My main objective while visiting Chiang Mai was food of all sorts, from fine dining to street food prepared for the masses. I have spent a lot of time in Bangkok, traveled in the south of Thailand and stayed on Koh Lanta. Everyone was saying how amazing the food is in the north, so I decided to check it out.
Finding an affordable place to stay was easy. If you ever travel to Chiang Mai, be sure to stay in the old city square. The Wealth Boutique Hotel was an excellent place to stay: great location, affordable, and very kind service staff.
I arrived on a Sunday, which was perfect timing for the Sunday night market that takes over all of Rachadamnoen Street. The first thing that struck me on the walk to the market was this amazing car parked around the corner from the hotel.
The Sunday market is full of locals selling food, drinks, and handmade goods. It is the epicenter of northern Thai culture, all in one concentrated spot, and it is awesome. I immediately dove right into some small street food dishes.
This was a solid start to the food portion of the evening. Those Thai sausages were so good that I walked back for seconds. At a mere 10 Baht (30 cents) it was a very easy decision. Next up was some of the street performances happening around the food stalls.
The sun was starting to set and I could see a photograph opportunity happening with some temples in the area. A staircase in a local building was wide open, so I climbed up it to see if it would take me to a window above all the street activity. It lead me to a restaurant, and I snuck through the back of the kitchen to an open window to capture some photos of Doi Suthep as the sun was setting. Right place at the right time!
Next up was a walk over to the Cowboy Hat Lady made famous by Anthony Bourdain's Part's Unknown. Khao Kha Moo (pork leg on rice) is a local specialty, and her recipe is one of the best. There was no going to Chiang Mai and not stopping by for a visit.
The Khao Kah Moo was in fact very tasty, and worth the extra walk. After a full evening of walking through the street market and stuffing my face with food it was time for some sleep. The next day it was time to check out some restaurant food. Ginger and Kafe was on the top of my list, and it did not disappoint.
Ginger and Kafe lived up to the reputation of Thai food, with a northern twist. Multiple flavors hitting at different moments, with a level of vivacity and freshness that is impossible to replicate outside of Thailand. Dining here was such a pleasure.
It was time to switch things up a bit, so I decided to hike up Doi Suthep. Doi Suthep is the mountain right to the West of the city. There is a hiking trail through the jungle that ascends 2500 feet to Wat Phrathat, a temple overlooking Chiang Mai. While I was excited to do the hike, I was also remembering the experience I had with a pit viper snake on Koh Samui the year prior while cycling on singletrack through the jungle. That terrifying encounter was making it difficult to take the plunge and hike solo through a jungle, but the allure of the experience was greater than the fear, so I went for it, and I was glad I did.
After 90 minutes of hiking I made it to the top, where it was 10-15 degrees cooler. The hike was more challenging than I had imagined, and I was exhausted from the heat. There was a man taking a nap in the back of a songathaew and I thought about asking him how much it would cost to take the other bench for 30 minutes!
Instead of taking a nap, I found some pad thai because I was starving after the hike. This kind woman made an unusual version of pad thai unlike any I have seen before. It hit the spot.
After some replenishment it was time to check out the amazing temple I had hiked all that way to see. There were two girls dressed in costumes at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the temple. In exchange for me taking their photograph they said, "money, money". Busted. I had to pay my dues!
Before entering the temple you take off your shoes, and enter into a space filled with the most gold you will likely ever see in a single place. The glow of the space was euphoric.
As the sun drew closer to the horizon, a group of monks arranged themselves in the common space in front of the temple and chanted. The sound of their chanting in this golden space among silence was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in Thailand. There was literally more peace and quiet than would be possible if one were alone in the wilderness. The energy was spiritually moving as the sun set, the air cooled down, and gold glittered everywhere.
On the way out of the temple there was a dog sleeping in a wooden chair. No matter how much noise I was making with the shutter of my camera, or how close I got to it with my wide angle lens, it cared only about one thing: sleeping.
Before my short trip to Chiang Mai came to an end, I had to check out a few more places. One of them was the food at Cherng Doi. They are well known for their fried chicken, but also their flavorful lunch dishes. The place was packed with local college students, families, and Chinese tourists.
There were a few other places I ate in Chiang Mai, but this sums up the most memorable places during my short time there. Some day I would like to go back, but bring my bicycle so I can ride in the surrounding mountains and directly experience Northern Thai village life. For now, here is a complete gallery from the visit.