So I’m finally getting around to writing about my food adventures in South East Asia late last year. For J’s milestone birthday, a group of us headed overseas to celebrate. We traveled to Chiang Mai in Thailand, Luang Prabang in Laos, various parts of Vietnam with a final stop in Singapore.
It started off with just the two of us in Chiang Mai for 4 nights. Why Chiang Mai? Purely a logistical decision as we were meeting up with some friends in Laos afterwards. Plus we’d heard Chiang Mai was great for food, shopping and less touristy compared to areas like Bangkok. We flew over in early October 2016. The heat and humidity were an adjustment. Even though I’d packed my lightest and thinnest Kathmandu travel gear, it was HOT. When we got to our hotel, we found out that the main pool was closed for renovations. Not the most pleasant news to receive when all we wanted to do was dunk ourselves in the water. Fortunately, there was a second much smaller pool available. The late King had also just passed away so we didn’t know what would be open.
J had actually made a nice itinerary for us for the 4 days in Chiang Mai. Due to it being monsoon season, and the weather forecasting lots of rain, we had to make alternative plans. So we were a little lost on the first day. As it happens, it didn’t actually end up raining on our first few days so we could have gone with plan A after all. Oh well, that’s the risk with travelling. We were both buggered after not much sleep on the flight and then adjusting to the heat and humidity, so we pretty much just wandered aimlessly around town.
Chiang Mai used to be a completely walled city surrounded by a moat. Some parts of the walls still exist. We headed straight to the centre of town, the Old City, to see Tha Phae Gate.
We saw this guy, and a few more pedlars the following days, selling fresh coconut juice for 30 baht (around AUD$1.10).
We decided to have lunch somewhere nearby. I hadn’t done much research on where to eat as I wanted the freedom to walk around wherever I wanted and try anything that caught my eye. I had read that the dish khao soi was a must try in Northern Thailand. We stopped by a small eatery close to our hotel purely because I saw a sign at the front for khao soi and I was hungry. It was really quite tasty with boiled and crunchy noodles in a curry soup base, but not the best choice during that humid day. I would have preferred more noodles and chicken, but it was a good first taste of the dish.
J was on a health kick and just stuck with a chicken and vegetables dish.
After more walking around and visits to some temples, we ducked in to get our first Thai foot massage in Thailand. It worked out to be about AUD$6 for an hour. BLISS! Best of all, there’s air conditioning and free wifi in 99% of massage parlours we came across.
We thought most of the markets would be closed after reading various websites due to the mourning period. We noticed that alcohol could not be purchased as it was considered a ‘celebration’ of sorts. Fortunately, the main markets remained open. The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is a tourist attraction stretching 1km long with stalls lined up along the street selling all sorts of trinkets and souvenirs. We were tired and sweaty from the humidity, and headed inside one of the buildings to have dinner thinking there would be air-conditioning. We were wrong, but we were hungry and didn’t really want to have walk further to find food. There were several stalls selling food court style food at the Bazaar.
I wanted to try a pad thai in Thailand. I hate to say it but our first dinner in Thailand was pretty uneventful. I’ve had better pad thai in Australia! But that does serve me right for not properly researching my food options.
J ordered Chinese noodles with roast duck (I was beginning to think he was never going to order anything Thai) which were also disappointing. Chewy meat and skin that was quite soggy.
I’d seen the new way of making ice cream roll ups on Instagram, and it just so happened to be available at an ice cream stall in the food court. It was exactly what I needed in that heat.
I believe there was a choice of two ingredients and two toppings, so I chose matcha and chocolate cookies, with chocolate sauce and strawberries on top.
Cold Rock style, everything is made on a cold plate in front of you.
It wasn’t the smoothest version I’ve seen made, but it certainly cooled us down.
Since I hadn’t done too much research into where to eat in Chiang Mai, I had no idea what to try for breakfast the next morning. My internet searches kept suggesting an American diner – Butter is Better. I wasn’t particularly keen on trying American food while in Thailand, but I was starving, and the diner wasn’t far from the hotel, so we made a stop so we could start day two. There were already American tourists having breakfast when we got there. We fell in love with clam chowder while in San Francisco, so when we saw Boston clam chowder in a bread bowl on the menu (195 baht), we couldn’t resist ordering it. I loved the creaminess of the chowder, but the pieces of seafood weren’t fantastic.
Of the various pancakes on the menu, I also had to try the apple pancakes which came with a side of butter and maple syrup. Sadly the pancakes were pretty average, and I much preferred the clam chowder.
We decided to head to the Warorot markets where we saw plenty of fresh food being sold and cooked outside on the street. There were so many locals out and about buying their groceries.
We saw these huge Northern Thai sausages, sai oua, for sale.
There were other sausages and fish balls on a stick that could be grilled right in front of you.
Then there were various dried insects…
And more….No, I wasn’t game enough to try it!
The markets were a hubbub of activity with motorbikes, song thaew (small red trucks with an open back where you can hop in and out) and other modes of transportation ferrying people around.
Our mission that morning was negotiating a price for a songthaew to take us out to Bo Sang. Three songthaews later, and we found one where we were happy with the price (I don’t remember what our negotiated price was) and we were on our way. Bo Sang is an umbrella/parasol making village where we got to watch them being made from the beginning – from cutting the bamboo, to shaping the bamboo, to painting some beautiful art work.
The lady below puts together the parasol structures by hand.
The finished products are hand painted and left to dry.
We headed back into the city in the same song thaew which just waited for us at the Bo Sang car park. It had just bucketed down with rain so we thought it was a good time for lunch. We came across a small eatery with plastic tables and plastic stools, filled with locals. Prices were cheap – I’d say about AUD $3 for a meal. I have no idea what the eatery was called, but it was great to just discover where the locals go. We were lucky that they had someone that spoke English and could provide us with an English menu.
I picked the Yen Ta Fo dish, which is a pink noodle soup and this consisted of rice noodles with greens, various fish balls, fried tofu and coagulated blood (I did leave this on the side). It was a hot and sour soup of sorts with just enough vinegar, fish sauce and pepper. A condition of dining in was that a drink per person had to be ordered. Our cokes cost about AUD 80 cents each so that was easy and inexpensive.
J ordered a wonton noodle soup with fish balls. A decent feed for about AUD $3!
We hadn’t actually walked inside the Warorot Markets, and went in to have a look. You really need to get up onto the first floor and look down to get an appreciation of just how big and busy the place is! It was kind of like a massive Chinatown with stalls.
The Warorot Markets sell all sorts of fresh and packaged food, as well as knick knacks. The first floor sells an assortment of clothes, bags and shoes.
Walking further around the ground floor, we came across a basement food court too. We’d just eaten lunch but if we’d known about this food court, we would have tried it out. It seemed to be full of locals with no tourists, except us, in sight.
We were back in the city to relax (with another 1hr foot massage) before walking over to the Sunday Night Markets along Ratchadamnoen Road around 5pm. These markets sell more locally made goods, with a few souvenirs and of course food options.
There were small lane ways off the main road selling food.
Just some of the food stalls at the Sunday Night Market in Chiang Mai – so much street food to try and not enough stomach space #markets #chiangmai #chiangmaifood #thaifood #food #foodie #foodblogger #foodbloggers #foodpics #foodporn #foodlover #foodstagram #foodspotting #foodgram #feedfeed #foodforfoodies #foodphotography #instafood #eat #eating #beautifulcuisines #onthetable #forkyeah #eattheworld #canberrablogger
We found another dedicated open-air food market and went to check it out.
I tried some bacon wrapped Enoki mushrooms on a skewer which were sizzling in a large pan. Delicious.
We came across a BBQ seafood stall where we saw boxes of fresh squid you could choose from to throw onto the BBQ.
BBQ squid is recommended, and I loved the accompanying spicy sauce filled with chilli and coriander. At just 60 baht (AUD $2.30), it’s a bargain!
I was very curious about these seafood patties in a crab shell that were steaming away in a giant metal steamer.
Tasty with the tiniest hint of crab and a combination of seafood. I was very impressed with the abundance of flavour from the various herbs and spices. A tiny little morsel but with such a strong impact. Loved it!
One lady was hand making some fish balls and cooking them in a large pot.
Another stall was selling freshly juiced bamboo.
I’m not sure what this next stall was selling but it looked like a quiche wrapped in leaves and cooked over a grill.
There was limited seating available with most people continuing on their walk through the markets while eating.
We kept moving onto the rest of the markets without a care in the world. We came across this stall selling Thai sweet and savoury biscuits. There were so many to choose from, I didn’t know where to start looking.
At 3 baht a piece (AUD 11 cents), these were so cheap. Talk about being a kid in a candy store! I bought 6 pieces to have later on that night.
Once we were done with the markets, we were still hungry and I wanted to try out a restaurant I’d heard about – Sorn Chai near the Tha Phae Gate. It took a while to look for it, and we only found it because we recognised the same sign outside as what was in a google image. Thank you Google Images. A sign outside stated the eatery was call Sorn Chan rather than Sorn Chai like I’d read on some online articles.
The eatery has only 4 tables. Unfortunately, as it was dinner time, they didn’t have much food left. But we did try their famous laab khua (Northern style minced meat) which was served with sticky rice and salad. The laab had a lot of chilli and peppers in it but I could still taste the wonderful spices that had mixed through out the meat. It was quite an oily dish but with so much intense flavour. We weren’t game enough to try fresh salad as the water in Asia isn’t great, so we left that untouched. I must admit, I was really missing fresh vegetables and salad, especially in that heat.
The only other dish they had left was the pork curry which again we found quite oily, and very spicy from the chilli. I thought the pork itself was really fatty too so it wasn’t our favourite dish. Tip: head there for lunch for more options.
During our walk home, we stopped in to try a fish massage/spa where place your bare feet into a fish tank, and these tiny tiny fish nibble at your dead skin. We had to purchase 15 minute blocks. I didn’t last 10. So ticklish!
That’s all for Part 1 of Chiang Mai. Part 2 is coming soon…