Warorot Market in Chiang Mai

The Warorot Market in Chiang Mai

Table of Contents

Introduction

The Warorot Market in Chiang Mai is also known as Kad Luang, which translates as “big market”. It is the most popular market in the city. It is a huge complex where you can spend a couple of hours and where a great variety of goods are for sale. The Warorot Market is the most picturesque market in Chiang Mai and a must-visit place for tourists. It is by far our favorite market. The area around the Warorot Market is Chiang Mai’s Chinatown.

Many people know this market complex as the Warorot Market but this market is only one of three markets in this complex. The other two are the Ton Lam Yai and the Nawarat markets. This complex is still the vibrant, beating heart of Chiang Mai. Even in the era of air-conditioned shopping malls I much prefer to roam around on the Warorot Market.

Chinese temple Warorot Market
Kuan U Shrine at the Warorot Market

The History of the Ton Lam Yai Market

The Ton Lam Yai market is on the Ping River and includes the flower market. “Ton Lam Yai” translates as “longan tree”. There were probably lam yai aka longan trees in this area. Before the establisment of the Ton Lam Yai Market the elephant stables of the rulers of Chiang Mai were in this area. In the late 19th or early 20th century a Burmese merchant named Luang Yonakan Phichit (Mong Panyo Upayokin) rented the land to raise and keep logging elephants for the Borneo Company and Bombay Burmah Corporation. These British firms were engaged in the teak logging industry. Luang Yonakan Phichit’s residence was close to this area, on Charoenprathet Road. It is still there and known as the Upayokin House.
Gold shops and monk
Gold shops at the Warorot Market

Riverine trade and the Ton Lam Yai Market

Luang Yonakan Phichit also funded the construction of a row of houses for his workers on the Ping River bank. Merchants came to this community to sell their goods, which became a small market. This market became the Ton Lamyai Market, which thus predates the Warorot Market. In those days the river was the main route of transportation of goods and people coming from Bangkok. Not until January 1922 did the construction of the railway from Bangkok reached Chiang Mai. Scorpion boats coming from Bangkok moored at two piers, one in front of the current American consulate and one opposite the samlor parking space. This is the location of the Ton Lam Yai Market:

Indoor food market Ton Lam Yai Market
Stalls at the Ton Lam Yai Market
Round sausages ton lam yai market
Northern Thai sausage "Sai Ua", Warorot Market

The History of the Warorot Market

The land on which the Warorot Market was established was the cemetery of the rulers of Chiang Mai. In 1909 Dara Rasmi, the Princess Consort of King Chulalongkorn, ordered the cemetery to be moved to Wat Suan Dok. She was the daughter of Chao Inthawichayanon, the 7th ruler of Chiang Mai. A year later she developed the land into a market and named it after Chao Inthawaroros Suriyawong, the 8th ruler of Chiang Mai.  This is the location of the Warorot Market:

Two female Warorot Market sellers
Warorot Market sellers

The History of the Nawarat Market

The Nawarat Market, also known as Chek Ou Market, is named after Prince Kaew Nawarat, the last ruler of Chiang Mai. His residence was at this location. In 1945 a man called Thaw Kae Ou aka Chu Osathaphan bought the residence for this family. The house was not in good condition so he decided to demolish it in 1957. After this he developed the land into a market place and named it after the last ruler of Chiang Mai. Mainly local people visit this market, which is less attractive for tourists.

Traditional dance performance
Dance performance at the residence of Chao Kaew Nawarat, possibly during the visit of King Rama VII in January, 1927. Picture courtesy of Oliver Backhouse

The Chinese shrines

There are two Chinese places of worship at the market: the Kuan U Shrine and the Pung Tao Gong Ancestral Temple. Chinese immigrants who became traders at the market founded the Kuan U Shrine on Kuang Men road during the reign of Chao Inthawichayanon (1870-1897). Kuan U aka Guan Yu is the god of Loyalty. Another altar is devoted to ancestor worship and there is a plaque dedicated to the Chao and his wife Thipakeson.

The Pung Tao Gong Ancestral Temple on Wichayanon road is the oldest Chinese temple, dating back to 1876. The temple underwent a restoration in 1996 during which also two shophouses were removed that were in front of the temple.

Chinese temple Warorot Market
Kuan U Shrine at the Warorot Market
Altar at the Chinese temple Thailand Tours
Pung Tao Gong Ancestral Temple at the Warorot Market

The Chansom Memorial Foot Bridge

The Chansom Memorial Foot Bridge aka “Khua Kaek” over the Ping River is one of the landmarks of the Warorot Market. It connects the market to the Wat Ket neighborhood. Khua is an old Northern Thai word for bridge and “Kaek” refers to a person from India or Pakistan.

In 1965 a Pakistani merchant, Motiram or Montri Kosalaphirom, funded the construction of the bridge in memory of his deceased wife Chansom. He was the owner of the “Chiang Mai Store”, a store selling fabrics at the Warorot Market. After it was damaged in the floods of 2011 authorities ordered its demolition a year later. It took four years to reconstruct this footbridge. The new bridge opened in 2016.

Construction of bridge over river
Construction of the Chansom Anusorn footbridge in 1965. Picture by Boonserm Satrabhaya
Buddhist monks on a bridge
Monks on the new Chansom Anusorn Bridge

The fire of 1968

On February 13, 1968, disaster struck the Warorot Market. A fire broke out in a stall at the Ton Lam Yai Market, which spread to the Warorot Market. The late photographer Boonserm Satrabhaya took a lot of dramatic pictures on that day. His photographs show the chaos and consternation on that day. You can find all this photos of that dreadful day on the Picture Lanna website.

The fire totally destroyed the Warorot and Ton Lam Yai markets. After the fire merchants had to set up their stalls in Thapae road and along Chang Klan road until the reconstruction of the markets. Prof. An Nimmanhaemin, an architect and member of the famous family of the same name, designed the new market. It took more than four years to construct a new market, which opened on March 16, 1972.

People standing in a river with fire in the background
Kad Luang Fire in 1968. On the right people are watching from the Chansom Memorial Bridge. Picture by Boonserm Satrabhaya
old picture of ruined buildings and river
Kad Luang after the fire. In the background the Ping River with the Chansom Memorial foot bridge. Picture by Boonserm Satrabhaya.

Diversity of the Warorot Market

The merchants at the markets mainly came from three ethnic groups: Chinese,  Sikhs from India and local people. The Sikhs were the owners of most of the fabric stalls at the markets. They established the Namdhari Gurudwara, a Sikh temple, near the market at about the same time as the foundation of the market. The Chinese established their own places of worship and the Hindus founded a temple not too far from the market. Over time the markets only grew in importance and popularity. Each market had its own character and clientele. Kad Luang specialized in textiles and fabrics, souvenirs and local traditional dress. The Chek Ou market became a center for wholesale products and is the least visited market. Ton Lam Yai Market specialized in vegetables, fruit, meat and flowers. Along the Ping river front are the colorful flower stalls.
View on inside market
Warorot Market
Colourful flowers Ton Lam Yai Market
Flowers at Ton Lam Yai Market

The influence of tourism

With the growth of tourism, starting in the late 1980s, the Warorot and Ton Lam Yai markets changed. The markets became a very popular destination for tourists. Merchants started to sell products that cater to tourists. Nowadays fresh food, dried fish, vegetables and fruit are sold outside the markets. The nearby Muang Mai market is the place where people go to buy these products wholesale.

Just outside Kad Luang there is now a place called the Hmong market. Here the Hmong people from Doi Suthep and the Mae Sa valley sell their souvenirs and traditional dress. This market is an absolute must for lovers of traditional tribal textiles. The Hmong Market is just outside Kad Luang:

Tribal traditional dress
Hmong dress at the Hmong Market

Centennial Celebration of Kad Luang

In 2010 a Centennial Celebration of Kad Luang took place with exhibitions and events. The Navin Production Company of local artist Navin Rawanchaikul produced below painting to commemorate this occasion. Portrayed are some of the people who played some role in the history of the market.

We recognize Dara Rasmi, the princess consort who founded the market, amd American reverend McGilvary, the founder of the Presbyterian Mission. We also recognize Dr.Marion Cheek, the missionary doctor turned business man who built the residence of Kaew Nawarat and the First Church. The man in the green shirt holding the camera is Boonserm Satrabhaya, the late legendary photographer. In the hall of the Warorot Market a similar banner is hanging.

Painting with a lot of people
Navin Rawanchaikul painting on the occasion of the centennial celebration of Kad Luang in 2010

Great food at Kad Luang

For food lovers Kad Luang is a paradise. The variety of Northern Thai, Shan and Thai food is just mind boggling. In the basement of the Warorot Market you can enjoy local dishes such as Shan noodles or Khao Soi, the famous Northern Thai noodle dish. At the ground floor you buy the typical Northern Thai sausage (Sai Ua) and local delicacies such as fried pork rind. This snack aka “Kaeb Moo” comes with a spicy dip “sauce”, called Nam Phrik Noom.

Another typical local dish is sticky rice in bamboo aka Khao Laam. Although having lunch at this market will be too local for some people, I can highly recommend it. I go there quite often. Don’t forget to visit the increasingly popular Ton Keng shop where they produce Patongko, the fried bread stick.

bamboo sticks with rice
Plate of noodle soup
Khao Soi with tofu
fried pork skin
Kaeb Moo or fried pork rinds

The Samlors of Kad Luang

The last samlors (bicycle taxis) of Chiang Mai are based at Kad Luang. They are split into two groups.

In front of the Chansom Memorial foot bridge the bigger group, led my driver Manit, have their parking place. The samlors of the other group are usually parked at Wichayanon road, the road between the Warorot and the Ton Lam Yai Markets. These groups don’t get along for some reason. Most of the drivers are in their seventies and eighties. Each of them has his own story. Most of them have been samlor drivers for decades.

They have had a very hard time since the Covid-19 crisis started. A local Rotary Club has supported them but let’s hope tourists will return this year. Chiang Mai a la Carte has organized samlor tours since 2016 under the brand Chiang Mai on Three Wheels and we will continue to do so. We have a section dedicated to samlor tours in Chiang Mai. We also offer samlor tours in Lamphun and in Chiang Rai.

Bicycle taxi after dark
Samlor at the Warorot Market

The beating heart of Chiang Mai

I highly recommend to visit the Warorot and Ton Lam Yai Markets when you are in Chiang Mai. It is a great place to spend a couple of hours, a must-visit destination. Visit the Chinese places of worship, enjoy some of the delicacies and cross the Ping River by the footbridge to the Wat Ket neighborhood. Don’t forget to make a ride by samlor. Most of the remaining samlor drivers have their base at the market. Kad Luang is the beating heart of Chiang Mai and will always be popular with local people. It is a place of Living Heritage. It is my favorite place in Chiang Mai.

The Ton Lam Yai and Warorot Markets feature in these tours:

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