{Sawatdee, Thailand!} Some bits & bites in Chiang Mai

After a day of canoe-induced shopping, we flew all the way to the northern part of Thailand, to the lovely mountainous city of Chiang Mai. The weather was a hundred times more fantastic (and more like the December weathers I’m used to) than the sizzling heat of Bangkok. We finally had a chance to wear our scarves, but mostly for the fashion of it. The days aren’t hot, but neither is it cold enough to merit sweaters. For the most part, cardigans are enough to keep you rightly warm, especially during the evenings.

Chiang Mai is known to be the cultural centre of Northern Thailand, and its many temples or wat are among the most noteworthy in terms of architecture. We went to the Wat Phrathat first, which is a temple sitting atop a mountain called Doi Suthep. To get to the top, there is an option to climb the 309-step stairs, but one can also take the tram for a price 30 Baht (applicable only to foreigners, locals ride it for free).

Our group decided to go in separate ways, with half taking the stairs and half taking the tram. I took the stairs and it did not feel difficult at all, and I’m not saying this because I’m in shape or anything, but because as typical tourist behaviour goes, you stop to take fun pictures along the way.

Before you know it, you’ve reached the top of the stairs! And even though we took lots of pictures on the way up, we arrived about 10 minutes ahead of the group that took the tram. Apparently there was quite a number of people who got intimidated when they hear the number of steps.

At the foot of the stairs, there are quite a number of stalls selling scarves, clothes, some grilled food on a stick, and corn, to name a few.

I absolutely adored the strawberries here. They were fresh and huge, and oh so crunchy! Topped with a little bit of sugar with chilli, or sugar with plum powder, and they were too perfect to munch on! No worries for those who don’t take the stairs up though, you can still encounter these things when you take the stairs down. 😉

The wat on the top was actually quite impressive; with so many intricate designs painted in gold, encrusted with sparkling gems. The statues of the gods themselves were golden and very finely made. A lot of people come to this sacred place to pay respect to the gods of Buddhism, and they do it inside Wat Phrathat’s spectacular golden chedi. A chedi or stupa is a religious monument that is built to cover the relics of the Buddha, it is also a place of worship within a wat.

Before you can enter the area with the chedi however, you would have to be decently dressed, and you would have to remove your shoes. Devotees and tourists alike walk around the area, some bare-feet, most in their socks, and enter the shrines only to kneel down and offer a silent prayer or two.


We took a rest at our hotel before dinner, and I must admit, I like this one better than the one we stayed in in Bangkok. The Maninarakorn Hotel is located within walking distance of the Night Bazaar (more on that later), and is surrounded by small tourist agencies, restaurants, and massage parlours. The rooms are lovely, with a divider in the middle that was carved to look like silhouettes of trees. The extra bed they give you for a triple sharing room looks rather fragile and short though.

The lobby is a lot more spacious than that of our hotel in Bangkok, and the food and the restaurant where we take our buffet breakfast is a lot better as well. There is this charming little Japanese restaurant next door called Kazukutai with really good food for an extremely affordable price. I highly recommend it! (Sorry no pictures! I left my camera in the room. :|)


When dinner rolled around, we were taken to the Khum Khantoke, which is a rather famous tourist destination, I’m told. If you need a place to see the culture and traditions of the North, and to sample authentic Northern Thai dishes to boot, then this is the place to go.

You can choose to dine on the floor in a traditional style, with pillow backrests to make things more comfortable. Or you can choose to stay in the roofed area, sitting on a table  with a well or hollow area underneath where one can rest their feet and legs. Either way, you will be served your meal from the Khantoke— a low tray supported by short pillars, full of sampler-sized dishes of Northern Thai foods. The drinks and dishes are refillable, so don’t let the word sampler scare you!

The spread includes steamed mixed vegetable, fried pork skin, deep-fried sweetened vermicelli (thank goodness!), Gai Tawd (flavoured fried chicken), Kaeng Hang-Le (pork and ginger curry), and slices of fresh cucumber for dipping either in Nam Prik Ong (a mild chilli and tomato sauce), or this insanely, tear-jerking aubergine-chili mixture (which by the way, gave me a few minutes’ worth of deafness and tears because I had too big a bite of it).

The dishes on the Khantoke are all accompanied by a large bowl of steamed rice, soup, and a straw basket of sticky rice. The food is not anything exemplary and to me, it’s mostly for the novelty and experience of trying out the local cuisine. A lot of people sure come here though.

The cultural presentation begins after dinner, showing some Northern dances played using traditional instruments. Near the end, there was a brief interpretative dance of the story of Ramayana; and while the explosion of colours is such a pleasure to the eyes, I thought the show did drag on a little bit. The last part of the programme involved some of the dancers going around, taking photos with the diners for tips.

After dinner, we walked to the Night Bazaar, which was about 5 minutes away from our hotel. As we walked along, we saw some stalls selling ethnic clothes, ethnic jewelry, some home ornaments and pictures with intricate Thai designs.

There were some fruit sellers with cups of strawberries here, and remembering the strawberries from the foot of the Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, I quickly bought another cup of strawberries. Big mistake! They just look juicy, but they aren’t as fresh as the ones at the foot of the temple.

The streets and buildings were lined with so many wares and goods, but we went to a side-street filled with all these dried foods instead. I absolutely adored the preserved crunchy cherries and berries, but there were some dried sweetened pineapples, mangoes, papayas, longgan and oranges as well. The good news is, you can sample all you like!

For braver souls, you can go for the dried worms. I was rather curious about the dried chrysanthemums and what they were for, unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to ask as we had to go. There are a lot of packaged Thai seasonings, and an abundant amount of saffron at a low price. A lot of sellers in this area can speak Mandarin, and bargaining becomes easier if you are able to speak Mandarin too.


We were taken to some factories selling handiwork and specialty goods, such as leather items and jewelry factories. It’s always so impressive to see the masterful hands of the artists at work, especially those of the jade and stone factories.

They come up with such intricate designs from chunks of stone, it’s difficult to imagine how many hours of devotion they had to pour into just one creation as one shapeless mass of rock turns into a beautiful work of art. I’m getting cross-eyed just imagining myself doing it!

The silk factory was definitely interesting for me, as I am always so fascinated up to this day how silk comes from worms. Silk items are so luxurious and lovely, and worms are so… wormy. I didn’t buy anything though because the things here are really expensive.


I must admit though, I think I had one of my best pad thais here in Chiang Mai. We stopped by this small restaurant, and I can’t remember the name of it, but it was a small place one the riverside I presume, where the food was laid out in a buffet style. There weren’t a lot of food, just some pandan chicken, Thai-style fried rice, steamed vegetables, papaya salad, and the usual Thai suspects, but whatever it was they had were actually quite good.

I especially liked the curry fish (although my general affinity for fish makes it easier). The pad thai was being cooked right then and there, so I suppose the fact that it was eaten piping hot contributed to making it more delicious.

The dessert table was as usual laden with fruits, but what got me curious was this tapioca-corn mixture in thin syrup (right photo). You put the mixture into a bowl, and then you ladle in some salted coconut milk. The initial bite was slightly strange, as I guess I’m not used to salted coconut milk, but to tell you frankly, it’s addictive. I must have went back thrice for this little treat! The first thing you taste is the saltiness, then it gives way to the sweetness of the corn and the sugar syrup the tapioca is kept in. Such a glorious party in the mouth and definitely one of my most vivid memories of Thailand!

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