can find hawker stalls and restaurants selling Malaysian, Indian, Chinese and Thai dishes; stalls that sell vegetables, seafood and other meat for grilling; and even fruits and vegetables.
There are so many options in Jalan Alor that it’s difficult to choose favorites. For main dishes, I suggest going for chili crabs and other fresh seafood, soups like tom yum or perhaps a rice dish. I also like other stores selling grilled meats and satay. After dinner, there’s a range of fruit juices available including whole coconuts, as well as desserts such as coconut ice cream and fried durian or banana. I love Jalan Alor’s amazing options for food as well as its lively ambiance at night. Prices here aren’t exactly dirt cheap, possibly since it’s a go-to of tourists, but it’s still a great food night market in Kuala Lumpur.
Weekend Market at Jonker Street, Melaka, Malaysia – Stingy Nomads
The charming weekend night market at Jonker Street, Melaka (Malaysia) has so much to offer. Melaka is a small colourful town just 145km from Kuala Lumpur, a perfect weekend getaway from the bustling capital city. The market is located in the historical part of the town so it’s easy to find it walking from your hotel/hostel. You can also take one of the local bright and light trishaws.
Make sure you come here hungry there is so much to try and taste: all sort of Malaysian and Asian food; seafood (shrimps of all sizes, mussels, fried squids and even grilled sting ray), fresh fish, meat kebabs, sushi, fruit and fresh juices (we loved their watermelon shakes), Taiwan burgers, pastries (fried tiny eggs with a slice of sausage, Chinese cookies and all sorts of pies) and all sort of hot/cold/tube ice creams. It’s a real gourmand’s paradise. Add to these street lights and music and you’ll get an idea about Melaka night market. The market is a great place to buy all sorts of curiosities and souvenirs; from Aladdin lamps and local paintings to iPhone covers and medical herbs. To continue your night, you can take a boat ride along Melaka river, do a night trishaw city tour or go to one of the local bars.
The Filipino Night Food Market, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysian Borneo – A Social Nomad
The Filipino Night Food Market (Pasar Filipino) in Kota Kinabalu is a small area of a bigger market in this gateway city to Malaysian Borneo. It’s found wedged between the handicrafts, salted fish and fruit and vegetables. Just follow the tantalising smell of barbequing charcoal to this area on the waterfront, by Le Meridien Hotel. This atmospheric food market resounds with the cry of vendors and is renowned for fresh fish and seafood.
You’ll find food stalls of tempura and fresh prawns, cooked crabs and gloriously coloured grilled local fish. Be sure to try the local speciality of Hinava, a delicious Malay ceviche. It’s made with raw fish marinated in lime juice served with grated ginger, sliced red onion and chilli. Take a seat at communal tables, add pickled salads to your plate, and wash it down with the juice of fresh cool young coconut. It’s a great place to eat, the food is tasty and cheap to western wallets. Don’t forget to stop by the fruit market for dessert and the bars along the waterfront for a nightcap.
Sanur Night Market, Bali, Indonesia – Grateful Gypsies
Pasar Malam Sindu or the Sanur Night Market as it’s called by bule, was our favorite place to eat dinner when we lived there. Located on Jalan Danau Toba in Sanur, Bali, it’s open and busy every night of the week. It’s best to go on the weekend as there’s a higher likelihood of all the stalls being open.
There are a number of things you can eat at the night market: seafood, typical warung style food from the neighboring island of Java, delicious fried fruits, fruit juices and shakes, noodle dishes, traditional Indonesian dishes, traditional Balinese dishes, and Siomay (Indonesian dumplings). Our absolute favorite thing to eat was the local Balinese food served up at a stall called Warung Bali. Most Balinese people only cook their traditional foods at home. A majority of the local restaurants serve traditional food from other islands of Indonesia but it’s rare to find one specializing in Balinese food. Our other favorites were the local noodle soup because they use fresh, hand cut noodles. Most other places use instant noodles for their noodle soup. Siomay was our other favorite. It’s a steamed Indonesian fish dumpling served in peanut sauce. The best part was that we could eat all of these things for less than 50,000 IDR or 3.70 USD.
Mercato Centrale, Manila, Philippines – Missing Wanderer
A great night market if you’re out in Manila is the Mercato Centrale. It’s located at 7th Avenue in Bonifacio Global City, which is a very upmarket area of Manila. The food however, is more than affordable and there is a huge selection.
It does pay to go early as it is always crowded, but that’s what night markets are all about, aren’t they? A huge selection of both Filipino food (things like sisig, lechon, adobo, chicharron) and international foods (like tacos, burgers, ribs, desserts) are all available, everything with their own Filipino spin on them. You’ll notice quite a lot of boutique eateries here too, selling anything from corn to mushrooms to cookies, with bit of an indie flavour. There’s definitely something for everyone.
Singapore Night Markets – Jiahuimuses
As a cultural melting pot in the central heartbeat of Southeast Asia, Singapore does have its fair share of night markets amidst the concrete bricks and mortar. However, unlike other neighbouring countries, Singapore’s night markets tend to be periodic and random i.e. no fix dates or locations. Over the years, as Singapore progressed, the night market scene has also witnessed a gradual transformation from the traditional tarpaulin tents that we have fondly called ‘Pasar Malams’ (a Malay term used to describe night market) and in recent years, to the more hipster Artbox Singapore incorporating live bands and lifestyle elements (copyrighted from the more popular Artbox Thailand).
As a child, I used to find joy in spotting stretches of emerging tentages along the neighbourhood walkways, signifying the start of night markets. The same feeling accompanies me even till this day. Within the markets are individual stalls peddling anything from snacks to furniture, knick-knacks, clothes, beddings etc. – whatever you can possibly think of basically. A good way of finding cheap thrills and enjoying simple bliss, I say. Despite the reduced prominence of such markets over the years as compared to my childhood days, you will still be able to spot the large scale night markets for major ethnic annual festivals such as Chinese New Year (Chinatown), Hari Raya (Geylang) and Deepavali (Little India).
Route 60 Night Market, Siem Reap, Cambodia – Can Travel Will Travel
As dusk approaches in Siem Reap, take a 15 – 20-minute tuk tuk ride out to the edges of Siem Reap to the road next to the Angkor Archaeological Park Ticket Office. Here is where you’ll find Route 60 Night Market. Virtually unknown to tourists, it’s by far the most local night market in Siem Reap and is revered by Cambodians as far as Phnom Penh for its excellent street food.
All along the road are many food stalls, offering a big selection of street food. Numerous BBQ’s grill up fish and all kinds of meat such as chicken, pork, beef and a variety of offal. You may even find the occasional frog, rat, or snake skewer; or a big basket of deep-fried bug snacks, tarantulas or scorpions. If you take a seat on a mat on one of the low wooden platforms available, you can order a full meal from a selection of meat and stir-fried vegetable dishes served family-style (to share) alongside bowls of rice or noodles and the traditional pungent prahok (fermented fish paste). If you’re still hungry after all that food there’s also some stalls with fruit, ice cream and other desserts. Finally, wash it all down with a beer or soft drink from one of the big orange Eskys that are everywhere. For a little post-dinner entertainment there’s also a few fairground games and rides, although I wouldn’t like to vouch for the safety of the rides. To enjoy dinner in true Cambodian style amongst locals, the buzzing Route 60 Night Market really is the place to do it.
Luang Prabang Night Market, Laos – Lyf&Spice
Luang Prabang is a small town of Laos with a laid back vibe and lush natural surroundings. When in Laos, you have to head to the night market of Luang Prabang by the evening (around 6.30 P.M.) when the vendors set shop and display all their goods including clothes, souvenirs, snake whiskey, bags, silver jewellery and atrifacts. Coming to food, there is no dearth of options out here. Indulge in a variety of snacks, meat on sticks and fried fish. You just cannot miss the coconut batter pancakes, sticky rice served with seaweed and fish, fried fish stick and fruit shake.
Expect the market to be crowded, colourful and brimming with zeal. Adding icing to the cake, is a buffet spread at the alleys that you just cannot ignore. This is something different from the usual hawker-scene, where you can pick your plate, choose from a local food buffet and dine at the tables laid out. How do you pay? Well, you pay by the number of and type of food items you have on your plate. To experience the food scene, start from the junction at the end of Mount Phousi entrance, just where the market selling clothes and trinkets stops. From there, walk over to the lanes and alleys to eat all you can. Please note that the night market winds up early, sometimes before 10 P.M.
Thanks to all the wonderful contributors for sharing their food experiences at various night markets of Southeast Asia. As you can see, that’s a lot of good food, peeps – all in one space. Bookmark, share and follow the guide as you go food-hopping in the busy Asian night market hub.
** We know there are a lot more night markets in SE Asia. If you want to contribute to the guide, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can roll out phase-2.
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