Looking back at my time in Chiang Mai, I think mostly about my food experiences. I emphasis the word experience because it’s not just about the taste. Chiang Mai is a serene, peaceful town. The narrow streets of Chiang Mai’s Old City are lined with luscious greenery that engulfs each guesthouse and cafe. This rectangular patch of land, making up the Old City, is blocked in by a brick wall and moat. It is the area where backpackers, yogis, hippies and travelers of all types tend to flock. Because of the tranquil, laid-back air, every meal is one to remember. Here are 10 food-related activities that will make you fall in love with Chiang Mai, Thailand.
1. Cooking Love
At Cooking Love, you’re guaranteed to find whatever Thai delight your heart desires—and you can be sure it’s going to be the best. We came back here twice and were impressed both times by the freshness of the ingredients and the local friendliness of the staff. Try a watermelon shake to start! Cooking Love is also a perfect spot to try Khao Soi, aka Chiang Mai Noodle. It’s a dish specific to Chiang Mai and is seldom found in Thai restaurants elsewhere. I also loved the papaya salad and young coconut curry. It’s always exciting to eat a curry directly out of a coconut!
2. The Swan, Burmese Cuisine
I can barely describe how incredible this food is. I have not yet made it to Myanmar, but when I ate at The Swan, I could tell immediately how authentic it was. The flavors were unlike any I had had before. A mix between Thai and Indian I think would describe it best. Eat the tea leaf salad and the chicken or tofu Sarpia. Mix them together for the ultimate flavorful blend. If you like tomato based sauce, the Hinlay curry is wonderful as well. I recommend going for dinner to enjoy the night-time patio romantically lit with strings of light.
3. Chang Cooking and Restaurant
We took the cooking class at Chang and had a blast making some of the best Thai food I ate on the trip. I seriously loved the Khao Soi, pineapple fried rice and cashew nut stir fry we made. The teacher took us to the market to actually collect ingredients so we could see what everything looked like. At the end, you’ll get a recipe booklet with every dish they make in the restaurant.
4. Chiang Mai Street food!
If you’re in town for the Sunday Market, you’re in luck. Actually, you can find great street food any time, but the Sunday market was where my real food adventure happened. After people watching while enjoying cheap thirty minute foot massages out on the street, we proceeded to hop around the market buying one of everything that looked appealing. And why not try it all? You’re not going to find delicious treats on street for less than a dollar back home! My favorite street treats included coconut rice balls, nutella banana roti, grilled corn on the cob, ice cream bars and fresh juices or smoothies.
5. Little Bird Vegan Cafe
Great night vibes found here! We came back three times to try more of the vegan dishes and drinks at this well-designed neighborhood hut. The girl who owns it told us about how she researches nutritious vegan food and creates her own take on the recipes. We loved sitting at the bar at night, meeting other travelers and sharing stories. Try the vegan pad thai, the ice cream, the golden milk and the shakes. I loved Little Bird!
6. A Taste From Heaven
I found A Taste From Heaven a little bit late in the game, but still managed to come here twice. This is an all vegetarian restaurant that believes in making memorable, heart-warming meals with a vegetarian mindfulness towards animals and the Earth. PLUS they have a vegan brownie and ice cream dessert—jackpot. Khao soi, sweet and sour, curries, brown rice, banana smoothies…anything you get here is going to be yummy.
7. Rustic and Blue
My personal favorite kind of breakfast is a hearty smoothie bowl. This was one of only two I found on my whole trip through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. You’ll have to venture out to the Nimman area, if you’re not already there, but it is worth it. Every smoothie bowl at Rustic and Blue is impeccably decorated with fruit and grains organized neatly on top.
8. Cat Shack for Breakfast
Cat Shack is a great vegan and gluten-free friendly restaurant. I ate a gluten-free banana pancake that may be one of the best pancakes I’ve ever had. The iced mocha coffee or regular hot coffee are both lovely pairs for any of the breakfast options.
9. Fern Forest
We came to Fern Forest for the wifi and AC, and kind of felt like we were in a fancy European cafe. The patio, however, lives up to its name, Fern Forest. The menu here has a mixture of western and Thai food, which is frequently a sign of a tourist trap, but I must say, the Tom Kha soup here was outrageously good.
10. Mr. Kai
Last but seriously not least, Mr. Kai is a local Thai place with super affordable prices (not that everything isn’t affordable in Chiang Mai already). The only reason I put this last is because I ran out of time to try the Khao Soi here or any of the curries, but it is said to have some of the best in town. The watermelon shake though—now that’s a Thai treat I’m going to miss.