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Home Thailand Maesai ⇒ Maesai’s Markets

Maesai: Thailand’s Northern Gate

3The Markets of Maesai

Roast chestnut seller in Maesai
Roast chestnut seller in Maesai.

Narrow lanes and alleys branch off the main street and run for a few hundred yards before loosing themselves in fields and footpaths. These end in a confusion of schools, temples and market places and hold what charm there is here. But it’s the markets that everyone comes for.


Many people cross the border from Myanmar to Thailand to sell local produce. It’s a good place to buy fruits and vegetables from more temperate climates. Roasted sweet-chestnuts are one of my favourite items, while apples, oranges and persimmon from China are always available. There are large bags of dried mushrooms, bottles of medicinal wine and racks of mysterious dried herbage.

Roadside lychee sellers in Maesai
Roadside lychee sellers in Maesai.

Maesai is filled with modern concrete buildings and small stalls lining every dusty narrow street. You can buy everything from dried lichen, avocados and roast chestnuts to cheap Chinese telescopes and CD players. There are stalls selling gemstones, jade carvings and silverware and there is a large selection of carvings in wood, stone and jade. Most are modern reproductions, but the serious collector can find original pieces. Once you have the shopkeeper’s trust you will be shown into an inner sanctum, often the family living area, with display cases full of religious statues and fragments of temple friezes. Many of these have been taken from temples in Burma, or are from private collections being sold off.

Chinese foodstuffs on sale
Chinese foodstuffs on sale.

The town’s western market is a maze of narrow alleys between tightly squeezed stalls and tiny workshops. Its entrance is opposite The Thai Kasakorn Bank on the main street. People seem to spend their lives in crammed into 2 square yards, hunched over a black Singer sewing machine in sweltering, airless conditions. It always puts me in mind of Hong Kong’s teeming tenements. The narrowness of the alleys doesn’t stop people taking shortcuts through the busy market on their motorcycles. There is barely enough room for one bike, so when two meet one of them has to back up until they can find a space wide enough to pass.

The goods for sale are unexciting, mainly cheap clothes and shoddy shoes at surprisingly high prices: it’s the people that make it so interesting.

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