What to eat, drink and do in Chang Mai

Author: LARA DUNSTON
Photography: TERENCE CARTER

Located in the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has beautiful temples, a distinct cuisine, and a vibrant markets. Here's our guide to the best of Chang Mai.

GETTING THERE

Thai Airways and Qantas (codesharing with Bangkok Airways) fly from Sydney to Chiang Mai via Bangkok.

STAY

Rachamankha
In the sleepy south-west of the old city, this 25-room boutique hotel is owned and operated by renowned Thai architect Ong-ard Satrabhandhu and his stepson, Rooj Changtrakul, an interior designer and antique collector. It features serene palmshaded courtyards, spacious rooms full of antiques, breezy public lounges, a stunning 20-metre swimming pool and an elegant restaurant serving Burmese and northern Thai dishes.
6 Rachamankha Rd, Soi 9, rachamankha.com

Tamarind Village
Also in the old city, this atmospheric 45-room hotel is built around a huge 200-year-old tamarind tree. Clay roof tiles, lime plaster walls and exposed beams evoke traditional architecture of the Lanna kingdom, which ruled northern Thailand some 700 years ago. Vibrant cushions and throws made from hill-tribe textiles enliven whitewashed rooms. Complimentary activities include a walking tour that begins with offerings to monks and a visit to the 14th-century Wat Chedi Luang.
50/1 Rachdamnoen Rd, tamarindvillage.com

DO

Take in the city's sights while learning about traditional Lanna cuisine, which has much in common with the food of neighbouring Myanmar, Laos and southern China, with the local culinary authorities at Chiang Mai Food Tours (chiangmaifoodtours.com). Guests sample 10 Lanna specialties, including arguably the city's best khao soi, a coconut-curry noodle soup, and desserts such as kanom sai, coconut and palm sugar steamed in a banana leaf.

DRINK

Chiang Mai has a sophisticated café scene, with many of its best coffee shops owned and operated by Australian schooled Thai baristas.

Double-shot ristretti are standard at Ristr8to (15/3 Nimmanhaemin Rd), where former Sydney-based barista Arnon "Tong" Thitiprasert introduced flat whites to Chiang Mai. Lee Ayu Chuepa runs his two Akha Ama cafés (175/1 Rachadamnoen Rd and 9/1 Hassadhisawee Rd) as social enterprises that focus on community impact rather than profit, and the citrusy arabica beans are sustainably grown by his Akha hill-tribe. At Ponganes, Sydneytrained Rawi "Pong" Kasemsuk roasts his own beans; try his Ocean Blend sourced from Costa Rica, Colombia and Chiang Mai (133/5 Ratchapakinai Rd). If you can't squeeze into tiny Graph Café (Rajvithi, Soi 1), buy a chilled bottle of Karueporn "Tee" Satrabhaya's Graph No 8 cold brew made from Thai single-origin beans, and head to nearby Graph Table (8/3 Moonmuang Rd, Soi 6) where Tee's wife, Ajaree, makes her own pasta.

SHOP

The touristy "Walking Street" markets on weekend evenings remain popular for hill-tribe textiles, handicrafts and the ubiquitous elephant pants (Wualai Rd, Saturday; Rachadamnoen Rd, Sunday). Locals gravitate towards the more eclectic shops along "Nimman", as locals call Nimmanhaemin Road, west of the old city. Think Park is a cluster of arty little shops, cafés and bars run by young Thai retailers and designers. It's located opposite Maya Lifestyle Shopping Centre, which features designer stores, a gourmet supermarket and stylish rooftop bars. The narrow sois, or side streets, off Nimman house even more boutiques, cafés, wine bars and pubs.

EAT

Tong Tem Toh
In hip Nimmanhaemin, this cool, casual eatery with polished concrete floors, big wooden tables and a beer garden draws mostly Thais for its inexpensive Lanna food. Order the "hors d'oeuvre" plate with fiery nam prik num (green chilli dip), milder nam prik ong (a tomato pork relish) and herby sai oua pork sausages.
11 Nimmanhaemin Rd, Soi 13.

Huen Phen
Near Wat Chedi Luang, the city's best-known Lanna restaurant serves delicious northern Thai specialties. Try the moreish naam (fermented pork sausage), sweet tam kanun (young jackfruit salad), and earthy larb khua moo (spicy minced pork and offal salad). By day, customers dine in a rustic annexe, after dark in the cosy dining room cluttered with curios.
112 Ratchamanka Rd, baanhuenphen.com

Dash Teak House
Run by a mother-son team, Dash is set in a renovated teak house on a quiet lane near Tha Pae Gate. Dash Tevis runs the floor, while his mother Noi oversees the kitchen. Lanna favourites include a rich gaeng hinlay curry of fall-off-the-bone pork.
Moon Muang Rd, Soi 7, dashteakhouse.com

DON'T MISS

Launched early last year, Ploen Rudee Night Market has more local flavour than the nearby touristy Night Bazaar. Buy crafts and handmade clothes, then take a seat on a hay bale at a packing-crate table for snacks ranging from tonkatsu to burgers. It's open Monday to Saturday from 4pm.
Chang Klang Rd

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

The north's finest Lanna food can be found on Chiang Mai's south-east outskirts at rustic Huen Jai Yong, a favourite of chef David Thompson. On a menu written in Thai, highlights include larb pla nin kua (a spicy minced fish salad) and gaeng kanun (pork rib and jackfruit curry).
64 Moo 4, Buak Khang, San Kamphaeng Rd







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