My first brush with Chiang Mai was almost a year ago, when my friend Kaye and I spontaneously (and a bit carelessly) booked a trip to Thailand in time for Loi Krathong. I say carelessly because we didn’t know that the most efficient way to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok was via airplane, and we were crossing our fingers for smooth bus or train rides, which we were strongly advised against.
If you’re looking for a good airline for your connecting flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (or vice versa), I highly recommend you book via Bangkok Airways. Awarded as one of Asia’s best boutique airlines, the aircraft is clean and comfortable, plus the flights are on time. Another great thing about flying with Bangkok Airways is that you don’t have to go all the way to Don Mueang airport from Suvarnabhumi, which will save you a lot of time since both Philippine Airlines/Cebu Pacific and Bangkok Airways are fly in and out the same airport. When we went last year, we took Air Asia going to Chiang Mai, so we had to rush to Don Mueang with only an allowance of 2 and a half hours from Suvarnabhumi. We barely made it on time, but we did at the nick of it.
Last year, we backpacked, but this year, I took a different route and traveled via tour, thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). I don’t remember the last time I traveled in this format, but I do have to say that it was very convenient and it was exciting since I didn’t have any idea what to expect. Partly because I was so mesmerized by the fleeting houses, buildings, faces, all smudging into speedy blurs. The great thing about this experience, I think, was that despite the planned trips, we were able to stumble upon some pretty cool discoveries along the way.
We arrived at Dhara Dhevi at almost dinner-time, so after freshening up quick, we went to the Riverside Bar and Restaurant to feast on some local Thai fare such as an assortment of Chiang Mai Hors d’oeuvres: coils of meat chopped up and served with a spicy papaya salad, a midly-spiced Green Chicken Curry, Ribs with Som Tam, the popular Chicken Pandan, among others. The highlight of this meal was some deep-fried freshly-caught fish served with Miang Kham, a set of Thai condiments that you wrap in Bai Cha Plu (wild pepper leaves), and dip in a combination of fish sauce, sugar, soy, and fried onions. The meat was clean-tasting with stray hints of the sea. I wonder how the stronger-flavored condiments tasted secondary without as much as overlapping the taste of the fish.
After dinner, we took a stroll at one of Chiang Mai’s many night markets – this in particular was along Chang Khlan road. It was great to be with a bunch of food-loving folks as well, so we all stopped for some Banana Rotee. Thanks again for this treat, Miss Marbee!
Rotee is a common snack in most night markets in Chiang Mai. Prepared similarly as you would a crepe, a deft hand folds in bananas with butter into a thin sheet of pastry, heated to a slight crisp, and drizzled with either condensed milk or Nutella (which I had on mine!).
The street was lined up with a lot of vendors selling a lot of clothes and I had to stop myself from buying more harem pants, but I did end up getting a handful of bracelets and bangles. Our tour guide told us to take it easy on the shopping since he was going to take us to an even better night bazaar the following day, so I resisted the urge to splurge and save it for the next evening.
The next day, we went to Shangri-La Chiang Mai for a quick program hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and during our break, my friend Angelo and I snuck out and went to this secondhand bookstore right across! Check out what we found.
Lunch was at 137 Pillars House, and off we went to a new side of Chiang Mai for me – Doi Suthep Temple, located high on a mountain with a breathtaking view of Chiang Mai.
They say you ring the bells so that Buddha could hear you.
Here’s the view of Chiang Mai from the top!
Angelo was approached by a monk who tied this white string around his wrist and prayed over him. They say that you make a wish on the white string and it’ll come true once it falls off.
We were pretty worn out after the day’s agenda, so we took some time off to rest in the hotel. Dinner shortly followed at Le Grand Lanna, where I had the best best best Khao Soi I’ve ever tasted. (This is obviously the part where I’ll be chatty since it’s about food, haha!)
Thailand’s neighboring countries, Laos and Myanmar, have huge influence on this ubiquitous dish. I’ve had a similar version when I went to Yangon, but I prefer the Thai Khao Soi. It involves a straightforward preparation of cooked egg noodles tossed in a spicy curry coconut sauce, topped with meat, and deep-fried egg noodles. Sometimes, it comes with some curdled blood, and it is usually served with pickled onions and lime. The first time I tried Khao Soi was in Bourdain-approved Huen Phen located near Wat Chedi Luang, and it was an unforgettable experience.
I’m not much of a fan of spicy food, but for Thai cuisine, I’ll always make an exception. Digging into the hot, spicy soup infused with chilies that burn my taste buds is enough to drive me home, but the creamy, sweet coconut eases the palate after. I always get my Khao Soi in beef because I just love how the gamey flavors contrast well with the soup. Eating it with a generous serving of pickled onions and liberal spritzes of tangy lime soothes the searing-hot pain, making it more tolerable, but with heat that cause droplets of sweat to form on my forehead. It’s a savory cocktail of sweet, sour, spicy, salty flavors and a spectrum of texture that ranges from smooth to crisp. Khao Soi is absolutely one of my favorite Thai dishes that I will keep looking for.
To cap off our second (and last) day at Chiang Mai, we headed to the Saturday Night Market at Wua Lai road for some last minute shopping. I got to buy some clothes here, trinkets, and leather items that were priced affordably. Angelo and I wanted to try this boxed-shape Ancient Ice Cream, but there was a queue and we had to leave soon.
One of the things I love most about Chiang Mai is its strong and unrelenting art culture that’s so alive, it seems as if everyone is in a frenzy. Here you have a city that’s concentrated on great art, great food, and where artists are not afraid to show what they’re made of. You have musicians and folk dancers planting their feet right smack in the middle of the street, showing you what they’ve got—and they’ve got it good—very good.
Even after this trip, there are still many other parts of Chiang Mai that I’d like to explore. Especially with its food culture and numerous holes in wall that pack some of the most distinguishing flavors of Northern Thailand such as ground pig’s brains folded in with kaffir lime and curry paste – then steamed in banana leaves. I even heard that they have a raw blood soup, which might be a bit too extreme for me. But let’s see. It wouldn’t hurt a third time. As they say, third time’s the charm.
Many thanks to the ever-efficient Bangkok Airways and the Tourism Authority of Thailand for organizing this trip! Stay tuned for more posts on #AmazingThailand soon.