As Koh Samui’s daytime heat evaporates into the evening, the island’s loungy beach towns transform into a shopaholic’s dream; street markets featuring vendors of crafts, clothing, and food sprout up nightly in different neighbourhoods. These quirky bazaars take place mainly on the northeastern part of the island, and for hours on end they bustle like ant colonies.
Shopping is one of the preferred activities on Samui, as the variety of markets easily lend themselves to enlarging tourists’ souvenir collections—while also providing a first-hand cultural experience. The increasing number of visitors has contributed to the burgeoning market and is making these retail havens more entertaining and satisfying when it comes to finding unusual gifts and foods to try.
They won’t set you back too many Baht (the Thai currency) either, as prices are generally low and bartering, when done respectfully, is expected and welcomed. Here is a weekly countdown of the street markets you will find on this island paradise:
Sunday’s Lamai Night Market
Koh Samui’s second-largest street market is in the centre of Lamai, across from the McDonald’s and on the road to Lamai beach. Here you will find traditional souvenirs, from classic Thai clothing in dyed fabrics and lively prints, trendy flip-flops, chic sarongs, hand-carved wooden elephants of all sizes, faux Swiss army knives and Rolex watches, and electronic goods (with less-than-promising life spans), to the not-so traditional gifts, such as colourful lamps, and home decor.
The featured foods are as eclectic as the souvenirs. You will find roasted corn-on-the-cob, grilled and fried pork, chicken, seafood and beef, a huge variety of fruits, some exotic like the giant jackfruits, the mangosteen, snake fruit, and the pungent durian as well as tasty classics like pad thai and mango sticky rice just to name a few. This bazaar is not pricey, and as a shopper you’re expected to bargain.
Hang Loose On Mondays and Tuesdays
Starting off the work week, there’s a smaller version of Friday’s Bophut Fisherman’s Market, known as the Elephant Walk Market. It’s home to fewer stalls and tourists, but this shouldn’t be a deterrent as the shopping is easier and mingling with the locals and vendors is more relaxed. You will find similar souvenirs and unique garments to what’s available on the weekends; but beware that prices are slightly higher here, so make sure your bargaining hat is well and truly on.
Chaweng’s Night Market—open every night except Sunday—is less a craft and souvenir bazaar, and more of a large food court with surprisingly high-quality dining options and an enormous selection. Costs are reasonable and you will find a veritable selection of authentic Thai foods, as well as options to suit palates nostalgic for Western flavours. Tables are set up in the centre of the plaza so visitors and locals can come together to dine under the stars. And if you haven’t fixed that shopping jones yet, there are a few shops in the area that are happy to accommodate your spending needs.
Wednesdays present two market options on opposite sides of the island: the Central Festival Walking Street in Chaweng, and the Hua Thanon Night Market. The former is located just outside Central Festival Mall, the largest shopping complex on the island, and is rather commercialised. The perk is that you can finish off your evening with a movie in air-conditioned comfort (take a jacket—Thai cinemas are colder than an Alaskan winter).
Further south is the smaller Hua Thanon night bazaar where vendors peddle new and second-hand clothing, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a variety of grilled and fried foods—check out the fried grasshoppers, crickets, and silk worms for something truly unique. Here is also where you can get the best chocolate cake, green tea cake, and banana bread all while the towering statue of Guan Yu, the famed Chinese warrior, watches from above.
Thursdays At Maenam
Located in Samui’s Chinatown on the northern part of the island, the Maenam Night Market is a popular one, despite being relatively small in size. Enjoy the fried curry-and-coconut rice balls, or nosh on some savoury spring rolls. Take a stroll towards the local temple and admire its colourful and intricately-decorated frescos.
Friday’s Fisherman Fun
Samui’s largest and liveliest market takes place on Friday evenings, on the long (almost 1 km) Bophut Beach Road, in a town by the same name on the northeastern part of the island. This market inaugurates weekends by lighting up its main street, which is lined with a lovely selection of local souvenir and boutique shops.
Many of these shops participate in vending at the market, where you will find food stalls, cocktail bars, and street performers to entertain you. From handbags and sunglasses, to cheap T-shirts and jewellery, everything is either fun or functional but often not both.
Be surprised by the array of unique and somewhat rare items you can find here, too, which include natural herbs and spices, high-quality shoes and fabrics, musical instruments, and interesting fashion designs. Keep an eye peeled for beatboxing, Muay Thai demonstrations, and traditional Thai dances, mainly in front of the old pier. Food is varied and tasty (especially the seafood), and prices are rather low thanks to the many options in the spirit of competition.
Saturday Night Live
The happiest day of the week hosts a few markets, too. For a change of direction, try the northwestern part of the island on Saturday, where vendors gather around Nathon’s old pier at sunset for a bustling food market. Chaweng’s main street is also abuzz with shopping options, food vendors, and colourful activities.
The Week Is Over. Now What?
After collecting a nice stock of souvenirs to take home, as well as noshing your way through the street stalls, it’s time to go home and rest those octopus-like limbs of yours, now tired of reaching out for everything in sight. It’s now time to assess your treasures and remember your time in Koh Samui’s shopping paradise.