The Strangest Thing Happened to Me in Chiang Mai Sunday Market

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai Sunday market, held every… well, Sunday, is the mother of all markets. It’s the most touristy and crowded market we’ve ever visited. We loved every minute of it.

Souvenir sold at chian mai sunday market

Every Sunday night the main street of Chiang Mai was lined with stalls after stalls selling anything from handmade crafts to deeply discounted branded backpacks. The front yards of the wats (the temples) – and there seems at least a wat in every block – are turned into instant food courts crammed with more food stalls than my stomach knew what to do with.

food stall in Chiang Mai Sunday market

This is what heaven must feel like. To be surrounded with morsels of food (and so cheap) everywhere you look. (Although in heaven, I’d have 4 stomachs like a cow so I could eat 4 times as much).

People come out in droves: tourists and locals alike. By early evening, the speed of the crowd has slowed to snail like.

Chiang Mai Sunday market

Then the strangest thing happened..

My brother and I were stuck in this crowd, trying to make our way back when I noticed a crowd of people gathering around a stall. With great effort I elbowed my way through the crowd to see what they were staring at only to be mildly disappointed. They were watching people making smoothies. Wha?

Now that I’m paying a closer attention, the people working behind the booth aren’t even doing that good of a job at it. They look bored, standing around doing nothing. Don’t they realise that there’s a group of people waiting?

Quickly losing interest, I turn around and ran smash into a wall of people. Quite literally. We – as a group of people – have stopped moving and were standing completely, utterly, still.


The crowd during Chiang mai sunday market

Just imagine New York Times Square on a weekend night. You’re out and about ogling the orgy of light displays when all of a sudden the thousands of people around you are standing still as if frozen by an invisible light beam of an alien spaceship. Only the movement of their eyes give a hint that there’s life within.

Of course by this time, my brain was whirrring frantically trying to find an explanation to this phenomena.

Is it an alien attack? But no, aliens only attack American cities. Or big cities. I mean, they’d attack Bangkok. But Chiang Mai? No.

The lack of noise was obvious. I didn’t even notice how loud the thoroughfare was until it stopped being so loud. We could only hear the gurgle of static coming out of the loudpeakers spread out throughout the street. It seems that… wait, is it playing a song?

Suddenly everything clicks together. Something I read a while ago comes rushing back from the depth of my memory. They’d play Thai national anthem before every movie in movie theaters and during this time, you’re supposed to get off your butt and stand up to pay respect. The loudspeakers are currently playing the national anthem and this is why everyone has stopped whatever they were doing in the market: to stand up, stay still, and pay respect.

As soon as I realised this, the song ended. As if relased from the spell, everyone went back doing what they were doing before. The smoothie makers go back making smoothie, the shoppers and the vendors go back bargaining, we – as a group – continue inching forward as if the last 10 seconds, when the whole street of Chiang Mai stood still, didn’t happen.

You just have to be there.
I swear, it was the most surreal thing that ever happened.

Did you guess right away what was happening before the end of the post? 🙂

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20 Replies to “The Strangest Thing Happened to Me in Chiang Mai Sunday Market”

  1. first time it happened to me when i was in a stationary in Hat Yai, everyone looked at me walking around and i have no clue. i was just confused.

  2. Same thing happened when I went to see a movie for the first time in Thailand. I walked out to use the ladies room and came running back because I knew the movie was starting soon. Halfway down the steps I stopped in wtf-ness cause everyone was standing staring at the screen! Then it clicked! I'll keep this in mind when we head to the Sunday market tomorrow. Just hot to Chiang Mai 2 days ago and we'll be here for a month. I'm so excited for all the exploring!

  3. It's even stranger when you're in Bangkok during rush hour or something and everyone walking/on the Sky Train platforms stand still… You got some great shots of the market – it's been sooo busy the past few weeks!

  4. Yes! When I lived in CM, I normally got to the market too late to experience the anthem. The last time I went, right before I moved, the anthem played right as a downpour started. Plenty of people just stood in the rain, getting wetter and wetter!

  5. "Is it an alien attack? But no, aliens only attack American cities" HAHAHAA… This was just funny! And spot on too! 😉

  6. That place is always ridiculously packed but thanks for bringing back some memories, lived there for 2 months once. Will note that at "Central Plaza" they have a cool Saturday market, the merchandise is so so but the food is exquisite.

  7. We made a complete fool of ourselves on our first Sunday night market in Chiang Mai – somehow we missed that everyone had gone silent and stopped moving, and only about 30 seconds into the anthem we realized we were the only two people loudly talking and still moving. Ooops. After that first time, it was fun though to watch other confused tourists not knowing what's going on.

  8. Yes, that sounds bizarre. I would be caught off guard too! But night markets are somehow just awesome, no matter how touristy they are.

  9. My favorite part of the night market! We always ran into the street at 5:59 (from the food wats were we mowing down on food) so we could be a part of the crowd for the 6p National Anthem. They have two anthems actually, so if you go to the movies, the one they play is the King's Royal anthem, different but equally lovely to experience! 🙂

  10. I guessed flashmob, but then realised a bit further on before you said what it was.

    I've had the same thing happen in Bangkok train station as I was waiting for a night train to the south. I was reading and did notice music starting up but carried on reading. Then looked up from my book to see everybody nearby that was sitting was now standing up. I didn't know if I was supposed to stop what I was doing and stand too as a foreigner, but it seemed like the right thing to do so I did.

    Of course it also gave me the opportunity to look past the people in front of me and see the entire station, even shop staff and cleaners, at a standstill.


  11. That happened to me in the Philippines but it was a prayer that happens every day, several times a day although I knew Thailand wasn't a Catholic country like the Philippines. So strange how other countries can be so respectful.

  12. This exact same thing happened to me at the Chiang Mai night market! Luckily my sister had warned me in advance. Everyone was just frozen in place. It was so bizarre.

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