7 world markets to see before you buy

7 world markets to see before you buy

Flowery, freaky, fishy, flea-y, floaty, frenzied and festive -- the world’s best markets are as much about sensory overload as they are about finding a bargain

What? A best-markets-of-the-world lineup without Marrakesh, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili in the mix? But you already know about those, and anyway we just mentioned them.

If you’re still searching for that elusive knockoff, that priceless US$20 trinket, that vintage earthenware goblet -- above all, that authentic bazaar experience -- you can bet your top and bottom dollar you’ll score big at one of the following, one-of-a-kind markets around the world.

 

1. FLEA

Rose Bowl Flea Market: Los Angeles

Rose Bowl Flea MarketHuge crowds, but everyone leaves with a bargain and a great memory.
Every second Sunday of the month, 2,500 vendors and 20,000 hagglers gather outside Pasadena’s storied Rose Bowl to barter over Eames chairs, Richard Pryor memorabilia, antique dental tools, art deco glassware and that autographed Aerosmith bootleg you’ve been hunting for.

Never mind Hollywood or Venice Beach, here’s the definitive L.A. Experience. A tradition since 1969.

Best buys: Locals flock here for anti-IKEA home furnishing deals they can stuff into a friend’s borrowed pickup. Travelers come for vintage clothing and accessories, cheap 502 Levi's owned by former B-list celebrities and the best people-watching in Southern California.

Know B4 u go: Regular admission, starting at 9 a.m., costs US$8, but you can pay more to get in earlier, starting from 5 a.m.

Rose Bowl Flea Market: 1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena, +1 323 560 7469; www.rgcshows.com

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2. FLOATING

Tha Kha Floating Market: Ratchaburi, Thailand

Thai floating marketSomehow a boat ride makes everything OK, even a crazy, chaotic trip to the shops.
Every beige-pants-wearing Southeast Asian traveler and their posse of touts flock to the far better known Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.

A more authentic option: hiding out with your Canon at this far less touristed aqua-bazaar just ten kilometers away -- where the same colorful chaos of flat boats captained by tough-as-nails Thai women awaits, with rather fewer Rough Guide-reading riffraff.

Best buys: Go ahead and score that ripe mangosteen or choice bunch of Malacca grapes. The prime takeaway experience is a hired boat ride along the canals -- and an overnight in one of several homestays in the area.

Know B4 u go: Consult the heavens before you arrive. The market is only open six days a month (6 a.m.-noon) in accordance with the Thai lunar calendar.

10 kilometers from Damnoen Saduak market, your best bet is to hire a taxi. Open 6 a.m.-noon weekends only.

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3. FISH

Tsukiji Central Fish Market: Tokyo

Tsukiji Central Fish MarketTsukiji is one vast maritime buffet.
“Lost in Translation” is an I-Can-Read book compared to the incomprehensible scene inside Japan’s biggest seafood market -- a 1,200-stall, hangar-style building on Tokyo Bay packed to the gills with frenzied fishmongers and wholesalers bartering over 2,000-plus tons of marine meat every day.

Can a single ocean actually support this place?

Best buys: If you’re a local buyer, choose from more than 450 kinds of seafood. Visitors can feast their eyes on these proceedings (after 9 a.m. when tourists are permitted inside the “inner” market) and then sample the goods in the “outer” market’s lineup of top sushi bars.

Know B4 u go: The early-morning tuna auction is legendary, and currently restricted to 140 first-come-first-served spectators per day -- who line up at the market’s main info center by 5 a.m.

Above Tsukiji Shijo Station on the Oedo Subway Line, or a five-minute walk from Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya Subway Line. The closest rail station is Shimbashi, about 15 minutes' walk from the market. www.tsukiji-market.or.jp

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4. FRENZIED

Chandni Chowk: Delhi

chandni chowk New DelhiThis is actually one of the wider alleys in Chandni Chowk.
It’s saying something when a shopping district is routinely called “incomparable” even by Indian standards.

The swarm of spice sellers, masala merchants, paneer pushers, Vishnu figurine hawkers and every other imaginable purveyor and shopkeeper buried in the rickshaw and oxcart traffic of Old Delhi’s timeless commercial artery, Chandni Chowk, erases all doubt that roads like New York’s Canal Streetor L.A.’s Santee Alley are relatively young and tame.

Best buys: Pick your specialized alley for clothes, fabrics, jewelry, leather goods or electronics and let the haggling begin. The real headliner here is Delhi street food -- beginning (and ending) with a deep-fried jalebi at the institutional Old and Famous Jalebi Wala on Dariba Kalan Road.

Know B4 u go: Duck into the adjacent Red Fort (a palatial-style stronghold and UNESCO World Heritage Site) or the Jama Masjid (India’s largest mosque) to decompress and view two of the subcontinent’s most outstanding architectural achievements.

Any rickshaw wallah in the city will take you to Chandni Chowk in north New Delhi for less than US$5.

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5. FLOWER

Aalsmeer Flower Auction: Aalsmeer, The Netherlands

Holland flower marketOne trip with your beloved to the flower auction, a lifetime of sins forgiven.
The most only-in-Holland-experience that doesn’t involve a “coffeeshop” takes place 16 miles southwest of Amsterdam in the small lakeside town of Aalsmeer -- home of the world’s largest flower auction.

About 20 million flowers and more than 13,000 varieties are bartered off in a visitor-friendly warehouse that’s reckoned -- at 990,000 square meters -- to be the third largest in the world.

Best buys: If you’re shopping for a cheap spring bouquet, stick with Amsterdam’s Bloemenmarkt. Aalsmeer’s more of a spectator sport where visitors can watch pros bid on football field-size quantities of tulips, gardenias, roses, lilies and gerber daisies before ending up in the site’s souvenir shop for floriculture tchotchkes.

Know B4 u go: Get here early. Technically the auction runs until 11 a.m., but the flower bidding wars hit their stride at around 7 a.m.

Take bus 172 from outside Centraal Station, near the Victoria Hotel, which stops right outside the auction warehouse. www.floraholland.com/en/AboutFloraHolland

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6. FESTIVE

San Pedro Telmo Antiques Fair: Buenos Aires

San Pedro Telmo Antiques FairA little shopping, a little coffee, a little dancing in the street. Why not?
Officially, this Sunday proceeding -- about 270 stalls and 10,000 pedestrians -- held in the main plaza of historic San Telmo is billed as an antiques fair. Fair enough.

But it's a Buenos Aires-styled antiques fair -- replete with carnivalesque street performers, musicians and impromptu tango performances.

Best buys: Old gaucho bolos and bridles, classic tango art and recordings and other Argentine gems you won’t find elsewhere are for sale in Plaza Dorrego and along the Crafts Walk on Calle Defensa.

Know B4 u go: After the vendors start packing up at around 4 p.m., stick around for the outdoor Milonga, the city’s best free, Sunday evening open-air tango dance party.

Dorrego Square, Defensa and Humberto, 1 Buenos Aires; every Sunday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

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7. FREAKISH

Sonora Witchcraft Market: Mexico City

Mexico witchcraft marketThese three had been dying to come to this market for years.
You can only browse through so many buckets of chilies, cactus paddles and piñata stalls at Mercado de la Merced, Mexico City’s top farmers' market, before it’s time for a jolt of the occult at the neighboring Mercado de Sonora -- a maze of ritualistic, remedy-filled booths that’s collectively been called “the Walmart of the witch world.”

Best buys: It all depends on what you’re trying to attract or repel by spiritual means. The range of healing herbs, love potions, Santería charms, voodoo dolls, tarot-reading luminaries, unorthodox dandruff cures and dried critters is staggering.

Know B4 u go: Mercado Sonora is held in sacred regard by a loyal local following. While browsing for snake blood, be respectful with your comments and camera.

Avenida Fray Servando Teresa, Venustiano Carranza, Mexico City.

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Jordan Rane writes regularly for CNN Travel and The Los Angeles Times. A Lowell Thomas Award recipient from the Society of American Travel Writers, his work on travel and the outdoors has spanned six continents and appeared in over 50 publications. He lives in Los Angeles.

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