Markets are a great way to experience local culture. Sellers flaunt their wares amid seasoned hagglers, curious travellers, and those who don’t mind scoring a deal on a vacation. Here are seven destinations where you can dial down the sightseeing for at least a day and succumb to retail therapy.
The air in Muttrah Souq air is heavy with perfume, frankincense and the overtures of garrulous salesmen trying to lure you into their packed shops. This labyrinth of dark streets emerging from a central roundabout and jumbling up in narrow lanes is exactly the sort of place a traveller would want to get lost in.
It is no surprise that the local name of this traditional market is Al Dhalam, or “darkness” in Arabic. The dark narrow streets are laden with stacks of local souvenirs gleaming under well-lit shops. Roam the alleys to pick up things that define Oman: a khanjar (curved dagger), hookahs, spices, frankincense resins with bakhoor (incense), Bedu jewellery and if you are feeling adventurous, an airy, white dishdasha (ankle-length garment worn by men) and a khumma (cap). It is only when you reappear from the warren of shops that the contrast of the modern Muscat corniche hits you.
Tip: The market is more confusing than you think. Use the entrance to the souk via the corniche as a landmark when asking people for directions.
Directions: Enter from the Muscat corniche.
Timings: 8a.m.-1p.m., 5p.m.-9p.m. from Saturday to Thursday; 5pm-9pm on Friday.
Muttrah Souq is exactly the sort of place that a traveller would want to be lost in. Photo: Andrew Moore/ Flickr/ Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Live music at the Banff Farmers’ Market. Photo: Alyson Hurt/ Flickr/ Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
The Canadian Rockies can seem grey, cold and ruthless until you step into a local farmers’ market at Banff – perhaps the only way to stay snug and immerse yourself in the warm Canadian hospitality. White canopies stretch along Central Park on Wednesdays during the summer. On display are fresh, aromatic bakes; crisp farm aubergines, cabbages, tomatoes, peaches and blue berries; freshly made pineapple, watermelon, carrot and berry juices; local fruit wine; natural honey; and beef jerky and pork-bun from countryside kitchens. More than the heaped plates, it’s the small-town, easygoing vibe that makes the market such a hit. In case you don’t have the palate or appetite to eat voraciously, the Bow Valley String Orchestra and other local ensembles will keep you hanging around.
Tip: Arrive early to bag a spot in front of the gazebo at Central Park for the musical performances.
Directions: Central Park, Banff
Timings: 10a.m.-6p.m. on Wednesdays, from June–September.
Expect hectic rummaging through clothes, antiques, plants, furniture and handicrafts at the Chatuchak weekend market. Photo: Inga Vitola/ Flickr/ Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
An essential experience of Bangkok will include sampling street food, seeing ornate roadside wats (temples) and being jostled in a busy market. Put theChatuchak (or Jatujak) weekend market on your list. Expect hectic rummaging through heaps of antiques, high fashion, fakes, Thai silk, food, silver, plants, handicrafts, furniture, bags and even live animals. Think narrow rows of makeshift and permanent shops crisscrossing over 35 acres of land, and rubbing shoulders with 2,00,000 visitors a day. Even though the market is divided into 27 sections, it is easy to get disoriented. Shop as you stroll through a section, as chances are that you may not return via the same alley. The liveliest sections are the food stalls (sections 1 and 19) where one can fuel up on local treats like khanom jeen nam ngiaw (vermicelli topped with pork curry) and som tam (green papaya salad). Despite the overwhelming abundance, this is an experience that you should not miss.
Tip: Arrive early to beat the heat and the crowds. Use the central clock tower as a landmark to regroup with your friends.
Directions: A five-minute walk from BTS Mo Chit Station.
Timings: 6a.m.-6p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
A woman sells forest tomatoes at a tribal market in Chhatisgarh. Photo: Kalyan Neelamraju/ Flickr/ Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
The weekly markets or haats are undoubtedly the best interface that a traveller can have with the tribals of Bastar in Chhattisgarh. Communities trudge upto 60 kms to arrive at their regional haat at around noon on an assigned day. Yellow, orange and blue tarpaulin drape small shops with vegetables (sold by the cowries, or unit of 20), toiletries, red ant chutney known as chaprah, fish, clothes, local liquor, dhokra (bell metal) artifacts, wrought-iron curios, shell-work garments and Sundar Mani cotton weaves. Picking up souvenirs from here would mean that you are buying it from the craftsmen themselves. After a hectic navigation through the stalls, treat yourself to a swig of sulphi (Bastar beer extracted from the fishtail palm) and a bet at the quintessential cockfight at the market. Traditionally, the haatwas not just a place where tribals could barter local produce, but also a communal space to socialise, drink and exchange news.
Tip: Look out for the bell metal, wrought iron and hand-woven shawls. The prices are lesser here than at a store, and the products are authentic.
Directions: There is no particular entrance to these markets. Popular markets around Jagdalpur in South Bastar include Tokapal, Nagarnar and Mardum.
Timings: 12.30p.m.-3.30p.m. Monday: Tokapal and Kavapal; Tuesday: Usribeda; Wednesday: Darbha; Thursday: Chingpal and Bastar; Friday: Nagarnar and Nangur; Saturday: Mardum; Sunday: Chingitarai and Jagdalpur.
The Beachfront Market at Surfers Paradise has an irresistible buzz. Photo: Phalinn Ooi/ Flickr/ Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Gold Coast’s tropical fantasy offers hunky surfers, plenty of island hopping, chilled beer in the day and night markets for angsty shopaholics on the Esplanade. Colourful canopies crop up every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evening on the beachfront, ushering in vendors with creative flair, throngs of shoppers and a buzz that is hard to resist. The market welcomes both casual drifters and determined bargain-hunters with warm hospitality. It’s the perfect place to look out for an exclusive piece of jewelry as well as fashion, art, photography, handmade beauty products and sometimes even a live interaction with a snake thrown in for good measure. Many stalls have live demonstrations to draw tourists, and vendors are eager to tell interested shoppers about their technique or the story of how they procured a product. Sometimes, the story behind the piece is more riveting than the product itself. If nothing else, make a night of it by hanging around the breezy Esplanade, beer in hand, watching buyers strike bargains while entertainers keep spirits high.
Tip: There are stalls for children that offer face painting and magic tricks to keep the kids enthralled.
Directions: The markets are put up on the Esplanade of Surfers Paradisebeach.
Timings: 5p.m.-10p.m. (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday), subject to the weather.
Im Viadukt hosts a covered food market and the city’s edgy stores. Photo: Darcy/ Flickr/ Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Expect 500 meters of shops below 36 stone arches built in the late 19th century. These were constructed to replace railway embankments and expand the congested District 5 in Zurich. Im Viadukt hosts the city’s most edgy stores and a covered food market. On offer are bags, clothes, organic food, dance lessons, quirky designer furniture (look out for The Chair store) and kitchenware. Restaurant Markthalle is where you can gorge on organic produce served up in meat platters and salads; for a lazy lunch, book ahead for Restaurant Viadukt’s seasonal country fare.
Tip: It’s difficult to grab a spot for lunch so arrive earlier, or much later, than noon.
Directions: Viaduktstrasse. Tram numbers 4 and 13 stop just in front of the covered market entrance.
Timings: 8a.m.-8p.m.; shut on Sunday.
Antiques on sale in Jew Town, Fort Kochi. Photo: Fraboof/ Flickr/ Creative Commons (bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
There is something for every kind of shopper in the burgeoning cultural heart of Fort Kochi. Grab some freshly packed ginger, cardamom, cumin, turmeric and cloves as you saunter past the graffiti-drawn walls. If the aroma of spices aren’t enough of a draw, the antiques are sure to lure a traveller into the cobbled streets of Jew Town. Loosen the purse strings for masks, wooden chests, traditional lamps, furniture, paintings and other relics from across India. But don’t set your heart on the largest uruli (bowl) – it will be hard to carry home.
Tip: A number of antique shops line the streets, but your best bet is Crafters, which has six outlets in Jew Town.
Directions: A 20-minute walk from the Mattancherry ferry stop, alternately, take an auto for about ₹20 to the old town.
keeps her travel spirit alive by sipping hot tea with strangers, swapping anecdotes from locals and peeping down from hot-air balloons.
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