A Day in Chiang Rai

As one of the northernmost cities in Thailand, Chiang Rai is often used as a base for day trips to Burma and the Golden Triangle. It’s also home to the Hill tribes, a term used to refer to several agrarian groups that migrated from China. A popular activity is to go trekking and stay at one of the local Hill tribe villager’s home. If you’ve ever seen an image of Asian women with golden rings around their long necks, that’s an example of members of the Karen Hill tribe.

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the golden triangle, where thailand, myanmar and laos meet
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seeing the three countries converge
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visiting the hill tribe museum in chiang rai

Chiang Rai itself is very small and rural, and you could probably see most of it in a day. Public transportation or taxi cabs are virtually nonexistent, so the best way to get around is to hire a driver. We used Lanna Trek, a local travel company that took us to the major sightseeing attractions in the area for about 1,500 bhat a person, or $42 USD. This also included admission to the sites as well as breakfast and lunch, so a pretty good deal, in my opinion.

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baan chivit mai bakery in chiang rai
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coffee and pastries at baan chivit
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a tasty ham and cheese sammie
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homestyle stir fried chicken and vegetables
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delicious spring rolls
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the menu at barrab
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can’t go a night without drinking the local chang beer
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the hung lay curry with pork
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khao soi noodles
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northern style minced pork salad

We were limited to eating in the town square or at the places that our driver stopped at. As such, our food itinerary was a hodge podge of local neighborhood eateries. The night market in Chiang Rai was touted as having great street food, but to be completely honest, the platters of uncooked meat with flies on them weren’t all that appealing. There was decent grab-and-go fare and homestyle Thai cuisine at Baan Chivit, a local bakery, but the Northern Thai cuisine at Barrab, one of the highest rated restaurants on Tripadvisor, was just ok. The food in Chiang Mai in general is so much better.

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breakfast noodles
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a local spot in chiang rai
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food market in mae sai, thailand’s northernmost town
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stir fried chinese vegetables. delicious.
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our driver ordered this black chicken for us…
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a very tender piece of braised pork
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a bowl of seaweed soup, which was great

On our day tour with Lanna Trek, we stopped by a local food stand that made hearty bowls of beef noodle soup for only 10 baht. That probably was our cheapest meal on the trip. And the portions were very generous. It had a lot in common with pho, which I found very interesting. After driving into Mae Sai, a town initially set up by the Taiwanese and hence inhabited by many ethnic Chinese, we had a very tasty Yunnan meal at the local restaurant near the markets.

It was solid and comforting, nothing more and nothing less. Like if you were eating a decent meal made by your friend’s mom or sitting down for lunch at church. If we had a car, we probably could have ventured out further to more interesting places, but as this was not the case, we had to make do with what was nearby. And what was nearby was good enough. But Chiang Mai was even better.


For other posts on thailand, check out the following links on my blog:
Chiang Mai Street Food
Bo.lan in Bangkok

Chiang Mai Street Food

For the Chiang Mai leg of my trip to Thailand, I was really looking forward to trying the city’s famous street food. Particularly the khao soi, a bowl of egg noodles in a delicious coconut milk curry based broth that the city is famous for. It’s not really something you find on Thai menus in the States. I’ve only come across it in two places in NY, Uncle Boons and Pok Pok, which is a shame, because it is a very delicious and accessible dish. Who doesn’t love slurping the rich, soupy runoff from a curry dish? This isn’t a guilty pleasure, it’s a legitimate dish!

There are a ton of stands that sell khao soi, and many proclaim that theirs is the best. After consulting several blogs and guidebooks, I found that the two clear khao soi front runners were Khao Soi Lam Duan Fah Ham and Khao Soi Khun Yai. We decided to stop by Lam Duan, given that it was closer to our hotel and its operating hours were longer. It was a little bit out of the way, and the address wasn’t all that clear or obvious, but once we said “Lam Duan” to our driver, he knew where to go.

noodle prep at khao soi lham duan
noodle prep at khao soi lam duan
a bowl of chicken khao soi
a bowl of chicken khao soi

We tried three different bowls of khao soi, the chicken, pork and beef. The chicken, which I preferred, was the most neutral in flavor and tasted the most similar to the Western versions, whereas the beef broth tasted like sweet bulgogi juice. The pork meat was a little tough and the savory factor of the broth was in between the chicken and the beef. But basically it was worth the detour and definitely should be on anyone’s food bucket list in Chiang Mai.

roasting chickens at sp chicken
roasting chickens at sp chicken
an order of a juicy bird
an order of a juicy bird
minced chicken larb
minced chicken larb
stir-fried morning glory
stir-fried morning glory
green papaya salad
green papaya salad
the entire spread
the entire spread

Another popular food stand is SP Chicken, which cranks out juicy rotisserie chickens at all hours of the day. The chicken meat is served with two dipping sauces, a sweet chili sauce and a more savory one that almost tastes like a fermented bean paste. We also tried some other things, a papaya salad, a minced chicken larb dish and a side of stir-fried morning glory greens. It was a nice balanced meal, and what I liked was that it wasn’t too spicy. My friend said that cuisine in the north tends to be more mild. Which was great, because I don’t know how much more heat I could stand while eating outside in 90+ weather. Something that always helps is a cold can of Chang beer.

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the cowboy lady tending to her pig legs
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khao kha moo with egg over rice

We also visited two stands in the North Gate Night market to try some more obscure things. The first was the famous Cowboy Lady’s khao kha moo stand, also known as Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak. Like the name indicates, this stand is run by a pretty Thai lady wearing a cowboy hat cooking khao kha moo or braised pork leg. I was worried that I might get some toe jam or pig feet jelly on my plate, but the texture of the meat was perfectly fine, similar to shredded pork shoulder. The meat was very tender and fell off the bone, and it wasn’t sweet, mostly savory.

the suki koka stand
the suki koka stand
the stir-fry version
the stir-fry version, suki haeng
the soup version, suki nam
the soup version, suki nam

Just a few stands down was Suki Koka, which serves suki haeng, a stir-fried pork and cabbage dish, as well as suki nam, the soup version. Eating the suki haeng was one of the best discoveries on this trip. The stir-fry has that ideal balance of the sweet, salty and spicy, and I couldn’t get enough of it. The soup version was a bit bland and lacked the oomph of the stir-fry version. I’ve never seen suki haeng on any Thai menus in the States and hope that this Thai sukiyaki gets imported soon.

What’s also great about street food eating is that each dish is roughly 30-60 baht, so less than $2 a plate. You can eat a meal fit for a king and have several cans of Chang beer and bottled water without coming even close to breaking the bank. You’ll probably spend more money on the cab or songthaew rides since these places are hard to find. But eventually you’ll get there. And if not, you’ll probably have a cheap decent meal someplace else!


Khao Soi Lam Duan, ถนน เจริญราษฎร์ Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50000, Thailand

SP Chicken, Thanon Samlarn Lane 1, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak and Suki Koka – Both are located at the North Gate or Chang Puak Gate night market. Addresses were not available, but you can’t miss the cowboy lady in her hat and the lines for the stir fried pork and cabbage.

Bo.lan in Bangkok

Bangkok is an exciting city that’s defined by a chaos that overwhelms your senses. Examples include the maddening gridlock at all hours; the crush of people clamoring for photos with golden buddhas; the stifling heat; and the fragrant aromas from the outdoor markets. This is a city that commands your attention at all times, and the only moment of respite might be at the massage parlor. Although there’s no guarantee with even that if your Thai masseuse is bending you in all sorts of contorting positions.

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the oasis of calm at bo.lan

Sometimes you need a break from all that stimulation. Sweaty and stressed from haggling with a cab driver who didn’t want to use his meter and from elbowing all the tourists at Wat Pho, I needed to get away, asap. As I walked down the driveway towards the entrance at Bo.lan, I could feel the weight of Bangkok city living slowly being lifted off of my shoulders. The beautiful and sturdy teak walls blocked out all the craziness outside so that the urban din was just a distant memory. I felt very regal sitting on the dark wicker chairs and fanning myself like a rich Thai spending time in her summer home.

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stylish traditional hanging lanterns

Bo.lan is indeed a high-end restaurant serving traditional Thai cuisine using local ingredients. One of the hosts described the restaurant’s commitment to the Slow Food movement. A free range chicken used here, for instance, takes longer to grow and might be smaller in size compared to commercial chickens amped up on corn feed and hormones, but there’s no mistaking the superiority in flavor. It was great to see that the commitment to local farmers and sustainable agricultural practices is alive and well in Thailand.

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the lunch amuse-bouche
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the smoked fish and coconut soup of prawn in the foreground with red curry chicken, squid salad and fried ocean fish in the back
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the sweet and crunchy fried ocean fish. my favorite course.
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grilled pork jowl salad with native tamarind stuffed with salted duck egg relish
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stir-fried long beans with relish of chinese black olive and minced pork on the left, red curry chicken on the right
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old style tom yum soup with fish
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prawn green jungle curry
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assorted fruit
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a refreshing thai sorbet

Normally a meal at one of Asia’s Top 50 restaurants will cost you $65 USD at a minimum, but a lunch will cost only half as much. The pre-fixe menu consists of 4 courses that make up a typical Thai meal–a soup, a salad, a curry and a fried dish. The flavor profile reflects the Thai cooking principles of balance, in which fiery heat is counteracted by muted creams, and sweet is balanced out by salty. Thai food in the States is usually very sweet and homestyle in nature, but Bo.lan’s preparation is much more refined than anything I’ve ever come across. The curries and coconut based broths are so smooth and elegant and without imperfection. It takes great skill to whittle away all the different seasonings that go into a sauce or a paste into one harmonious blend. The level of heat was also authentically off the charts. There’s no Western option of spicy, only Thai spicy, and the burn from the seemingly harmless squid salad and the green jungle curry was brutal.

After cooling off with a dessert, it was back to the chaos outside. A meal here is fit for a king and not for the everyday, so I knew that I wouldn’t be back anytime soon. Bo.lan does have a more casual sister restaurant called ERR near Wat Pho and Wat Arun that is more accessible for the tourist budget that can only stretch so much. For many of us, we’ll never be royal, so this down to earth option might make more sense but will still be plenty tasty.


Bo.lan
24 Sukhumvit 53 Alley, Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana,
Bangkok 10110, Thailand
+66 2 260 2962