48 foodie hours in Chiang Mai

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 Cafeand 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

Chicken gyoza

Nutella Roti

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.

After lunch we continued our sightseeing at Wat Suan Dok and Wat Chedi Luang, where we took part in the ‘Monk Chat’ and learned about their daily life and beliefs.

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.

72 foodie hours in Bangkok

People have told me that you either love Bangkok or you hate it. I’m the first camp, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for being in the second. It’s bonkers. During our first hour in Bangkok, Murtie and I unwittingly strolled hand-in-hand down the neon lit street of Soi Cowboy, which I’d seen in a ‘things to do in Bangkok’ guide, and somehow missed the minor detail that it is in fact the red light district. On the plus side, it triggered a topical and excellent discussion on the regulation of sex work as we passed a bar called ‘Spice Girls’, which definitely did not have the vibe of a 90s girl power band.

With rumbling stomachs, we left the bright lights and scantily clad people behind and found a small Japanese restaurant for dinner: Tori Soba Nanase. We both had the special soba, a chicken broth with chicken balls, sliced chicken and egg. Yes, after 12 hours flying to Thailand, our first dinner was … Japanese. Sacrilegious perhaps, but completely delicious and for about £3 it was worth it just to eat food that didn’t jiggle off the tray from turbulence.

24 hours in

The next morning we spent 15 minutes at Sukhumvit MRT station trying to get our heads round the ticket system, finally opting for prepaid travel cards, which we later realised didn’t actually save us any money than if we’d just got single tickets. We took the blue line to Chatuchak Park for the Chatuchak Weekend Market and followed the meandering crowd to an entrance packed tightly with stall holders selling fruits, cold drinks, and things with elephants on. Once inside it dawned on us how massive the market was – we were in zone 27, of 27. We walked 9.5km in 3 hours through the bustling melee of sellers and selfie-taking tourists, stopping regularly to try the tempting street food on offer:

Spring rolls

Coconut ice cream

Chilli squid

Mango sticky rice

Toasted brioche with sweetened milk

At dusk we slumped at a table with our bags of wares (tshirts, baskets and Thai spice mixes) and had a fresh coconut shake and a Singha beer for about £1.50.

We freshened up at our hotel and navigated our way through the backstreets to find our dinner venue: Cabbages and Condoms. When we had asked our friends for their food recommendations in Bangkok, Cabbages and Condoms came up numerous times. It’s the most bizarre restaurant I’ve ever eaten in –

Questionable, but inclusive, tips on safe sex

Condom lights

Food guaranteed not to cause pregnancy…

Murtie and I shared a Massaman curry, vegetable fried rice and Thai fish cakes.

The food was delicious although it was one of the more expensive places we ate at whilst in Thailand (£23.66).  The bill came with a plate of condoms as our after dinner ‘mints’. As we left I read a bit more about the restaurant: it exists to promote family planning and raise funds for the area’s Population and Community Development Association. It’s definitely an innovative way of getting people’s attention and money.

48 hours in

After a morning sightseeing at Wat Saket (The Golden Mount), Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)  we came back across the river to the Tha Tien Ferry entrance where the street was jam-packed with food stalls. Murtie had a stick of shrimp for 40 baht (£1) and I had spring rolls and sweet potato balls for 60 baht (£1.50). Both were served to us in plastic bags, which was handy but guilt-inducing and we’re now trying hard at home to minimise our plastic waste to make up for it.

Grilled shrimp

Sweet potato balls

We walked to the Grand Palace and Murtie had to buy some fetching elephant trousers because his shorts weren’t long enough. It was heaving with tourists and my neck was sunburnt, so we took our photos and hopped in a tuk tuk to Maha Chai Road. We slumped in a bar that I can’t remember the name of and had coconut shakes and beer waiting for our next eatery, Thipsamaito open.

‘Is this Thailand’s best pad Thai?’ asked the BBC earlier this year – we had to check it out. We arrived at 5pm on the dot and joined the queue of people already winding down the street. As we approached the front of the queue we could see their famous pad Thai wrapped in egg being made freshly outside –  it took 10 seconds in the best non-stick wok I have ever seen. The kitchen was run like a military operation with food cooked and immaculately presented on plates in seconds, whilst servicing an unrelenting queue for takeaways.

Our server had pre-empted our order and our prawn pad Thais wrapped in egg appeared within seconds of handing over our marked menu. We drank the restaurant’s renowned freshly squeezed orange juice, which had so much pulp it was a challenge to suck it up the straw. On the wall behind us were framed newspaper cuttings stating that this was indeed the best pad Thai in Bangkok. I ate quite a few pad Thais during my two weeks in Thailand and it was definitely up there. I appreciated the pot of ground peanut on our table and liberally sprinkled it all over my pad Thai at least three times.

‘The best pad Thai in Bangkok’

Fresh orange juice

All the ground peanut

72 hours in

We ventured to the Khao San Road on our third day in Bangkok, but we quickly decided it wasn’t our cup of tea. We ventured onto the backstreets instead and chose Krua Apsorn for lunch. We ordered the crab omelette to share, a dish the restaurant is renowned for, which was tasty and incredibly filling. I had a Thai green fishball curry and it was so spicy I had to hide my teary eyes from the locals.

Crab omelette

Thai green curry with fishballs and steamed rice

We walked off our food for an hour in no particular direction and eventually I spied a cake shop. Choux Time had tables of treats inside and outside the shop, and Murtie picked something to try whilst I went round taking photos. We had the sweets with yellow and pink in the middle. Still no idea what they were but the sugar fuelled the rest of our afternoon.

Cakes at Choux Time

Selection of sweet goodies at Choux Time

These are the sweets we tried

After struggling to flag down a taxi, we took a tuk tuk to Petchaburi Road and spent the late afternoon exploring Pratanum Market. The women’s fashion was awesome and I haggled away a couple of hundred baht at a stall with some really quirky tops. The market was packed with locals and there didn’t seem to be any other tourists in sight. I loved this area as it felt like authentic, bonkers Bangkok – the overhead wiring being a visual representation of this.

I had my first Thai massage at the Watergate Spa on Petchaburi Road. Despite opting for a head and shoulder massage (heat rash on my ankles was too bad for a full Thai massage) the masseuse put me in positions I didn’t know were possible. My spine cracked with every movement,  but it did the job. I felt like I’d been needing that massage for about 5 years.

Bangkok was face-paced, full-on, and I absolutely loved it. I’m used to London, which is organised ‘don’t you know there’s a queue?’ chaos. Bangkok is disorganised chaos. Crossing the road is a heart-thumping but life-affirming experience.

From a food perspective, Bangkok is brilliant. Whether in a restaurant or served from a cart, my defining memories will be fresh ingredients, big portions, punchy flavours, chilli to make me cry – all served with a warm and welcoming Thai smile.

Cafe Strange Brew, Shawlands, Glasgow

‘I’m eating chocolate soil for breakfast’.

Those were the 6 words I text my husband, along with the picture below, moments before I ate probably the best breakfast of my life to date in Cafe Strange Brew. That’s quite a claim and I stand by it. Just look:

America style pancakes with Scottish strawberries, chocolate soil, whipped mascarpone, roasted almonds and dark chocolate sauce. It was all very very very very good. The pancakes were soft and light, the sauce was dark and sweet, the strawberries were fresh and juicy, the toasted almonds and chocolate soil provided crunch. All round, the happiest 20 minutes I’ve spent eating in a long time.

Caveat: I had to wait half an hour for a table. Second caveat: it was absolutely worth it. Before visiting Glasgow I’d tweeted asking for recommendations of places to visit/eat. One of my followers had suggested Cafe Strange Brew, so I put it on my itinerary for my last day as it was near where I stayed in Pollokshields.

It was glorious sunshine when I left my AirB&B with a heavily packed bag and messy hair as I didn’t take my straighteners. On Google Maps the cafe was 15 minutes walk away. I always underestimate distance and that day was no different. It took me 20 and I was sweaty and tired from carrying my giant bag. There are so many delicious looking cafes in this area of Glasgow, I filled up a Notes tab with places to visit next time.

As I approached Cafe Strange Brew I could see steamed up windows and shadows of people standing by the door. This was half the queue. The other half was sat on a wooden pew in the window. A friendly waiter welcomed me and put my name on a list – after hoofing 20 minutes there was no way I was going somewhere else. For once I had absolutely nothing to do that day so I sat and watched everyone’s food come out, which made choosing what to order all the more difficult.

I was torn between sweet and savoury – the wide and creative selection of egg dishes had me salivating but I had gone for savoury my past 3 breakfasts and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had pancakes. Dark chocolate was the clincher for me. I am addicted.

It was a bit like being a dentist waiting room but the end result was so much better. I ordered as soon as I finally sat down and my pile of pancakes came about 5 minutes later. I could see the people on the table next to me sneaking a peek at my plate and frowning, but I didn’t care one bit and made my way through mouthfuls of fluffy pancake and sweet strawberry.

I’d have licked the plate clean if I had been in a more discreet corner, so I settled for trying to scoop up my sauce with my knife and fork. I was absolutely stuffed and felt absolutely amazing.

As I paid I asked the waiter if it was always this busy and he said ‘pretty much’. For a cafe that doesn’t seem to have a website, the power of social media seems to be working for them as they have thousands of followers. I will definitely be telling anyone I know going to Glasgow to visit.

After my breakfast I walked to the nearest train station, which had such a great name I took a photo of it.

The sky was bright blue with not a cloud in sight. I took the train into Glasgow and out again to Bridgeton. I spent the rest of my day reading my way through Glasgow Women’s Library, the organisation which inspired my trip to Glasgow in the first place. It’s a wonderful, welcoming place and I implore everyone to go there. Pancakes + feminism = Katy’s perfect day.

Pizza Punks, Glasgow

‘Go there, they do mac n cheese on a pizza!’

My friend and I were sipping fancy G&Ts in Gin71 when she suggested Pizza Punks for a cheap place for dinner for my last night in Glasgow. I had booked in to another restaurant but the menu was ‘small plates’ and unless you take Tupperware or haven’t eaten all day, small plates really don’t suit the solo diner. I was also pretty skint by this point in my trip so the prospect of pizza for a tenner, with unlimited toppings was very appealing.

I’d done a whole load of sightseeing that day and despite eating a massive breakfast, a lemon poppyseed muffin, a Tantrum doughnut and a veggie haggis roll, I was surprisingly ravenous by 6.30pm. I followed the neon lights inside and asked for a table for one. This time I got a table for four for one, so I spread out with my book and notepad. I scoured the menu to try and decide what to have atop my pizza. I loved the fact they not only had mac n cheese as a pizza topping, but Irn Bru pulled pork, lamb donner, tortilla chips and potato scone. In hindsight I do regret not being braver than my order of lemon & herb chicken, red onion, artichokes, olives and rocket on a tomato base, with garlic mayo for crust dipping.

It took me a good half an hour to get through it all and it was the sort of pizza where there was substantial crust to really make the most of the garlic mayo. For a tenner it was perfectly tasty. The waiting staff were friendly and although it took a while for my bill to come, it was time I didn’t know I needed to let my food settle. It was nice to slow down for once. I’m used to London where everyone gets annoyed if a tube train is more than 1 minutes away. I appreciated the handwritten thank you note on the receipt and went back to my AirB&B to digest.

Tantrum Doughnuts, 27 Old Dumbarton Road, Glasgow

‘My doughnut matches my shoes’.

I text my husband a photo of my bright pink doughnut as soon as I stepped out of Tantrum Doughnuts because I was so proud of my purchase, and so desperate to eat it. I wouldn’t normally dedicate an entire post to a single doughnut, but that’s how good it was.

I’d spent the morning exploring the University of Glasgow in crisp air and bright sunshine. Parts of it looked like Hogwarts with its turrets. towers and red bricks, and I enjoyed the autumnal views framed by old windows.

I was on my way to the Riverside Museum from Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (it was a proper nerdy trip to Glasgow) and I’d earmarked Tantrum Doughnuts when I was researching places to eat. My heart sank from across the road because I thought it was closed, but as I got closer I could see shiny sugar glazed doughnuts glinting in the window.

The smell of sugary sweetness was divine and I was faced with an array of doughnut flavours to choose from – creme brûlée (the server’s favourite), Tonka bean (which she promised tasted like Solero), salted caramel, almond buttermilk, and cookies and creme, which had been the most popular that day.

I had to close my mouth from drooling. Whilst I was choosing my doughnut a Deliveroo man came in to pick up an order. First of all, amazing that this doughnut shop was on Deliveroo, and second, massive high five to the person who wanted doughnuts delivered to their door. I opted for a pistachio and hibiscus ring, paying with my Scottish £5 note and leaving the shop gleeful.

It tasted exactly like a doughnut should – light and doughy, sweet but not too sweet, decadent and naughty as hell. The pistachio gave a lovely crunch to the soft dough and the hibiscus offered a floral touch but didn’t overpower. For 5 minutes I was in doughnut paradise on a beautiful Autumnal day in Glasgow.

Topolobamba, Glasgow

‘Do you want a wee pudding m’love?’

My waiter at Topolabamba, Jamie, was an absolute gem and said the words above in his thick Scottish accent with a giant smile and twinkle in his eye. I’d spent a long day sightseeing – my phone said I’d walked 11km – and as I was parked in a corner on my table for one I was glad of a friendly, welcoming face. The restaurant was buzzing on a Saturday night with tables bulging with food and excitable people knocking back cocktails. I loved the atmosphere and colourful lighting, which went from blue to red to green throughout the evening.

As I sat down Jamie introduced himself and asked if I’d like a regular or large white wine, emphasising the word ‘large’ and giving me a look of ‘it’s Saturday night’. I grinned and said yes, and gave him my food order: shredded beef tostadas, crispy fish tacos and crispy Pasilla king prawn tacos. You’ll have to forgive my weird menu choices, I have a thing for fried things from the sea. It was only after I ordered that I realised I’d missed out using the mini Ikea pencil to circle my choices. Everyone loves a tiny pencil.

I sat back and opened my book just as a bottle of tequila landed on my table. After my initial horror I was relieved to find it only had tap water in it. The last time I drank tequila was on my hen do and the less that’s said about that, the better. My beef tostadas came out first, swiftly followed by my fish and prawn tacos.

Everything was flavoursome but boy was it spicy. It was at this point that I realised the menu had a heat key, which I had completely ignored. As I finished up, my mouth was on fire and as Jamie asked ‘do you want a wee pudding m’love’ all I could do was nod and point at the Horchata ice cream, which he said tasted like Caramac bars.

It arrived pronto in a deep blue bowl that looked like a flower pot. The first bite was like diving into a pool when you’ve been sat in the sun too long. The ice cream was soothing, creamy and indeed tasted like Caramac bars. I asked for the bill as I was finishing the final scoop and it arrived with a smiley face on it.

I don’t know if Jamie was being nice to be in order to earn a tip, either way he was delightful and made my solo dinner all the more enjoyable. I asked him if he got his tips and he said yes. The food at Topolabamba was tasty and I’d like to go back with a big group of people so I can try more of the menu. My takeaway this trip though will be Jamie, who made me feel right at home.

Kember and Jones, Glasgow

‘Veggie Haggis? Yes’.

I’m sure for most Scottish people veggie haggis is sacrilege, but for this southerner I was lured in by golden flakey pastry and the novelty of veggie haggis. I walked into Kember and Jones and straight past the ‘please wait to be seated’ sign to gawp at the array of baked goods on display. The veggie haggis roll got me and after breakfast I bought one for lunch later.

I’d travelled across the city to get to Kember and Jones, and took another 10 minutes to finally sit down as I had to find a cash point because their card reader wasn’t working. I helped myself to a menu (I had rudely just sat myself down after being distracted by pastry) and plugged my phone charger in next to me. I was delighted that the Kember and Jones’ menu had my initials on, so I had to photograph it. Simple things.

The menu was varied but strangely egg-free. I opted for avocado on sourdough and griddled halloumi. After ordering, everything seemed to get a bit frantic. The waiting staff were dashing about and clattering noises were coming from the kitchen. A waitress told the table next to me that there had been a power cut and they’d lost power – that’s what took out their card reader that morning. I wanted to give her a hug. None of the customers seemed to mind though as food kept coming.

My food arrived after a few minutes, tasty fresh avocado, rocket and a lemon slice – something you don’t tend to get with your avo smash in London. The only issue was the halloumi, which I think was ‘griddled’ with a whole load of butter because it was rather greasy. The sourdough however was deliciously rich and nutty. I could see their breads lined up behind the counter and if I’d been in Glasgow longer I’d have got one. As I paid up I once again succumbed to the treats on display and bought a lemon poppyseed muffin.

It was absolutely divine and lasted about 4 minutes whilst I walked to the Hunterian Museum round the corner. It was moist and delicately flavoured, with a tang of lemon in the soft white icing. I recycled the paper bag, licked my fingers and (after properly washing my hands) explored the weird and gross bits of body on display. I spent the afternoon at the Riverside Museum, stunningly designed by Zaha Hadid, a must for anyone who likes museums, architecture and taking photos.

I made the most of the glorious weather and sat out in the sun listening to small children run around the deck of the Tall Ship, clanging it’s bell and launching into fits of giggles. The water of the River Clyde was so still and serene it acted like a mirror perfectly reflecting the clouds in the sky. Here I enjoyed my veggie haggis roll, constantly on the look out for lurking sea gulls. I ate it before they got a look in.