He Said/She Said: Malls vs Markets

He Said/She Said: Malls vs Markets

Asia’s unique malls and markets are definitely worth a visit, but which provides a better experience?  We provide our views after visiting countless malls and markets throughout Asia, after reading our perspectives tell us which you prefer to visit when traveling.



Complete with air-conditioning, labeled prices, Krispy Kreme and clean bathrooms with toilet paper, what’s not to love about an Asian mall?  Before your head starts filling with scenes from your most recent trip to a mall or Mallrats, realize a mall in Asia is a different experience.  Filled with top-end designer stores they are more Champs-Élysées than Hot Topic.  The teenagers in an Asian mall searching for the most status wielding item instead of quarters left in vending machines.  Overall, malls in Asia are one of the best getaways from the outside world.

Hmm…I wonder if it’s sink washable…

While outside the mall people may be peddling knock-off watches, inside only real Rolexes are sold and worn.  Louis Vuitton sells umbrellas that must do more than protect its owner from rain, or at least it better for the price.  Zara markets it’s wears to the less fortunate budget shoppers, while Dior and Prada sell children’s clothes for the the more respectable.  Look as you may, you won’t find any of the daily hassles, congestion or wealth imbalances you will find outside the confines of the mall.

Tired of eating and shopping?  Why not have a nap?  Try this at a market!

In many places, except Singapore and Hong Kong, wandering the malls is a relaxing and tranquil experience compared with the hustle of Asia.  Oh, did I mention it’s airconditioned?  With the stifling detoxifying humidity of much of Asia, the mall’s airconditioning can be a savior.  So are the completely free, regularly cleaned, western style toilets.  If you ever need a staycation in an Asian city head right for their most luxurious mall.  Enjoy delicious foods, local and international, while seeing what life could be like, if only your money-tree was bearing fruit.  It’s not about the shopping really, it’s about learning how other people live, those people that are peeved Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous aren’t around to profile them.




I’ve been to some stellar malls in the last year as we toured Asia, but give me a market any day over a mall.  A market allows you to get in tune with the pulse of a place and meet the people.  A mall may provide a free bathroom, but you don’t get to handle a raw chicken and rub shoulders with the locals.  I want to smell the food and see the bartering first hand; price tags and store displays are overrated.

The mélange of spices, flowers and fresh produce that greets you immediately upon stepping foot into a market is exactly what I love.  Each market offers a completely unique sensory experience. The pungent smell of dried fish that still haunts my nostrils to this day serves as a vivid memory of Vietnamese markets. While a visit to any of the malls we have been to in the last year doesn’t conjure up a single sensory memory.

A Myanmar woman measuring dried fish for sale in a local market at Inle Laket

When you enter a mall all that greets you is fluorescent track lighting and impersonal service.  In contrast when you enter a market you hear the singsong calls of vendors and the din of conversation among friends.  Markets are where people meet, gossip and catch up.  I have never been invited to try a freshly made local delicacy or share breakfast with a local while perusing the products at a mall.  In fact I have never had a personal interaction within the confines of the consumer kingdoms springing up in all of Asia’s major cities.

If you’re looking for a personal experience, want to learn about the local culture, have a conversation with someone that really knows his or her products and try food that you won’t soon forget then you can’t beat a market.  Markets are where daily life is played out in all its drama.  However, if you’re yearning for an experience that doesn’t even necessitate flying half way around the world to have then you can easily get your Prada fix at the mall, but I can tell you you’re missing out.

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» Shannon :
Feb 7, 2012

I would like to see Matt planking instead of snoozing on the fancy mall bench.

LOCAVORista Reply:

Shan, we haven’t quite figured out the whole planking trend yet- but we’ll work on pictures for ‘ya.

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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