Chiang Mai, the land of MANY temples!
The “city” (if you want to call it that, more of a densely populated town) of Chiang Mai is surrounded by a moat and we were told the best area to stay was within it. We ended up in a seemingly perfect location, although it seemed like as long as we were within the moat, we couldn’t have gone wrong with our choice. We, of course booked through Ebates and Hotels.com to get our rewards… (please sign up and make a purchase through our links so we get credit!) The city is extremely walkable! Feel free to walk in the street if the sidewalk is not as smooth as you’d like, it definitely narrows and has holes you have to hop over. The people of Chiang Mai are very considerate if you’re in the road and you’ll be safe, using your head of course. We heard “just keep a constant speed!”
Chiang Mai is interesting because it definitely has a lot of tourists, but feels like an authentic Thai city in its looks, feels, smells and tastes. It’s far from feeling like a touristy place. Yes, there are some markets that cater to those who don’t know any better, but worlds away from the feeling of Patong, Phuket or Ao Nang. No one yelling at you to buy something or saying their menu is the best.
There are over 300 temples, or Wats, in Chiang Mai, so unless you’re here for a LONG time, it’s almost impossible to see them all! The wats pretty much line the streets, so walking down any of them and you are sure to find a few. It was interesting to check them all out! They are all so intricate and detailed in their design. A lot of them had entire portions covered in gold leaf and we even went to one made completely out of silver! Each wat is really a work of art with many buddhas surrounding them in many colors. Some blue, some green, many gold. Big ones, small ones, fat laughing ones and thin meditating ones. One even had a giant Buddha lying down. All the wats that we visited had Buddhist monks that live there, we thought it was so cool to see them walk around, going about their prayers and daily lives as us travelers photographed them in their bright orange clothes. All of the wats were “same same but different”.
In between temple visits, Chiang Mai had many street food carts to choose from if you need a quick snack! From BBQ pork belly chopped up and thrown in a bag to go, to freshly fried bananas on the side walk.. you’re never left hungry! We took a fun video of the banana action that you can check out on our Instagram!
Everyone says you MUST get a massage here and Dean couldn’t wait. We found a really nice place that ended up being only about $5! I got a manicure for the same price. It was heaven! They really take their time and make sure they’re doing the best job they can. Definitely not like in the states where most of the places just want to cycle you in and out to get as many people as possible.
Night markets are big in Chiang Mai. It seems like the city comes alive at night and everyone is ready to sell anything you could want. Considering how hot it is here, (it was averaging around 100 degrees, 38C, each day!) we can see why it all happens after sunset when it cools off to about 75 degrees (30C). We went to the Night Bazzar on our first night and while it ended up being geared more towards the tourists and expats, it was fun to walk around the streets and see all the crazy things for sale. We even met a vendor selling American style BBQ pork, complete with great BBQ sauce, from my neck of the woods, right outside of Philly! (Hi Leith!) it was so funny to be talking with him halfway around the world about our hometown. The Night Bazzar also had delicious street food section for us where you could enjoy your food of choice from the many booths while listening to western covers (western as in the direction in relation to Asia… not cowboy songs!) and reggae. It all made for such a fun night!
The Food: The food really was the best part about our short stay in Chiang Mai, and even better… we had some fabulous people to show us the best spots!
Food Bazaar: We loved getting the street food from the Night Bazaar and enjoying it alongside some fun music! Since it was a little more tourist focused, the prices were a tad higher but we were able to eat like kings and queens for still under $10! Dean got a Red Curry with chicken. Even though we were at night market eating on plastic stools, his dish was served in a beautiful blue ceramic bowl and is curry and rice were garnished as if we were in the finest Thai restaurant. Chicken, eggplant, red chili, Thai lime leaves and Thai basil leaves were cooked in red curry and coconut milk which gave it its signature sweet, creamy and slightly spicy flavor that, if you’ve had red curry before, we all know and love. One thing we’ve noticed about the spice up north is that it’s a much more balanced spice than down south. The woman serving Dean asked how spicy he wanted it and he asked for it very spicy! (Dean even reconfirmed, 3 chili pepper spicy) She must have thought he couldn’t handle it, because it wasn’t even near spicy.. but they seem to balance it out with the sweet, sour and citrusy flavors versus straight spice. I got pad Thai, because I just can’t stay away from it! Classic flavors cooked to perfection. We’ve also noticed the Pad Thai flavor in Chiang Mai, isn’t overly fishy, much more balanced than those we’ve had in the states. They sure know what they’re doing here! I paired it with a burrito sized chicken egg roll with delicious sweet chili sauce, yum!
That hole in the wall restaurant on the side of the road: I wish we knew the name of this place because it was the epitome of why we love travel and exploring food in other cultures. Although, I’m sure if you popped into any restaurant like this you’d be pleasantly surprised. It’s clear they are very passionate about their food here! We stopped in here looking for a light lunch and not only was the food delicious (we’ve yet to have any bad food!) but it was so cheap! I got a thin rice noodle dish with chicken. While we’ve been enjoying noodles whenever we feel like it, we learned that the noodle dishes are mainly served as a lunch or snack. Dean got a minced pork dish with chilis, Thai basil and rice, again topped with a perfectly runny fried egg. We shared an order of mini crispy spring rolls and a Thai green tea, that was served in an old style glass milk bottle for just around $5!
North Gate Night Market: We met up with a friend of mine from back in Colorado, Shana, and she showed us one of the best night markets in Chiang Mai! It was fun to walk the market with her, she has lived in Thailand for quite some time, and a good part of that in Chiang Mai. She was one with the locals, and even speaks Thai! Unlike the Night Bazaar, this was one for the locals. Apparently this is the one Anthony Bordain went to on one of his shows. It wasn’t as big as the other, but dense with choices. Pork, chicken, roti, fruit, smoothies, bao, and many other Asian foods. One of the vendors even had the cutest pet pig hanging out with them! We tried a few different things to get a good feel of the popular foods here. There’s a famous “cowboy hat” lady who’s know to have some of the best pork around. Dean and Shana each got a plate (Not me since I don’t eat pork!) of her fall off the bone braised pork leg. Dean described it as fatty, chewy bites (in a good way!) with gelatinous skin all mixed up and served on top of steamed rice with some of that deep rich braising liquid mixed in for good measure. Next up was a dish similar to the chicken rice we had in Singapore. Roasted chicken on top of a bed of rice that had been cooked with chicken fat, this time served with a few different sauces to choose from, all with varying degrees of spice. We added a huge plate of super crispy fried chicken, cause why not!I It put that colonels chicken to shame! Before long we were all in food comas.
After digesting for a bit and catching up after not seeing each other for almost 10 years, we jumped right across the moat to the North Gate Jazz Co Op – a roadside bar with live music and cheap beer (local tip: get Leo beer, it’s cheaper than Chang and just as refreshing). Clearly a local and expat hangout as Shana ran into a few people she knew. Hanging out with a few beers and great music and company was the perfect end to a night filled with delicious food and great company, even if the backs of our knees were a hot sweaty mess.
Mama’s Flower: A great and super friendly couple, Jason and Robin, reached out to us after having read the blog and asked us to join them at one of their favorite places known for Khao Soi, a noodle dish served in a coconut and curry based broth with chicken that is a northern specialty. It was so flattering and fun to meet up with them! It always amazing to see how the love of travel and experiencing different cultures can bring people together. The Khao Soi had a nice building heat to where we had to take a break every once in a while, but not overwhelming. Jason and Robin also ordered a whole BBQ smoked chicken, papaya salad and pork satay for the table so we could try all the specialties. Everything was incredibly delicious! There wasn’t one thing we didn’t enjoy but the Khao Soi definitely took the top spot. Thanks again Jason and Robin for your southern hospitality in northern Thailand!
My Secret Cafe: Another suggestion by Shana led us here and it was probably our favorite meal of our entire stay in Chiang Mai. Off the street down a dark alley was this quiet little oasis that completely transforms you away from the norm of the city. We were one of the only people there so it was very quiet and had a “coffee shop” atmosphere. It reminded us of pretty much any local coffee shop you’d find in Boulder. A very homey and comfortable feel. Shana raved about the Indian Curry Noodles so there was no question about what we would get. Shana knew the owner so we learned that it was the owners mothers recipe. Talk about a flavor bomb going off in your mouth! It was amazing! Still not quite sure what made it Indian, but the combination of flavors was absolute perfection. It had some pickled diced eggplant, rice noodles, braised chicken wings, cilantro and just the tiniest touch of heat. It was sweet and creamy and if the first bowl didn’t fill us so much, we’d probably ask for seconds! We got some delicious green and regular iced tea too, which we can’t get enough of!
Chiang Mai has taken our hearts and has taken top spot for favorite city in Thailand so far! Thanks to Shana, Jason and Robin for taking the time to be so hospitable and showing us your amazing city. There is no doubt we will be back! Now off to our last stop in Thailand, Bangkok! We watched The Hangover 2… so we’re expecting it to be just like that….
**We are using Ebates and Hotels.com to book everything we do! We get cash back from Ebates and earn free nights on Hotels.com so you get rewarded for doing what you would normally do anyway! On Hotels.com, they provide excellent service and will match hotel prices if you find something cheaper elsewhere. If you stay 10 nights, you get 1 free and if you become a gold member (30 stays in 1 year) you get early access to deals and special rates. Also 24/7 service. On Ebates, while the percentage cash back varies depending on the store, you legitimately get cash back on almost every store you would shop online for anyway and get a check every quarter with your savings. They also have special coupon codes to get discounts on the site that you can’t get otherwise. We’ve gotten over $500 cash back! That’s nothing to sneeze at! We get credit if you use our links (hyperlinked in the names) and would love if you could help us out! But really, you’re helping yourself too!!**