One of the coolest things about traveling to Asia is the night markets. In fact, any local public markets are a sight to behold, as you’ll experience the stifling heat, insanely cramped quarters, maze-like confines, overwhelming barrage of smells (and not all of them pleasant) and incredible array of fruit, vegetables, half-butchered meat, fresh seafood, herbs, remedies, potions, trinkets, and just about every knock-off product you can find. But the authentic local markets are usually held during the day – or even in the coolest part of the early morning, and not always in areas where tourists find themselves.
Luckily, there are some great night markets in most Asian countries that cater to tourists. They are far better spaced out and specialize in local food, fare, drinks, and souvenirs, but with the tourist in mind. You’ll love wandering through these markets in places like Thailand (there are insane markets in Bangkok but just about every other touristy area you go), Cambodia (the whole Pub Street section of Siem Reap turns into a pedestrian-only market every night), and Vietnam (where they’re selling everything, all the time).
Unfortunately, the Philippines doesn’t offer many local markets geared towards tourists. I don’t know if that means they’re way behind the curve or they’re actually not selling out, but that’s another discussion. Instead, you’ll find everyone flocking to shopping malls, which are clean, safe, and nice and cool because of the AC – something hard to find here.
But I did discover a really fun night market in Makati, the thriving business and entertainment district of Manila, that country’s capital. Makati is usually where most tourists and business people stay (and home to their Red Light District), so this is easy to find. The market actually springs up in a lot that’s right in the front of the Century City Mall complex, that’s lined with hotels, luxury apartments, bars and restaurants.
But every night around 5 pm, you’ll see vendors start setting up and filling their booths. There are about four rows of kiosks and booths, with about eight or so to a row, so it’s not a huge shopping complex. They sell a lot of t-shirts, athletic shorts, women’s jeans and shorts, dresses, athletic sneakers and shoes, purses and handbags, luggage, and other sundries like beaded bracelets and perfumes.
Just be aware that most of the stuff is counterfeit, but the prices will be pretty low – and you can knock off 20-40% just by haggling. Guys, especially will like this night market because in typical Filipino sporting fashion, you’ll see a ton of Nike shirt, basketball shorts, and, my favorite, NBA jerseys. Just remember to buy a size bigger than U.S. or European sizes!
But the best part of this night market is the food area, with a row of restaurants and food vendors set up like the buffet at a big cafeteria. You can try all sorts of local Filipino food and Asian favorites for dirt cheap, and everyone mixes and mingles under the huge tents as they eat and drink. Yup, there are a few stalls where you can order local beers or mixed cocktails, too, and some nights, they have a band set up right there playing their hearts out and inspiring people to dance.
It’s a really cool night market and a great way to spend an evening to meet some local friends!