We hopped on a quick flight and found ourselves in the amazing city of Chiang Mai.
Away from the chaos of Bangkok, a city we could really wander and get lost in.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second-largest city, and one you should not miss out on. The Lanna culture is different from other parts of the county, as the city was occupied for some time by the Burmese before being enveloped in the rest of Thailand. The food, language, and many other customs remain different.
The city is characterized by the “old city,” a walled in area in the city center where most of the sights are, and then neighborhoods beyond the wall. We stayed at Banjai Garden Guesthouse, a small family-owned B&B on one of the winding alleys in the old city. It’s simple, cute, and clean, and well-located, and the French proprietor makes an excellent breakfast (check the website for the rooms, as some do not have A/C).
We chose Dash Teak House for our first dinner. Don’t be discouraged by the fact that this place is pretty much all tourists—this is still some of the best and most authentic Lanna homestyle cooking around. The owner is a local who moved to the U.S. for a time and then returned and opened the restaurant. Here we tried one of the most popular regional dishes, khao soi—VERY spicy.
Along with another regional dish, pork larb.
Followed by a Northern-style curry (one of the favorites of the trip).
And we had to end with some mango sticky rice.
The next day we planned to do a LOT of walking, so to get our energy levels up we stopped into an Aussie café, Overstand. There is actually a thriving coffee shop scene in Chiang Mai, but this one has the BEST iced coffee you will ever have.
We decided to follow a city walk from here. As in most places in Thailand, the main attractions are temples.
Halfway through our walk we stopped in at a local place called Huen Phen for lunch, sampling beef ribs, steamed fish, and fried papaya salad.
We continued our basically temple tour–in one we were able to listen to Buddhist monks chanting.
A few are the more popular, large temples, but there are some smaller ones that are very beautiful and worth seeing.
After our amazing food tour in Japan, we decided to book another for Chiang Mai. Just us and a local. She took us first to a street cart selling chat with cucumbers—the vendor had come from India.
We then went to a small pad Thai restaurant for some of the city’s best noodles.
I thought pad Thai was more of an Americanized thing at Thai restaurants but it actually isn’t—they adopted it from the Chinese.
We got ours inside of an egg.
It seems like every city has a Chinatown, and that’s where we went next. We weaved through the stalls, trying a few different things as we went.
Isan sausage was everywhere—and it’s amazing. It’s made with fermented rice so it’s a bit chewy and has a sour taste.
After wandering the market we went to a small restaurant for some a traditional Lanna meal, which consists of small dishes and bowls that everyone shares.
Our guide insisted we try an ant egg omelet. I draw the line at bugs. We drove out of the city in our songthaew (basically a backless truck similar to an Uber Pool situation) to see one of the bigger temples at night. We ended the night at a rooftop speakeasy.
Again, I can’t recommend this food tour enough. We only went to local places, and it was just us and the guide so we never felt super touristy. Chiang Mai Food Tours is also the sister company of Bangkok Food Tours.
Street markets are everywhere (big ones are at all of the Old City’s gates) so after the food tour we knew what more of the vendors were selling. We headed one night to the “Saturday Market” by the south gate.
We had to get more sausage, but we tried a few new things, like some chicken skin skewers.
A fish ball noodle soup.
A pork-parts soup (not sure everything that was in there…but it was delicious).
And more mango sticky rice at the end.
We loved visiting Chiang Mai. Everything about it was amazing—the relaxed vibe, the ease of getting around, the amazing food on every corner. I highly recommend it for any trip to Thailand!