For a majority of my first month in Thailand, every time I said to someone, wether a local or another tourist I was going to spend a few weeks in Chiang Mai, they all had the same response, “what are you going to do there for that long?”. I had never been to Chiang Mai and was starting to wonder what middle of nowhere, roll up the sidewalk town I was heading to. Oh can everybody have not been more wrong. I found the jewel of Thailand. I found the perfect harmony of what makes Thailand great while keeping all the first world comforts we all love. I found Chiang Mai.
From the moment you arrive, you can’t help but be in awe at its beauty. Surrounded by lush green mountains on all sides, Chiang Mai looks like a green mountain paradise. Just a short 5 minute drive from the airport we stayed in an area called the Nimmanhaemin area. This is the newer and more upscale area in Chiang Mai. Right away we could see dozens of boutique stores, galleries and cafes lining the streets. I was shocked by it all. Was I in Austin, TX or still in Thailand? We took a short walk up our block to find some dinner and were instantly faced with five food trucks and carts lined up just on our street alone. First thing that caught my eye was a taco and burrito truck. What?! Here was this lovely couple doing a little Thai/Mexican fusion. We quickly ordered a burrito and 3 tacos with pork to see what this great fusion would taste like.
The gentleman started to make the tortillas from scratch while his wife got to work cooking up all the necessary ingredients from scratch beside him. This was fusion done right. Familiar favorites with hints of Thai spice and zest. A fabulous first meal.
As we walked around the next few weeks we couldn’t take it all in. Dozens of high end coffee bars dotted the streets. All of them competing to make coffee in more and more exotic ways. Roasting their own beans. Taking latte art to new levels. I pushed my caffeine addiction and tolerances to new levels trying to sample them all. While they were all great in their own right, Ristr8tto Coffee Labs was the jewel of this area.
They have won countless competitions worldwide and in Thailand and have taken coffee to a whole new level. Dare I say this might have been the best coffee I have ever had. I kept going back to try more and more of their menu. It is extremely deep and would take months to sample all the ways those geniuses are making coffee. My favorite had to be their Satan Latte. This is where they really go to town with their latte art.
Another great treat was their iced coffee. They use these fantastic cups to really add a little fun to your drink.
Even simple espresso gets a beautiful presentation.
The best part is all of these drinks ranged from $2-$3! World class coffee made with incredible talent for what you would pay for drip coffee at a gas station back home!
As we continued our exploration it just became clear that this place looked nothing like the rest of Thailand. Nobody yelling at you to see some disgusting ping pong show (Google Thailand ping pong show if you want the NSFW details). No girls dancing on poles and yelling at you in poor English to come buy them drinks. Nobody hassling you to buy knockoff garbage at every corner. This was just one cool boutique small business after another. The best part is that it was all incredibly affordable. Here are some of our favorites.
Then there are these great old Volkswagen busses everywhere being used as mobile bars.
The other game we played was spotting all the fun statues everywhere!
Then it was time for some gelato. We found this really cool place called Roselato that takes the time to make every order look like roses!
Speaking of sweets, there was no shortage of belly busting options.
When it came time to wash it all down, you couldn’t go one block without a million custom juice and tea options.
In the evenings we usually went to the area’s many night markets. This is street after street that all come to life every night with hundreds of stalls of food, souvenir and clothing options.
We then decided we missed one of our favorites from back home…sushi! What a treat we were in for. Like everything else in this area, this was sushi done with craftsmanship by artisans who wanted you to love their product as much as they did.
Even found fantastic ramen for a quarter of what we pay for it back home.
What does one do in between all this great food you ask? Well how about amazing Thai massages for $5 an hour!
Of course there are no shortages of breathtaking temples to visit and we spent a little time looking at some awesome ones.
Most were free to get in to and look around. The shear detail was really impressive.
I then decided to visit Chiang Mai’s number one tailor and get classed up a bit. In just a few days, they made me two great custom suits and 5 made to order shirts for a fraction of what you would spend for off the rack back home!
For our final night we decided to go see some Muay Thai kickboxing. For $10 each we got ringside seats and were treated to hours of nonstop action and fun!
This was just a small sampling of my time in Chiang Mai. I am already planning my next trip and so should you. Until next time I will leave you with some lucky cats 🙂