HGAT Guide to Chiang Mai
Having been in BKK for a couple of days, we caught a domestic flight via Thai Lion Air to Chiang Mai (CNX) from the DMK airport. Leaving BKK at 10:15am, the entire journey took 1h15m meaning we had a whole day to spend in this relaxed city.
Although the flight was straightforward with no delays, it was at baggage drop when I came to realise that Thai Lion Air is the Asian equivalent of Easyjet, and I felt inner dread when I looked down at my 25kg suitcase upon being told we were only allowed 10kg each.
We ended up wearing half our suitcase on the plane! What. a. Nightmare.
WHERE TO STAY
Landing in Chiang Mai International Airport, it was a short and sweet 20 minute journey to get to our new home, Puripunn Baby Grand Boutique Hotel. Found using Mr&Mrs Smith, BW had booked this boutique hotel located just across the river from the city.
As a welcome gift, they offered us refreshing iced teas and cold towels.
Located in the heritage zone of Chiang Mai, Puripunn’s rooms had a lovely, rich colonial feel to it, and made quite the contrast to the high tech, modern St Regis hotel in BKK.
The breakfast buffet had a real homely touch to it with a separate egg and pancake station whipping up delicious Thai omelettes and fluffy waffles. As lovely as it was to have an open air dining room, I spent most of my breakfast battling the flies for my food than enjoying my surroundings – oops.
This was a cute and very, very romantic hotel, but I can see why some may think it is a little dated; I guess thats the charm. We found the location to be perfect as it was away from all the hustle and bustle of “downtown”, yet an easy 10-minute walk into the city.
WHAT TO SEE
By the time we had settled into and explored our hotel, it was already approaching late afternoon so we decided to venture out into the town.
One of Chiang Mai’s biggest attractions are the markets that take place daily. The streets are lined with numerous stalls selling all kinds of foods, antiques, and souvenirs, and you’ll find items here a lot cheaper than in Bangkok. They also have numerous massage shops offering a full body Thai massage for a fiver – of course, I made the most of this everyday!
On our second day there, we hired a driver for the day who also happened to be an excellent tour guide. Both him and wife came to pick us up in the morning, and would drop up right to the front of each tourist stop to help us out with the language barrier and prices. They were very honest people and we were happy to spend our time with them. You can find others like him just outside the airport.
First stop was the Elephant Camp where we did a package of activities for 1000BH per person. This included riding the elephants, taking a bamboo raft down the river, ox cart up the road, elephant show, and finally, lunch!
The elephant ride was first on the agenda. It was amazing, and oh my goodness, I just wanted to pack all these cute elephants in my suitcase to take home! Good thing we brought a bunch of mini bananas as the big guy kept reaching up for a snack. [I became aware throughout the tour that as cute as they are, there are more ethical elephant tours out there that entail bathing and feeding them. Please do not partake in tours that involve elephant riding, and if it is included, please check that they are bareback]
The oxcart was alright but after being with the elephants, it was no comparison. This hefty fella took us up the hills further into the greenery before descending down again.
My ethical radar was blaring at this point and I decided to skip the elephant show, meaning we had an hour to kill before coming back for lunch. So we went to the Karen Long Neck Tribe Village just up the road and paid a 500BH fee to enter. The Karen tribe are refugees who left Burma due to dangerous political unrest, and have settled in the hills of Northern Thailand.
While it was a nice experience with pretty views, the tourist industry are known for encouraging the placing of these uncomfortable neck rings on young girls in order to spruce up business, yet their only direct source of income are the goods you purchase from their stalls. Sadly, members of these tribes are unable to integrate with the Thais due to their immigrant status and thus cannot find proper jobs to earn a living. If you do plan on visiting the village, have a chat with the women, play with the kids, and buy a few items from the numerous stalls dotted around; every little bit helps.
We finished off the elephant tour with lunch (halal!) and a bamboo raft ride down the river, past the local kids playing in the water. It was stunningly serene and peaceful, with a little bit of sunburn mixed in.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by Shooting Club CM, a shooting range, for some healthy competition. You see, I’m definitely the better shooter between BW and myself, even if all my shots missed the target by a mile and BW got bullseye on every go. Whatever. This was good fun, and I highly suggest doing something like this especially with your other half.
Seeing as the next day was our final day here in Chiang Mai, we decided to skip all the tours and venture over to the other side of town, past the Night Bazaar and into the Old City. Chiang Mai is so cute and compact that its easy to finish the city in a couple of hours!
If you’re out there, I suggest checking out a more ethical elephant tour (Elephant Nature Park, Baan Chang, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary ), hiking up the mountain for exceptional views and the famous temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, being a little adventurous and doing watersports, and visiting a few of the other temples dotted around. Also try and participate in a Monk chat where you area able to interact with a Buddhist monk to learn about their traditions, and in return, they are able to practice their english!
WHAT TO EAT
Having skipped breakfast in the morning and rushing around the airport, we were hangry by the time we got to the hotel. The in-room fruit basket wasn’t doing it for me so we headed to the pool to get lunch. I had completely forgotten to ask the hotel if they could cater for halal and unfortunately, they were not able to on this occasion at such short notice. Oh well!
A sweet and killer spicy papaya salad. I felt the prawn was a little out of place but nevertheless enjoyable.
Freshly fried spring rolls stuffed with a vegetable filling. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Humongous coconut waters!
As mentioned earlier, Chiang Mai is known for their markets, especially the night ones. Our first stop was the famous night market known as Kalare Night Market.
The food court was enormous with various street vendors selling Thai staples, but only ONE was halal and it served kebabs. Not particularly enticing, we ended up getting a salt-baked fish from one of the seafood stalls.
It was good, but not something that really wowed me.
Further down the road is a more modern and gentrified night market known as Night Bizarre with a live band, numerous eateries, tattoos being done with a bamboo stick (forever put me off having a tattoo), and although tourist-trapping, was a lot more chilled and seemed like our kind of place.
There was a variety of cuisines, from pizza to baos and tacos to hotdogs, and sadly, only one stall served halal, which was an Indian and Middle Eastern hybrid *sigh*.
I opted for a fried fish bun i.e. the Asian fillet o’ fish.
BW went for the halal, and ordered a chicken tikka wrap. Great and full of spice, but packed with a little too much salad.
If you’ve headed into the Old City and feeling peckish, avoid any of the obvious touristy restaurants, and keep walking further out until you find places that are a little more on the beaten track and have several locals dining there. This is where you’ll get real Thai food for just a couple of pounds.
Steamed seabass with lime, garlic, and chilli. Delectable, light, delicious, and what I wish to find in London.
Simple vegetable stir-fry.
Although it was easier to find halal in Chiang Mai than in Bangkok, it was only by chance that we stumbled across a few halal eateries. However, the locals seemed more aware of halal/Muslims than they did in Bangkok so that was a plus when asking around.
One of our best meals on the whole trip was dinner at Bulkowki Grill, located on Hilal Street. Serving up halal hotpots and other Korean goodies, we counted our lucky stars on finding such a different establishment and were excited to eat.
It’s literally a hole in the wall with a few tables and stools, and two small burners per table. The waitress did not understand much English, but we got by by pointing out what we fancied. A few minutes later and she started bringing out the goodies!
We got the rib-eye on recommendation and chose a few more goodies to dunk into our hotpot; noodles, eggs, fishballs, rib-eye beef, and bok choy to add in some green! A pan of hot broth arrived with a grill, and were placed atop the heated gas burners, followed by all the trimmings we had ordered.
BW took over the duty of the grill whilst I tended to the broth, and once everything was ready we built our own individual noodle soup bowls.
Simple, yet really, really tasty and comforting. I really hope halal hotpots take off in London, because I could do with this almost everyday in winter!
Deliciously crispy chicken wings that had been lightly coated in a tangy spicy sauce and sprinkled in sesame seeds. These were insanely good, so much so that BW wanted to come back here everyday just for the wings!
Our total meal amounted to 200BH so £5 for two!
We almost returned to Bulkowki Grill, however, on our last day, we happened to be walking to the hotel from the Old City and stumbled upon Hilal Street where there were food stalls setting up. HALAL street food stalls. And just like that, Chiang Mai became BW’s favourite place on our trip. We popped down there in the evening to enjoy our last dinner.
The lovely lady behind the stall had remembered us from earlier and was happy to see us return. When we finally got to the front of the queue, she asked us one question: spicy? Remembering this was in terms of Thai spiciness, we opted for the medium-spicy version and watched her as she made up a big bowl of chicken noodle soup for us, with all the goodies included.
Of course, it was lip-smackingly spicy yet delicious, and the best noodle soup we have had. The chicken broth was rich with a slight creaminess, and the noodles were bouncy. The additional items were crunchy, crispy, tender, and basically, a hug in a bowl.
Although it looked promising, this beef noodle soup really did not live up to the chicken version. It was a little plain, ridiculously spicy and really needed a little oomph in the flavour department. Ah, it was worth a try at least.
Mini sausages served with a spicy sauce.
These rice paper rolls stuffed with vegetables and chicken mince, and served with a green chilli sauce, cost a measly £1. Deliciously light and healthy.
We didn’t get a chance to cover everything on Hilal Street, but you must try the Khoi Soi (a very popular noodle soup dish in Chiang Mai) and some of the freshly fried goodies they have there. Just remember, this halal food market only operates on Fridays after Jumah prayers.
The weather can become extremely hot out there and you’ll start to break out in a sweat when walking around the city. Luckily, they have fruit carts dotted around the city so you can stop by and pick up freshly squeezed juice.
Or even sliced fruits in a bag.
How about some fro-yo topped with a lovely amount of toppings?
Or this green bean smoothie that we got from Hilal Street and uses natural sugars from the green beans to make it sweet. A guilt-free dessert to help offset this next dessert.
But when you’re feeling delightfully sinful, you must get a roti from one of the street vendors. If you’re watching the calories, it’s best to scroll down and skip this part entirely, but there is no harm in taking a peek!
A hot, crisp, sweet and salty roti that has been stuffed with sliced bananas, cooked in a healthy amount of butter, and drizzled in a classic Hershey chocolate syrup – phwoar. It was so buttery and calorifically good that I could feel it going straight to my thighs with every bite, and even BW, the dessert hater, couldn’t resist it. They do an assortment of flavours but be sure to get one with condensed milk!
Chiang Mai was my favourite part of our entire Thailand trip. Not only was it super chilled, but the people were incredibly friendly and helpful, there was an abundance of halal, and it was just a stunning location. Both BW and myself were really sad to leave, and agreed that next time we visit Thailand, we’ll skip the super-busy city of Bangkok or touristy Phuket for the tranquil and pretty Chiang Mai.
Keep your eyes open for my final Phuket post tomorrow. See you then!
TIPS for CNX
—> Do not forget to ask your hotel if they can cater for halal before your trip out there
—> CNX is a city where you can get from one side to the other in 20 minutes on foot, so pack some comfortable shoes.
—> Book your trip at least three months in advance to make the most of the early-bird specials floating around.
—> Be sure to haggle when shopping; they’re happy to drop the price.
—> Wear respectable clothing when visiting the temples. Men will have to wear long shorts and t-shirts, whilst women cannot show their shoulders or knees. You can rent a cover-up at the temple if need be. Also wear easy slip-on shoes are advisable as you will have to take them off when entering the temple.
—> Research the attractions thoroughly so that you visit ethical and humane tourist attractions!
—> Make sure you pack light if you’ll be travelling domestic – we were only allowed 15kg each.
HOTEL in CNX
—> Puripunn Baby Grand Boutique Hotel – 5* – Halal food available on request
—> Four Seasons Hotel – 5* – Halal food on request
—> Shangri-La Hotel – 5* – Halal food available
—> Romena Grand Hotel – 3* – Halal restaurant on premises
—> ChongMoi House – B&B – Halal food available
MOSQUES in CNX
—> Ban Haw Masjid
—> Chang Phuak Mosque
—> San Pa Khoi Masjid
FOOD AREA/MARKETS IN CNX
—> Kalare Night Market – Chang Klan Road – two halal stalls present
—> Anusarn Night Market – Night Bazaar – halal options available in surrounding area
—> Night Bizarre Market (the one with western eats like pizza!) – Chang Klan Road – one halal stall available
—> Hilal Street Market – Hilal Street – plenty of halal stalls available
—> Warorot Market – Thanon Wichayanon, East of old town
—> Saturday and Sunday Walking Market – Saturday: Soi Wua Lai, South of the old town. Sunday: Soi Ratchadamnoen, old town
—> Chiang Mai Gate – South Gate
—> Chang Phueak Gate – North Gate
|Thanon Chang Klan||£|
|Tao Cuisine||Tao Garden||££|
Rajdarbar Indian Restaurant
|Loi Kroh Road||££||Indian|
Khao Soi Islam
|Gulf Restaurant||Night Bazaar||££|
|Changklan Road||££||Middle Eastern|
|Babylonian||Kalare Night Market||££|
Sofia Muslim Shop
Khao Soy Fueng Gah
|Fatimah Burger House||Hilal Town||£|
Takawa Halal Cuisine
|Chiang Mai Lang 10||£|
Asma Thai Food
|Anusan Night Market||£||Thai|
|Le Spice||Changklan Road||££|
|Jan Bao||Changklan Road||£|
|Charoen Prathet Road||££|
|Ruammit 1 Halal||Thanon Chang Klan||£|
|Karachi Darbar||Anusarn Night Market||££|
|Anusarn Night Market||££||Pakistani|
|Chang Klan Road||££||Middle Eastern|
|Ruammit (II)||Chang Klan Road||£|