Fun Things To Do in Chiang Mai

Being in Chiang Mai reminds me of a fascinating and classic Chinese book I  read when I was a kid. It is about a noble and good monk who – with his three apprentices – travels thousands and thousands of miles, crossing dangerous mountains and rivers, to the west (India), on the quest for the Buddhist scriptures. The thing is that they could just fly there with their super powers. However, in that case the Buddhist scriptures would not be given to them because the scriptures would be too difficult for them to understand. For people without ascetic practice those scriptures would be like preaching to deaf ears. So after numerous fights against demons, their own desires, enticement from beautiful women who want to marry them for their own secret agendas, warding off pitfalls, seeking food and shelter from strangers along the journey, they managed to carry on with their initial goal to the very end by starting a brand new life with enlightenment, both for themselves and for the entire human kind.

This story has been nesting within my memory ever since I could remember. For me it is more than just a fantasy literature. I have always been doubting the concept of living on the road, because I thought this kind of lifestyle was only applicable for people with super powers, not for mortals like me. How do I defend when adversity strikes out of a blue? How can I stand up against my desire of seeking a life with stability and certainty? On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder even if right now I am handed with a perfectly stable life, will I be able to enjoy it?

Maybe having a detour is the only way to get to the destination we crave for. Maybe I can never enjoy stable lifestyle without being able to enjoy life-on-the-road first.

So here I am, currently at the third stop of my ‘journey to the west’, Chiang Mai, Thailand. It has been about 4 months since I started my digital nomadic life. Besides that I am getting more substantial work and a better income, what’s more important is that I am starting to enjoy more and struggle less. Instead of trying to find the way, I encourage myself to create my own way and enjoy whatever way that lies in front of me. This time I want to share the great fun that Chiang Mai has bestowed on me ever since I arrived more than one month ago.

Food first, Niceties second

In Chiang Mai my taste buds are up for a new adventure every day. For such a physically small city, Chiang Mai for sure has extensive food choices to offer even for the pickiest gourmet. During these two months living here in Chiang Mai together with my more-than-just-a-boyfriend super-tricky-to-handle man G, we explored a large range of restaurants from poorly presented local ones to tourists-oriented gorgeously furnished ones, and every other day I would also surprise my man in both good and bad ways with my original cooking.

The restaurants that we enjoyed and would like to recommend include but not limited to:

For Budget-conscious and Thai-food lovers

Aroon Rai (@ 45 Th Kotchasan Road)- Aroon Rai is an amiable and approachable place with a surprisingly long history. It is said that Aroon Rai has been running for about 60 years, which is not very hard to believe considering that it has no air-conditioning and no doors, and that the tables are mottled, and chairs are plastic. As basic as it sounds, this place is always full of both locals and tourists from different cultures. For merely around 150 Bhat, I can satisfy myself with spicy and mysteriously addictive fish soup, and G can enjoy his favorite penang curry with plenty of meat and a bowl of Kao Soi.

Lert Ros (@ Ratchadamnoen Road, Soi 1)- Lert Ros is in many ways similar to Aroon Rai in presentation, except the dishes are quite different. If you want to enjoy good North-Eastern Thai cuisine within your strict budget, Lert Ros is a place for you. Lert Ros has its own special way with pork and beef and fish. Besides the food, the other thing I really love about Lert Ros is that most of the dishes come with small, medium and large sizes with corresponding prices attached, which makes it possible for customers to enjoy multiple choices without having to bursting their stomach.

Thaan Aoan (@ Corner of Prapokklao Road and Ratchamanka Road) – Thaan Aoan is a beautifully decorated café which only opens for breakfast and lunch. You can enjoy delicious Thai cuisines with authentic coffee and desserts for relatively cheap prices. If you happen to be a vegetarian, I’d suggest you try the tofu there. As a typical Asian girl who loves tofu, the tofu I had at Thaan Aoan was very impressive. Carnivorous G refused to take a bite because of his biased view towards tofu. Well, it is his loss. The cake and desserts are fantastic as well, especially their homemade crepe-cake. Another thing about Thaan Aoan is that free (and fast) wifi is available.

For Western style  café lovers

The Coffee Club (@ Rachadamnoen Road) There are many acceptable coffee shops here in Chiang Mai. Waawee coffee, black canyon coffee, and Coffee club are among the most popular ones. However, of all these offers, we enjoy Coffee Club the most. Coffee Club is relatively more expensive but still reasonable enough for the quality. If you are in the mood for some western food and coffee, Coffee Club is a safe choice.

For digital nomads who are seeking a perfect place to work

Raming Teahouse (@  Tha Pae Road) – As the name implies, Raming Teahouse is a place where you can have (organic) tea. From the outside, you can see a lot of delicate porcelain tea sets and tableware lining on the shelves .If you walk inside and cross a courtyard, you will find that teahouse has more to offer than just tea and teaware. Raming Teahouse is elegantly designed in baroque style and with high ceilings and white walls. WIFI is free and fast, staff is friendly and professional. Although tea is their specialty, you can also have very good coffee if tea is not your thing. You can either choose to sit in the leafy and verdant garden in the backyard, or you can sit in the secluded room if you prefer to work in a quiet environment. If you love this place, and after a few hours of working, you don’t feel like going out finding a restaurant with a heavy laptop and empty stomach, just stay and let them serve you a delicious lunch in beautiful tableware.

For romantic occasions

Ginger & Kafe (@ Munmueang Road, NE) – Ginger is a hidden place you have to know before you can find it. It is located quietly in a courtyard without eye-grabbing billboards. It gives people the impression of being privileged and exclusive. However it is really a quiet and elegant place with unassuming prices. Ginger is most appreciated on a hot day. You can sit comfortably in the wide sofa together with your companion and order a genuine beef burger with home-made tomato sauce and potato chips which is the best chips I’ve ever tasted. I has also great Thai food. Ginger offers many kinds of very good fresh juice, among which C-mixed and garden-goodness are my favorites. According to the coffee-manic G, the coffee here is superb as well.

Ruen Tamarind (@ Rachadamnoen Road) Ruen is an exotic and luxurious restaurant of a resort located in the center of the city. They are specialised in Thai food from the region. Despite its location, this restaurant has a surprisingly quiet and cosy ambience. It is a perfect place for a romantic dinner. The dishes I strongly recommend would be those from their special menu as pork sausage salad, minced duck, and fish steamed in banana leaves. For about 1000 baht, you can have about three dishes, one cocktail and a complimentary drink of your choice if you go there during ‘happy hour’, normally before 7pm.

For Pizza lovers

Street Pizza (@ Thapae Road 82) – After living in Chiang Mai for a while, you are most likely to find yourself craving for any kind of food other than Thai food. If you are in the mood for some pizza you’ve got to try Street Pizza. It was one of our favorite places. The name sounds humble but it exclusively offers authentic and excellent wood-fired pizza with a dozen choices of toppings. You can either eat in or take away.We drove around this street for 3 times one night before we could finally find the location of the ‘Street Pizza’ which is a bit hidden in the backyard of a house. Go there and give your taste buds a wonderful vacation from Thai food.

Take a trip within the trip

After a few days of walking on the streets and visiting temples in the city, everything that’s used to be novelty becomes a common occurrence. Once in awhile, G would take me on a long ride with our rented motorbike to the mountains and villages far away from the city.

Sometimes we got caught by the heavy rain so suddenly that before we realized, we were already soaking wet. We were welcomed by the local people to hide from the rain in their shack.

Sometimes we drove all the way to a strawberry village called Samoeng just to buy a jar of strawberry jam.

Sometimes the tire of the motorbike deflated when we were speeding on the unoccupied mountain road.

Sometimes when G was driving with a bad mood because we had just had a fight and we couldn’t seem to reconcile until we fell from motorbike on a slippery and muddy road. At that moment physical pain was the least of our concern.

All kinds of insignificant incidents we encounter on the road amount to a lifestyle which is more energy-consuming and livelier.

Fun Night in and out in Chiang Mai 

After sunset and when street lamps are turned on, Chiang Mai becomes even more vibrant. Numerous clubs with colorful dim lights, “karaoke bars” with scantily dressed girls standing out in the front, are in position to offer ‘fun’ to confused and lonely souls.But of course it is also possible if you just want to have some ‘normal fun’ here in Chiang Mai at night.

Usually after a long day of work and driving around, G and I prefer to just stay in and watch a good movie with nice tea and fresh fruit plate. The most precious kind of fun isn’t bought.

Sometimes when the weather is good and we are not in the mood of staying in, we would go to the mall close by and play several rounds of games on the game machine like two care-free kids.

One late afternoon, we drove by the newly opened 3D Museum on our way home. We bought the tickets on a whim and had a blast. Probably we all have seen 3D artworks on the internet, but seeing the real thing is way much more fantastic. You’ve got to check it out if you ever come to Chiang Mai.

LOVE in Chiang Mai

One year ago when I was working for a company and I had to arrange a business trip to Chiang Mai for my boss. Our client in Chiang Mai tried to help me to book a hotel room but she couldn’t because ‘it’s 14th February, the Valentine’s day!’ I was quite amused in a way because at that time I always thought Chiang Mai was a city of temples and monks.

As small as it is, Chiang Mai sure has a large capacity for couple combinations: Old western man with Thai young woman, Old western man with less old Thai woman, Western man with Thai man, western man with western man, Asian boy with Thai-looking girl, western woman with western woman, western man with western woman, Asia boy with Asia girl, and of course the cutest couple ever—G and I .

Of course one can be critical about it and argue that some unconventional couples are together for reasons other than love. However I’d rather think of it this way—there must be love in it. Love is like a shapeless living thing. Some are stronger and last longer than others.

I can’t help but feel much happier here in Chiang Mai than in Shanghai where I came from. I think part of the reason is that people here are happier on average. They smile more and they seem to be more laid back. I like the way that every family here in Chiang Mai lights up a fluorescent bulb every night outside of their front door. My two-month sojourn here in Chiang Mai is as simple as a collection of happy moments and as profound as a journey that helps to increase my capacity to celebrate even the ordinary moments.

Herman J. Walker