If you are making a trip over to Thailand and don’t have Chiang Mai on your itinerary, this should change mind.
While BKK is full of the hustle, bustle, energy and wide-diversity of cuisines… Chiang Mai is the heart of homestyle cooking.
The home of Khao Soi, Northern Thai Sausage and Laap (Larb, Laab, etc) to name a just few.
The city sits in the foothills of the Himalaya mountains. Coming after a steamy and hot week in BKK the first thing I noticed getting out of the airport was a slightly lower temperature but much lower humidity.
Cost of living is much lower than even BKK, if you can imagine that.
Taxi rides are 5-9 USD generally, 60 minute Thai massages are $7 and you can easily eat for $3-5 per person while ordering a large variety of plates.
By now most of you should know that I’m a big believer in quality over quantity. I hate buffets or cheap knock-offs, so when I’m mentioning “value” it’s not based on just price, but the quality of food/service that over delivers compared to the price.
Some of the best meals I’ve had to date were in Chiang Mai. Paying $3-5 for food that I would gladly pay $50-80 for was just a bonus and I ended up just phat tipping the servers and staff.
A few of the restaurant owners were happy to let me walk back in the kitchen and see what was happening. The cooks were shocked/surprised to see some tall foreigner walking back into their kitchen(s) but it was one of the highlights for me… to see how the kitchens were setup, cooking and production, in real time.
My favorite restaurants were, no surprise, full of locals and no tourists. No english on the menus and the staff also didn’t speak a word. This didn’t matter. Do a little research prior, be courteous and friendly, tip well, and a little google translate will have you squared away.
The food and my appreciation to the servers, hosts and cooks transcended common language.
One of the spots I frequented, on the second night of my arrival the owner went out into the garden to pick the best and more pristine herbs for my laap. I had swooned over their laap the night before and her hospitality to search out the best garden herbs for me was precious.
It’s not all just about the food.
The pace of life in Chiang Mai is markedly more chill and relaxed vs BKK. There is a huge night market bazaar with lots of stalls, vendors, food and shopping. (Dudes will be following you down the street trying to get you measured for a suit 😂 ).
The mountain ranges close by offer some great hiking trails and stunning temples nearby. You can hit up the touristy ones but I found one that was recommended by a local friend… tucked away in the hillside with fewer tourists that I’ll drop below.
There’s also plenty of cooking classes, elephant riding and some decent resorts to chill in if that’s your thing.
The Niman district in particular is getting trendy with lots of boutique hotels, coffee roasters and new restaurants cropping up.
As you can already tell, Chiang Mai has a special place in my heart and I will be returning as soon as my itinerary will allow.
Below are some of my favorite restaurants, sights to see, and finishing up with a Thai sauce that i fell in love with and is mouth-wateringly tasty.