The market that runs the length of the Chaweng Beach Road is open from midday, with stalls setting up from late morning onwards. It is during the night that the market really comes alive and the streets fill with people fresh from a day on the beach and intent on picking up a few bargains on their way to or from dinner.
Chaweng Beach Road goes on for several kilometres and each block has a huge selection of outlets. The best way to describe the market is for you to join us on a 20-minute walk covering just a few blocks, so you can gain an impression of the crafts and goods that await you on Koh Samui.
Firstly, we find a narrow stall cut deep into the block selling small electrical goods, as well as a huge selection of (pirated) CDs and DVDs, which are being poured over by enthusiastic visitors amazed at the prices. We pick up a few CDs for around a 10th of the price back home before moving on next door.
The next stall owner is obviously a football fan and one wall is covered with a huge selection of shirts from teams from all over the world. Another wall displays t-shirts with Thai-themed shirts and also great copies of pretty much every household name brand you can think of. With plenty of shirts already we move on to the next unit, which is typical of many stalls on the road, concentrating on souvenirs. These include an impressive selection of sculptures and household items carved from coconut or mango tree wood. We purchase a few small carvings of religious icons and animals, especially the beloved elephant.
There are now ‘walking street’ markets in Lamai on a Sunday, Nathon on a Saturday, Fisherman’s village on a Friday and Mae Nam on Thursday. These kick-off at about 17:00, with stalls selling everything from second-hand clothing to Thai insect snacks, and shoes. Well worth a visit.
Further along, there is a collection of small stands on the pathway – the goods available include replica sunglasses and watches. We ignore the watches, but pick up a very reasonable pair of fake Raybans before moving onto the next stand, which is covered in leather-wares. There are handbags in varying styles, including brand copies, as well as a huge selection of belts, wallets and purses. The stall owner also has a collection of lighters, including famous names such as Zippo, in varying patterns and styles. Mum will love one of these, and as they are so cheap, we buy a few and will decide who to give them to later on.
The next stall along has a multitude of items aimed at the traveller. There is selection of bags and backpacks and vital travel items, such as money pouches, sandals and sarongs. We buy a traditional reed mat here. Not only will it look natural and attractive on the floor back home, it is also ideal for lying on the beach while when sunbathing.
Next we find another store selling a huge collection of wood carved souvenirs inside, but it is the area around the wide entrance that holds our interest. Beautifully-crafted fabrics adorn the doorway, including locally made clothing and accessories, including bags, shawls and sarongs. There are also home wares, such as tablecloths and place mats, made from elaborately-woven cotton. The coloured dyes used give a real natural look, which accentuates the rustic texture of the material.
We’re not tempted by the home wares at the moment, but the clothing looks comfortable and we pick up a few pairs of loose-fitting fisherman’s trousers – they’re made from lightweight cotton and are ideal for warm weather. Checking our watches, we find that already our 20 minutes is up, and we have to fight the temptation to keep going on further. We’ve already got a couple of bags full of goodies and the cold beers we can see being served in the open-air bar across the street look too tempting to pass up in the early evening warmth.
There’s just one thing you need when coming to the night market – your bargaining boots! Everything in tourist Asia is bargained for and unless you are savvy, ruthless, or speak a little Thai, expect to end up paying much more than you should. Storekeepers have been spoilt by gullible tourists for far too long and their opening gambit is usually more than double what you ought to pay.
Be patient, make up all sorts of excuses, pick many things then haggle for a bulk price and, above all, have fun. Don’t get irate or aggressive and remember that although Thailand is very cheap, you get what you pay for. These people are just trying to make a modest living so be fair and friendly. If they pester you, though, simply walk away.