I stuck around Chiang Mai for a few days after Songkran (Thai New Year) because I wanted to see what the city was like. The drunken tourist filled revelry sounded nothing like the quiet charming city many of my friends told me was their favorite in Thailand. The temples around every corner circled by a moat and old city walls were lovely and quiet once the holiday ended.
As with any city, my experiences are often colored by the people I meet. I met more random new people here than I think I have in a while. I attempted to use couch surfing again as I figured Songkran would be more fun with some Thai people. This unsurprisingly did not work as I’m sure most couch surfing hosts were out of town or had friends visiting already and my requests were quite last minute. Good thing I managed to join a Thai family for Songkran anyways! I did, however, meet a nice German expat who I had not much in common with beside travel. I tried again to meet a Thai person to learn some infamous Thai cooking and instead ended up in a cult like ashram. Well, so maybe couch surfing isn’t working out so well in Asia. The only other experience I’ve had was a flake in China. After great experiences in Brazil and Hawaii, I’m still optimistic.
On the pleasant flip side, the first girl I met at my guesthouse turned out to be awesome. She told me the guesthouse was a good place as I awaited the staff to come show me around. Later on she also introduced me to some great food and a tea shop where I spent quite a few evenings. The tea was ok and was a bit much for me at foreigner prices, but the crowd was fun. It was a mix of artsy, spiritual, and the general crowd not interested in the “I party until 6 am daily!” scene. There were constantly people in the room exchanging massages, painting things, and some were hula hooping. I’m not sure how everyone else found this place, it’s quite hidden.
The other key find for me is the North Gate Jazz Co-op. I stumbled upon it looking for a bathroom during Songkran and found a small venue with a live music stage and a crowd ready to dance to something besides lip-synced pop. They seem to have live music most nights and often got so busy I saw the crowd spilling onto the streets just to listen. The owner and I struck up a conversation about the blues bar in Bangkok called Adhere the 13th as well. I kept going but never managed to catch a live show there but I know I’ll like it if it’s anything like this place.
Last, but certainly not the least, the food of Chiang Mai. I leave disappointed by the evening walking streets and night bazaar as they were mostly full of fried goods or precooked tourist fare. The night bazaar looked like it had some interesting fresh seafood and muslim joints but that’s always a bit sad to tackle alone as I can’t try too much unless I want to spend a fortune. Luckily those were not the only things to eat at night as there were multiple locations in the touristy old town where bunches of carts would show up. I liked the ones at the north and southeast gates the most. They had what looked like the best offerings of khao man gai (boiled chicken served on rice cooked in the fatty chicken broth), fatty pork shank on rice, papaya salads, oyster omelettes, fried radish cake omelettes, noodle soups, and fresh stir fry places. The south side food area had a few ladies selling curries and other premade dishes for Thai people to take home. I bought a set of chopsticks and a metal soup spoon just to partake in these, but as often is the case, there isn’t any seating for these since its take home fare. There is a cart area on the east side which seemed mostly geared towards tourists and was for the most part subpar. Desserts were similar just about everywhere with mango sticky rice and roti stands galore. The east market has some lackluster Chinese desserts. The north gate had the best if slightly more expensive mango/durian sticky rice as they gave you a bag of golden fried rice to add some crunch.
Over the multiple days I also sought out what I’m told is one of the trademark dishes of the city, Khao Soi. It is a Burmese influenced dish of Chinese style wheat noodles in a thick and spicy curry soup. The Thai have it for breakfast and I could see this being quite the hangover cure. I love being near borders, they usually have interesting accidental fusion food.
Where to find stuff:
The Tea Tree
Moon Muang Soi 6 (Across the street from the north side Somphet Market, up the stairs with a yellow ramp like thing in the middle)
Open til 8 or whenever the owner feels like going to sleep
North Gate Jazz Co-op
On the inside of the moat next to the east side of the north gate.
An activity for the evening/night.
I found this useful to locate the food markets but find some of their opinions about other things to not be accurate. The same user made maps of attractions and nightlife as well.