Monday, 25 December 2017

Thailand | Foodies in Chiang Mai

The second leg of our Thailand tour saw us head north to Chiang Mai. Our main reason for visiting was the elephant sanctuaries, but there is so much more to Chiang Mai and we fell in love with the city. It's much smaller and far less built up than Bangkok and has a totally different, more authentic vibe - it's also a hell of a lot cheaper! There was a lot we would have liked to do in the area but didn't have time. Two of our four days were taken up by amazing day trips and we could probably have filled a whole week, seeing the likes of Doi Suthep and exploring nearby towns like Pai or Chiang Rai.

Arriving fairly late on a Tuesday evening after a delayed flight from Bangkok, we were met by a driver from our hotel (300THB) and whisked away to the beautiful Hyde Park Residence - literally 10 minutes away! It's worth bearing this in mind when booking your accommodation in Chiang Mai. While it didn't bother me in the slightest, a light sleeper might not appreciate the planes taking off and landing so nearby. To be honest though, the city is so small that I don't think it'd matter where you stay.

The service at Hyde Park was spot on and they even offer a free shuttle service to the Nimman area. We arrived to a typical honeymoon setup and cake waiting for us in the fridge - then the same again a couple of days later for Gordon's birthday! On the Tuesday night there was a small pop up food market round the corner, where we ate amongst locals and spent just 100THB (£2.50) on 4-5 dishes from different stalls! It's one of my favourite foodie memories of the trip, and where I had my first taste of Pandan custard, which I'm now obsessed with.

Our room had a beautiful view of the mountains and a little balcony to enjoy it from. We ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant one day, and made full use of the gorgeous pool on our final morning. Hyde Park was stunning and felt very upmarket - we paid roughly £55 a night which is probably quite expensive for the area but it was our honeymoon so we treated ourselves!

Make sure you visit the Nimman area when you're in Chiang Mai. Nimmanhaemin Road and all the little sois leading off of it are packed with cool coffee shops and trendy eateries. We enjoyed an amazing "handgrown & artisan" brunch at Rustic & Blue on Soi 7. Think avocado toast and matcha lattes, although matcha is kinda the norm in Thailand to be fair! Outside was a gorgeous seating area but we were a full on air con appreciation society, despite November being a "colder" month in Chiang Mai.

As much as I'd recommend the Nimman area through the day, I'd stay clear at night. We returned one evening thinking we'd be bound to find somewhere awesome to eat. Unfortunately all the coffee shops were closed and by the time we'd wondered around not finding anywhere we fancied, even Rustic & Blue had closed for the night. This is why Gordon should always let me pick where to eat and plan ahead! For late night eating, definitely head to the other side of town.

Temples are easy to stumble across in Chiang Mai. We walked from our hotel to the Old City and easily found our way to Wat Phra Singh. You might feel "templed out" after a while in Thailand, but don't let the chaotic experience of Bangkok put you off! I found the temples here to be much more laidback, rustic looking and tourist friendly - we wondered into the grounds without even realising! There's no entry fee at Wat Phra Singh unless you want to enter the main temple building, and even then it's only like 20THB (approx. 50p).

Wat Chedi Luang was the second temple we went to. We saw plenty smaller Wats along the way but decided to limit ourselves to the two main ones. I loved the older, authentic style of the main Chedi, with it's stone elephants and golden Buddha statues. It was possibly my favourite of all the temples we visited in Thailand.

As always, it's important to respect the Thai culture and dress appropriately - shoulders and knees covered - and always remove your shoes before entering an actual temple. There are signs but the rows of sandals adorning the steps should remind you.

Heading East, towards Tha Phae Gate, we stopped for a few drinks (and air con) here and there, before continuing onto the Night Bazaar. This is an absolute must visit in Chaing Mai. A km long street packed with vendors selling literally everything, from clothes and jewellery, to toys and souvenirs. Prices in Chiang Mai are already much less than Bangkok, but remember and barter for a bargain still!

There are two main food markets in the area. The first - Night Street Food by Pavillion Night Bazaar - is fairly small, a bit cheaper, and much quieter. We ate some epic chicken gyoza for 50THB (£1.15) and banana spring rolls for 40THB (90p) that Gordon's been dreaming of ever since. Make sure you try Khao Soi when in Chiang Mai - a local Northern Thai dish with crispy noodles in a curry sauce that tastes delicious! 

Ploen Ruedee was the biggest and best foodie market we found! It was on a whole other level - cool trucks and converted VW's serving up all sorts, and live music to go with it. It attracts a younger crowd and has more of a laidback party vibe. Think North Hop, outside, in 30 degree heat, every night! Of course it was more expensive than the other street food we'd eaten but it was well worth it.

We ate here 2 nights of our stay so you can imagine we made our way around a fair few of the traders. After trying various types of bao buns, the teriyaki chicken version (90THB) from Mao Bao were the best we found in Thailand! Other highlights were the Khao Soi (100THB), chicken satay served with garlic bread (80THB), a gloriously cheesy toastie from the Melty Box (100THB) and my very first taste of mango sticky rice (60THB)! Thai pancakes with Nutella were a treat for dessert, washed down with a cold Chang, a glass of sangria from the Vino Box or a Long island iced tea from On the Rocks VW bar!

Chiang Mai was unreal and we had the ultimate street food experience! When we weren't filling our faces we were off bathing with elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and ziplining through the rainforest with Flight of the Gibbon - two incredible days that I promise to share soon!

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