One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local life and culture of a country is to visit the markets. These places are full of fun, fascinating, rare, and gorgeous souvenirs that you'll adore for years to come. Some markets are purposely for tourists but others are where locals do their shopping. The Maasai Market in Nairobi is easy to navigate on your own while Chandi Chowk in New Delhi is mind-boggling and best experienced with a guide. These 10 unique markets are full of treasures that are sure to leave you with incredible souvenirs and a story or two to tell.
10. Dubai Traditional Souqs, Dubai, United Arab, Emirates
Start out in the Spice Souq and make your way through the alleys into the textile section full of soft pashminas, intricate poufs and pillows, bolts of fabric. Mixed in with the textiles are shops selling lanterns, silverware and beaded jewelry. If you keep walking you’ll eventually end up in the Gold Souq where every window glows yellow with the most intense display of gold bridal jewelry. You will also find shops selling silver and pearls but gold dominates. This market is a great and inexpensive place to buy souvenirs in a city that is known for its luxury shopping malls, but you’ll be happy to get back to the calm of your hotel and maybe lounge poolside after the hectic atmosphere and intense haggling matches of the souq.
9. Muara Kuin Floating Market, Banjarmasin, Indonesia
Floating Markets across Southeast Asia are a sight to see, people selling all manner of goods on precarious little boats on a river that is buzzing with commerce. The Muara Kuin Floating Market is estimated to be about 400 years old, and is where many people can come to get their supply of fruits and vegetables as well as trinkets, carvings, and flowers. The boats they use are called jukungs and are often quite old, you’ll see people paddling their jukung standing up and wonder how they don’t upend themselves into the murky river. The frenzy of activity takes place before sunrise so you’ll have to get up early to catch the haggling mania.
8. Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, India
Be forewarned, culture shock may have you turning on your heels and fleeing this crowded, discombobulated marketplace; but if you can manage to take a few calming breaths and soldier on, you’ll be in for a unique experience. The market is over 300 years old and is a great place to buy silk, gold, antiques, perfumes, spices, and jewelry. There are different sections throughout the market that specialize in different things which is very convenient but the market is very large and confusing so it is easy to get lost. Hiring a guide to help you navigate the market place is a good option to maximize your time and overall enjoyment.
7. Luang Prabang Night Market, Luang Prabang, Laos
Every night in the city center of Luang Prabang, the night market stalls light up and rows of colourful fruit arrangements are laid out. In addition to the succulent fruit you can purchase all the elephant pants your heart desires. The night market is the optimal place to do your souvenir shopping and buy some beautiful artworks but steer clear of the ivory goods, you don’t want to support the poaching of endangered species.
6. KhanAl Khalil Market, Cairo, Egypt
A maze of Islamic arches and narrow alleys, the KhanAl Khalil Market is straight out of your Arabian nights fantasy. The displays of colourful lanterns will have you dreaming up the most beautiful home decor makeovers. This market is a shopper’s paradise and you can find anything and everything you could ever want but be wary as the sellers are very crafty and may smooth talk you into buying an authentic antique, only to find out later that it is a fake. You’ll also want to bone up on your haggling skills because in Egypt, a fierce haggler is to be respected.
5. Freitag Container Shop, Zurich, Switzerland
A very non-traditional market, the Freitag's Container Shop is actually the highest building in Zurich and the world’s tallest shipping container building. Frietag is known for their recycled material bags made from truck tarps. They turned 17 shipping containers into a sustainable marketplace, complete with a lookout platform at the top. The Freitag shipping container shop is not a marketplace exactly as they only sell Freitag merchandise but it is an interesting example of how a marketplace could take up less space (rising instead of sprawling) and could make use of recycled structures to house vendors.
4. Maasai Market, Nairobi, Kenya
The Maasai Market moves daily so check with your hotel front desk or the tourist information center at the airport to find out where the market is happening the day you want to go. The Maasai tribes are known for their exquisite and colorful beaded jewelry, sandals, and other crafts as well as wooden carvings, and gorgeous patterned textiles. You;ll need to haggle here but you can always get a great deal and the sellers are usually very friendly.
3. Les Puces de Paris St-Ouen, Paris, France
The Paris St-Ouen Flea Market covers 7 Hectares including 14 markets that will make you drool and mentally redecorate your entire home and throw out every item in your closet so you can start over. Les Puces is filled with antiques, goods from all over the world, tapestries, restored furniture, vintage clothing, shoes, bags, and jewelry. Dotted throughout the market are small cafes and restaurants where live musicians often play and you can relax after taking in an overwhelming amount of art, antiques, and bric a brac.
2. Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech, Morocco
Street theatre, snake charmers, live musical performances, and an eclectic array of items to buy, the D’jemaa el Fna market in Marrakech enchants the wanderer. The name D’Jemaa el Fna means “assembly of the dead” which does not allude to ghosts but executions that were once commonplace in the main square. The marketplace is not just a great place to buy rugs, spices and crafts, there are also many food stalls at night, henna artists applying intricates designs on women's skin, the market is a carnival of rare entertainment, just don’t forget to try the orange juice, it is reputed to be the best in the world!
1. Mercado de las Brujas (Witch's Market) La Paz, Bolivia
Building a new house and need to bless the home and ensure it’s luck, protection, and prosperity? Head to the Witches Market in La Paz, Bolivia to buy a miscarried llama fetus to bury under the foundation. Yes that’s right, llama fetus. The La Paz Witches Market is full of odd curios that are deeply rooted in Bolivia’s mystic traditions of the Aymaran beliefs. Need a spell to attract a lover or a potion to cure what ails you, this market has you covered. There are onsite Yatiri (witch doctors) who you can identify by their black hats and coca pouches. They don’t just cure you or sell you spells and potions, you can also seek spiritual advice; kind of a one-stop-shop for your physical and mental wellness. Take a walk through the Mercado de las Brujas and you’ll come across Bolivian armadillos, black penis candles, medicinal herbs, figurines, and an assortment of dried animals.
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