The cuisine of northern Thailand differs somewhat to that of the southern parts, due to the stronger influence of Burmese and northern Laotian cooking styles. Since most western Thai restaurants serve a southern style of cuisine, a trip to the north promises to deliver exciting new culinary experiences. The food of the north is generally less spicy than in the south, and more balanced with its use of spices.
Chiang Mai is famous for its street food. Whether exploring the old town or hunting a bargain at the night bazaar, the sights and aromas of the street food vendors are difficult to resist - and at less than a dollar a dish, there’s no need to. Popular picks include khao soi (curry noodle soup - the local specialty), sai ua (spicy sausages) and kaeng hang lei (stewed pork curry). The more adventurous might like to try the fried crickets or roasted silk worms.
The city of Chiang Mai is quickly becoming known as a bakery lover’s paradise, with new cake shops and Japanese-style bakeries popping up regularly. Look out for Bake and Bite, Butter is Better, and one of the pioneers of the explosion, Love At First Bite.
As well as being a popular shopping spot, the trendy Nimmanhaemin Road has a lot to offer in the dining department. Cuisines on offer include Spanish tapas, mediterranean, Italian, and of course amazing northern Thai. There’s also a plethora of coffee shops and dessert bars to cap off the evening. Try Ristr8to Coffee for the best coffee in Chiang Mai.
Anyone fortunate enough to be in Chiang Mai on a Sunday night is in for a shopping treat - the Walking Street Market. This weekly evening market runs the entire length of Ratchadamnoen Road, in the heart of the Old City. Offerings are centred around showcasing local art and craftsmanship, with everything from paintings and picture frames to handmade jewellery and toys on show.
In contrast, the Night Bazaar, held every evening on Chang Klan Road, is more of a Bangkok-style market, with vendors hawking imitation designer label fashion products and pirated DVDs. There’s also a reasonable selection of local handicrafts for those who can’t make it to the Walking Street Market. Keep in mind that the first price most vendors offer is in most cases about double the lowest price they’ll accept.
A more sophisticated shopping experience can be found at Nimmanhaemin Road, five minutes west of the Old City. Considered the ‘hip’ part of town, Nimmanhaemin Road is dotted with galleries, antique stores, fashion boutiques, pottery shops, cafes and restaurants. Finish off an afternoon of shopping with a cold beer or cocktail at one of the many cosy bars.