Honest to God, I am conflicted when it comes to night markets. On the one hand, you can find some spectacular street food with a buzzing atmosphere. On the other, the atmosphere is buzzing and the crowds can be incredibly draining.
In the nicest way possible, it’s a cacophony of sights and sounds that will delight your every senses, especially if you’re in Southeast Asia, where night markets are kind of a necessary experience. If you want to be blunt, it’s an overwhelming human death trap.
Of course, what I mean to say is that if you plan well and properly, take note of a few important things, a night at the night market can be one of the most fun and belly-filled experiences you can have.
From bringing your own electric fan to navigating your way through the dastardly crowds, here’s a survival guide for night markets.
1. Arrive Early
If you’re not one for squeezing in a sea of sticky sweaty people, then you’re in for a rude awakening.
Crowds and night markets are synonymous for the most part, one only needs to look at the rather recent edition of Taiwan’s Shilin Night Market that did a pop-up in Singapore, where it was said that the queue for fried chicken was a whopping three hours.
There’s a simple, well I wouldn’t call it a solution, but a certainly a boon for your overall night market experience. Arrive early, just barely after the night market opens and the vendors have set up their shops. You’ll be treated to a quiet (relatively) aisles of food, shopping, and games with minimal queue times.
Even night markets can have fresh air.
2. Be Aware Of Your Surroundings
When it comes to crowds, there are undoubtedly dangers that lurk within, no matter how large or small. Things can quite hectic especially when you’re bumping against everyone from stall to stall, be sure to stick close to your friends and hold your valuables even tighter.
Popular night markets like Bangkok’s Chatuchak can draw crowds like you’ve never seen before, so you have to be wary of crafty pickpockets that roam around. It’s best if you don’t bring too large amounts of cash and minimise the valuables you have on you.
3. Have a Handy-dandy Portable Electric Fan
Now, this isn’t exactly the number one thing that people think of when it comes to necessities to bring to a night market, but it can quite possibly be the most valuable by the end of the night.
With Southeast Asian markets, the climate is typically a tropical one, so that means an abundance of heat and humidity. Tack on the large number of people, it’s going to be incredibly sweaty as you traverse through the market.
Having a portable electric fan can save you, giving you another cooling method aside from the ice-cold bubble teas you’ll definitely be downing.
4. Go in a Group
A larger group is instrumental if you want to get the most of a night market. Sure, you can go alone or with a friend or two, but you’ll find yourself hard pressed to enjoy all the various food available.
The queues can get unbearably long, so splitting up to get various food may actually be your best bet, assuming you want to experience all that you can. Assign different stalls to different people and choose a location to meet back up. The best thing is you if you are designated to take care of all the belongings, just sit back and wait for food to be served.
Having a smorgasbord of food to share with everyone will also ensure you don’t overstuff yourself with one particular type. You’ll be able to taste most of what the night market has to offer, and who knows, you might be more convicted to conquer the queue for the food you like best.
5. Having a Local Certainly Helps
Taiwan’s night markets can get quite hectic, so a local guide can be that stabilising force (and haggling force, but more on that later) for you.
When you’re in a country that speaks a different language than you, it can be quite challenging to engage in conversations with the stall owners. Though most of them now do speak some basic English for communication, nothing beats speaking in their native tongue.
With a local, you may see that you receive even more hospitality and warm service than usual. On top of that, a local can probably bring you to some hidden gems and spots that you would otherwise have missed out, making your night market experience a unique and hopefully more fulfilling one.
The ancient art of haggling, a time-honoured tradition of night markets worldwide.
I don’t care how rich you are, everyone loves a bit of discount every now and then. Lucky for you, haggling is permitted in most night markets. The first price stall vendors quote you are usually inflated, so do not settle on those.
Nicely bargain for a lower price (a reasonable one of course), and more often times than not, they will say that’s too much. But don’t fret, for now, the game’s afoot! Shrug and start to walk away, they will most likely call you back and acquiesce to your requests.
It’s up to you then, but of course, everyone has their bottom line so be sure not too push past their limits.
One exception though: Haggling over prices at food stalls is rare, and c’mon, do you really think it’s a good idea as a visitor to complain about the price of local street food? Besides prices are mostly prominently displayed, so make like the locals do and pony up.
7. Do Not be Afraid to Try Bizarre Food
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Ningxia Night Market in Taiwan was pretty neat. I went on a Saturday night, so it was very crowded and there were long lines for everything. I settled for Takoyaki as well as a pork kebab sandwich. I balked at the duck head. #NingxiaNightMarket #Ninxia #NightMarket #Night #Market #TaipeiTaiwan #Taipei #Taiwan #StreetFood #Street #Food #Foodie #DuckHead #Duck #Head #Chicken #Seafood #🦐 #🦑 #🐙 #🦆 #🐓 #🇹🇼
Food is invariably one of the largest, if not the largest draws of any night market.
As with the night markets around Southeast Asia, you’ll come across a bunch of food unique to the various cultures, and some might even be shocking to those who come from out of the region. From the insects famed in Thailand to the stinky tofu on the streets of Taiwan, your eyes will be opened as you explore more markets.
My recommendation? Be adventurous, be daring. Eating at a night market is one of the times when food becomes more than just mere taste, it’s a holistic experience. Don’t miss out on the chance to fully immerse yourself in a new culture and pick up some incredible stories to tell.