The sun was rising over the dark green, hazy mountains as our plane approached Chiang Mai International Airport. Our moment of zen came to an abrupt end as Murtie and I entered arrivals and were ambushed by a noisy rabble of taxi reps. Our hotel was only 15 minutes away and as the heat rash began to flare on my ankles we picked the least obtrusive taxi driver who led us to his car, which had turf on the floor. Obviously.
We arrived early at the Thai Akara Lanna Boutique Hotel so we left our bags at reception and explored the winding streets of the old town. A couple of people were queuing outside the spot we had chosen for lunch, Tikky Cafe, and we were given a paper number 3 marking our place. The area at the front of the restaurant was brimming with tropical fruit and we stood watching a young Thai woman effortlessly lopping the tops off fresh coconuts with a cleaver.
Five minutes later we were seated at a low table with big comfy chairs and a colourful patterned table cloth. I ordered a coconut-pineapple shake, and Murtie ordered a mango-passionfruit-coconut shake, which the lady set to work making immediately. They tasted as good as they looked.
I could have eaten the whole menu, but I’m a sucker for anything deep fried so I chose prawn tempura and vegetable fried rice. Murtie had stir fried chicken with chilli and Thai basil. We could hear the sizzles from the kitchen behind us as we took in our surroundings; a family with two young children giggling and sharing plates of food, a young woman on the table next to us, dining alone, impressively scoffing down two giant plates of noodles and a fruit shake. Our food arrived in generous portions too and my tempura prawns dunked in sweet chilli sauce were heaven. Murtie’s teddy bear-shaped rice was cute if random.
Arriving at Tikky Cafe at 11.45am had unwittingly been a good move as the queue had tripled in size by the time we left. We saw some of the sights of Chiang Mai on the way back to our hotel, my favourite was Wat Phra Singh, where the meditating monks were so still they looked like statues.
We hopped in a tuk tuk having lost our sense of direction and finally checked-in to our hotel where we were kindly presented with a slice of banana bread as a honeymoon gift.
After scoffing the banana bread we took a taxi to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, which we’d been told not to miss. 6pm was much too early to arrive and the stall holders were just starting to fire up their grills and hot plates. We killed some time perusing the market stalls nearby for half an hour and I impulsively bought a 7/11 t-shirt to wear as a pyjama top. The food market was beginning to get busy when we returned and it was hard to decide what to eat with so much on offer – grilled fish, stir fries, spring rolls, kebabs, pasta, burgers, crepes and more. We shared the following:
Fresh noodle spring rolls
The tables around us filled with people as we ate and a guitarist started playing Bryan Adams songs on stage as flashing lights came on. We did one more loop of the food market but our stomach’s were too full.
24 hours in
The next morning we dropped into a coffee shop by our hotel called Coffee Telling and Murtie sampled the local coffee beans. I don’t like coffee but he said it was delicious, so I’ll take his word for it. I pored over a display of marathon medals hanging opposite the main counter that turned out to be the owner’s. I was reminded of the joke ‘how can you tell if there’s a marathon runner in the room? They’ll tell you‘ as he and I (London, 2016, never again!) bonded over our marathon experiences – his a lot more interesting than mine with marathon medals from Thailand and Japan.
We were picked up an hour later for our excursion to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, one of the ethical companies in Chiang Mai who focus on animal welfare and conservation, and don’t allow tourists to ride the elephants. Our day was spent rolling around a mud bath with these beautiful creatures and I will remember it forever (despite the ‘authentic’ tunics they made us wear, see below).
It took two showers to finally wash all the mud out my hair and even then I’d missed in-between my toes. We rounded off our day walking to Kat’s Kitchen for dinner and despite almost all the tables being full, people were chatting quietly and the atmosphere was easy-going and relaxed. I wanted to try the local dish in Chiang Mai – Khao Soi egg noodle, but couldn’t resist having another Pad Thai so I ordered both. The Khao Soi had crispy, crunchy noodles on top of a thick fragrant curry sauce with chicken and even more noodles underneath. It was carb heaven.
Khao soi egg noodle with chicken
Pad Thai with chicken – also absolutely delicious.
We washed our food down with a mango and pineapple shake each, and the whole thing came to less than £7.50.
48 hours in
Our final day in Chiang Mai was spent getting lost outside the old town and eventually ditching our map in favour of a red taxi to see the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chiang Man and then Wat Chet Yot
We left the sights in search of food and took another red taxi to the Nimmanahaeminda Road, which was recommended to us for good food and shops. We found a street food market at One Nimman, an established, well-kept shopping area. It was a pleasant surprise that the food market wasn’t too expensive, as the building it was housed in seemed rather swanky.
I tried a steamed fish parcel wrapped in a banana leaf for 30 baht (75p) and it was hotter than the sun. Whatever else was in the fish parcel besides chilli was delicious, but it was so hot it genuinely made me feel light headed.
I’d lost Murtie in the melee of food stalls, so I got myself a plate of fried rice noodle with black soy sauce for 50 baht, just over £1. He reappeared a minute later with a fragrant duck noodle bowl. The photo doesn’t do either of our meals justice as they were both delicious. Mine thankfully reversed the effects of my chilli overdose 10 minutes earlier.
As the sun was setting we took a Tuk Tuk to Cooking Love, a restaurant Murtie had seen on Tripadvisor, for dinner. I was so grumpy when we got there because we’d walked 16,000 steps that day, my heat rash had spread up to my thighs and we had to wait 10 minutes for a table. I’ve waited for tables in London for an hour so in hindsight 10 minutes really was no big deal at all, and as soon as we sat down where it was cool, I forgot about my heat rash.
Cooking Love was packed, and for good reason. We were greeted with green tea and watermelon as we sat down –
My panang curry with chicken was big on flavour and portion size. I was desperately sad to be defeated by it!
We ended the night with a drink in a bar near our hotel owned by a Brit named Mike, who told us he had been in Chiang Mai for 17 years. I can absolutely see the appeal of Chiang Mai and I’m so glad we included a visit in our 2 week trip to Thailand.
The heat during the day was dry, it cooled down in the evenings, there were minimal bitey bugs, slightly less traffic than Bangkok (but driving still as bonkers), fewer tourists at the sites, and most people going about their business at a slower, more sensible pace. Food-wise, we ate some of the best and cheapest food in Chiang Mai. I would fly back tomorrow for the prawn tempura from Tikky Cafe.