Featured update image: Muang Mai Wholesale Market, March 2017
Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 4 May 2017
Food in Chiang Mai 6: 2017 Update
Denise and I left Australia on 16 January and returned on 7 March 2017. We stayed in Chiang Mai from 24 February to 5 March (10 days) a much shorter time than usual. We’d previously spent four weeks in Burma, attended a family wedding in Bangkok, and spent a few days at a resort in Hua Hin (not my favourite style or place, but family).
It is always nice to come back to Chiang Mai. It is one of my favourite places in Thailand — much cheaper than Bangkok, but more manageable also.
Chiang Mai has been changing rapidly over the past five years with continuing development. Chinese tourism is having a major impact (especially at Chinese New year) and will continue to expand. As in many places, the provincial government is not always making sensible decisions with regard to development.
Nevertheless, the old Chiang Mai still persists. I first came here in 1991 and was surprised later in 2002 that Chiang Mai still retained its charm, whereas the old village of Chiang Rai further north had become buried in acres of shop-houses.
In 2017, while I deplore some changes, Chiang Mai still weaves its magic on me. The focus of Chiang Mai is the medieval walled city and whilst it has many wonderful things inside, there is much more to Chiang Mai, and on any visit I only spend a limited time within the walls.
Denise came with me this time, which she hasn’t on the past couple of occasions. As usual we stayed in Sakorn Residence near Wat Ket Karam (sounds like Wat Kate), across the river from Wararot Markets. Finally, after years, the new footbridge, which one could walk across but not descend from, has been opened, the dispute resolved. This makes for easy access from Wat Ket to Wararot, which we found useful on early morning walks.
I hired a motorcycle as usual and was prepared with an International Driver’s Licence this time, as well as my Australian licence. The police stoped me twice on their money raising checks, but the International Licence was sufficient to be waived on without paying a bribe, a huge psychological relief, surprisingly. Next time who knows! We had coffee on the morning of our art class on Moon Muang and watched the police stop motorcycles across the road, most tourists had to pay fines, but it is much worse for the locals who have to live here.
Because Denise was with me, we did more things than I normally would. On my own, I’m happy just to hang out. We drove out to Mai Rim one day and went to a nice coffee shop. We visited the Insect Zoo, which was terrific, and the Elephant Poo paper making, which was less so. It was a pleasant day. But, even within town, I discovered new things and places I’d never been to before because of Denise’s goading; and also places Mike and Tip took us to, which are always novel. Chiang Mai continues to surprise no matter how well one thinks one knows it.
We didn’t get out to Nimmanheiman, which disappointed Denise, or to other places that I would have liked to go, but one can only do so much in ten days. One place I would have liked to go back to is the amazing trompe-l’œil (deceive the eye) or Art in Paradise, Illusion Museum on Chang Klan — a short walk from Pho Vieng Chane and Giorgio’s Restaurant. This is a great place to visit on a hot afternoon and fewer tourists find it than one would expect.
Even though the tourist rush seemed to have disappeared in March, I was still surprised by the number at the Wua Lai walking street markets on Saturday evening. Wua Lai still attracts a good number of Thais. Whereas the Sunday walking market near Tha Phae Gate is strictly for tourists.
Another good thing we did was to attend a pay by the hour art class at Noina Art Studio for three hours. We thought it was good value. Noina was very helpful and taught us a new technique using powdered charcoal, which was very impressive (once we’d drawn an outline in pencil, from the photographs we’d sent her). Denise discovered Noina Art Studio (+66 84042 8021). It is off Soi 9, Moon Muang just before reaching the North Moat corner (see Nancy Chandler Map).
1 Akha Tribal Food
Not much to report. Phennapha was unwell during our stay and we didn’t eat any more Akha food. I bought a book in Burma Meet the Akhas by Jim Goodman, 1996. I’ll read this and chase up some more information on Akha food elsewhere and do an expanded article.
Yang Phing Phing and Phennapha’s shop is still going strong and well worth visiting for tribal textiles (see Nancy Chandler)
Phing Phing’s wonderful tribal textiles shop at the bottom of Anusarn Night Market in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. The shop is the third one in from the Charoen Prathet Road Gate. (That is, from the river end.)
Anusarn Markets has had a facelift over the past couple of trips. It is definitely more popular than Kalare Night Bazaar now. The river end, which used to be dark, is now brightly lit under an awning and the shop much easier to find. Some of the best authentic tribal work you will find in Chiang Mai, particularly textiles is to be found here.
Yang Ming Ming, Phing Phing’s daughter, is becoming a real local star in Chiang Mai with her blues singing. She was on the Voice in Thailand and has been to China as an Akha singer to audition. She is studying Voice at University in Chiang Mai. We caught her singing this trip at North Gate Bar and on my previous trip at a restaurant on the river. Well worth viewing on YouTube (see below)
With regard to coffee, the Akha Ama coffee shop is still going strong. There is the original location and also Akha Ama coffee La Fattoria in the old city on Ratchadamnoen. There is also another Akha coffee shop off Suthep Road, which is the shopfront in Chiang Mai for the Akha Coffee plantations project started in 1969.
2 Lunch at Pho Vieng Chane
Pho Vieng Chane Restaurant is located in a laneway between Pracha Samphan and Chang Klan Road (just down from Giorgio Italian Restaurant). Lunch only.
One sometimes becomes blasé about places one goes to regularly and likes. This, however, was the first time I’d taken Denise to Pho Vieng Chane and she was enamoured. We went twice. It really is incredible food in a very simple open-air restaurant. The staff are friendly and welcoming to foreigners. This is my favourite lunch spot in Chiang Mai by far and I need to be careful not to take it for granted. I do tend to go in for unpretentious places for lunch, where the food is really good and different.
The other Branch of Pho Vieng Chane up from Thapae Gate on Rachadamnoen has closed down. I don’t know why! Although it was better located for tourists, I am not upset. The food wasn’t nearly as goodthough the menu was almost the same (perhaps because it was brought pre-prepared from the other restaurant).
3 Khao Soy (Khao Soi)
In my previous article about Khao Soy in Chiang Mai I extolled its virtues as a uniquely Chiang Mai experience and a must try. I also made a point of mentioning some of the best-known Khao Soy restaurants. I continually get views of this article on a daily basis and think it strikes a chord with ‘foodies’, who are interested in making Khao Soy for themselves.
I should also mention that Khao Soy is not just the chicken curry, taken from the Burmese, with the soft and hard noodles. It is also the large number of accompanying dishes, such as pork sate, grilled chicken, various Thai salads and accoutrements.
I now have two confessions to make:
1 There are hundreds of Khao Soy restaurants in Chiang Mai. They vary in quality and I don’t think that the ones I have mentioned are in any way the best but they are good ones to start with.
Indeed on this trip, Mike and Tip took us to Khao Soy Homkrun, a one person restaurant, and the Khao Soy here was really special. Unless you have another reason to go there, I wouldn’t, though. It is way down the Hang Dong Highway past the airport, past Makro and the 7-Eleven on the left.
2 I also think if you go to the food websites recommended in my article, such as Bonne appétit and Rachel cooks Thai, and if you follow the recipes, the Khao Soy that you cook at home will probably better than that offered in most restaurants. The one thing you can’t get easily are the curry pastes and the spices that everyone in Chiang Mai can obtain from their local fresh food market down the road, which means you’ll have to put in much more effort. But your other ingredients and the care you take will make for a superior product.
I mentioned Hainanese Chicken 1957 in my article, but I should give it a better plug. It is located on Inthawararot within the walls just around the corner from the three Kings Monument, marked on Nancy Chandler’s map (these maps may be no longer available online) as favourite cheap eats for locals. Hainanese Chicken 1957 is uncompromising in what it does, but its Hainanese Chicken and pork sate are exceptional. Sirichai Khao Soy is on the corner of Inthawararot and Jabhan, and there is excellent ice-cream and other good open-fronted food stalls here as well.
4 French and Italian Restaurants
This was a shorter trip than usual and we didn’t get around to most places but we did go to Arcobaleno twice, Pulcinella da Stefano, La Fourchette and Chez Marco. The first two were exactly as expected and delightful.
La Fourchette was a huge disappointment this time. The country terrine had been taken out of the refrigerator frozen and was not fully thawed. It was soggy and tasteless. But, it was a romantic evening and I ate most of it instead of sending it back. You feel foolish! But, I also don’t send food back lightly. Maybe I err too much on the wrong side. The duck was also ordinary, which is unusual. I’ll give a good restaurant a second chance but unless La Fourchette is up to standard next time, then I’ll abandon it.
Chez Marco by contrast was even better than expected. The food and service were perfect. I am continually surprised that Chez Marco is so good and also reasonably priced, simply because it is on Loi Kroh in the heart of the tourist strip and girly bars. Pure prejudice on my part! I heartily recommend Chez Marco.
5 Airport Plaza
I am always impressed by Central World’s management of Airport Plaza. It is an old shopping centre, but from my marketing research days you can always tell when a mall is well-managed. It never gets too tired. Central World continually renovate and update piece by piece and they keep up the maintenance.
The Kad Luang Lanna Food Hall
On this visit the Kad Luang Lanna Food Hall in the basement was being refurbished. They’d moved the Food Hall part but not the take home meats and vegetables section (see featured photo in the article) into the basement car park opposite. Because this was open on two sides and because there were wide aisles between stalls and probably less food stalls. It was remarkably pleasant for a temporary and makeshift place.
The old Lanna Food Hall was getting rather tired and the stalls too crowded together. Mike Parker has commented recently in April (see Comments in the original article) that the refurbishment has been completed. It is much more orderly and easier to access and see what is on offer. (I confirmed this update in 2018.)
MK is a chain restaurant, you may remember, which does wonderful roast duck, steam boat and dumplings. Because of the family wedding we also ate at MK in Bangkok and MK in the Bluport Mall in Hua Hin. Both were good but I think MK in Aiport Plaza Chiang Mai is exceptional.
We didn’t get round to update any other eateries at Airport Plaza.
I have now written six articles on food and restaurants in Chiang Mai and have barely scratched the surface. The articles are, respectively: 1 Akha Tribal Food, 2 Pho Vieng Chane, 3 Khao Soy, 4 French & Italian Restaurants, 5 Airport Plaza, 6 2017 Update.
Although my latest visit to was in 2018, I maintain contact and to date all the information contained is current. Places do change and shut down in Chiang Mai but not as frequently as in Bangkok. To my knowledge all the articles are current. The main change in Chiang Mai since 2015 has been growth and the massive impact of Chinese tourism.
Key words: Food, Chiang Mai, Restaurant update, Phing Phing Textiles, Anusarn Markets, Akha Food, Akha Coffee, Yang Ming Ming singer, Mai Rim, Insect Zoo, Art in Paradise, Illusion Museum, Trompe-l’œil, Pho Vieng Chane, Khao Soy, Khao Soi, Khao Soy Homkrun, Hainanese Chicken 1957, Arcobaleno, Pulcinella da Stefano, La Fourchette, Chez Marco, Airport Plaza, MK Restaurant, Kad Luang Lanna Food Hall, Nancy Chandler Map
Yang Ming Ming
Here are two recent videos of Ming Ming on You Tube
Chiang Mai Art & Music School 12 December 2016 (4.29 Min)
Falling in Love – Yang Ming Ming & Super Ritard Band (6.48 min)
Art in Paradise, Illusion Museum
Trompe-l’œil (deceive the eye)
Art in Paradise, Illusion Museum