Today, I want to give you a few tips on some places you might miss in Chiang Mai, if you are just passing through. Let’s say you are no longer a tourist, your needs and interests will now change. You want to be in the know about the lesser known spots and local secrets. I’ve only lived in Chinag Mai for a year and a half, so I’m still finding out about the local secrets. But I can give you some hints to get you started on your Chiang Mai lifestyle.
Once you make a decision to stop in a foreign city long term, your life changes. Whether you are retired, starting a business, or just taking a some time off, if you are staying more than a couple of months you won’t want to live like a back packer. It gives you a chance to see what daily life is like. You’ll be shopping for basic needs now, instead of souvenirs or travel supplies. You’ll save money by renting an apartment rather than staying in hostels or bed n breakfast homes. But you’ll need kitchen utensils and tableware. But the money you save by eating out less will make up for the upfront expenses. You’ll still eat street food occasionally, but you’ll no longer have to settle for random choices. You’ll learn which food stalls have the best food and what days there are special food markets in different locations.
You’ll be able to plan for special events in advance so you can participate in the best activities. You’ll become more familiar with the local transportation and be able to get around more quickly and easily. You’ll also start to have favorite restaurants that the locals frequent, where service is friendly and the food preparation is superior. Surprisingly, these are not always the most expensive places. They are usually smaller restaurants that depend on return customers. They tend to have menus that are just a few pages. Those restaurants with novel length menus are usually risky choices. They may look fancy, but if the menu is too broad, the chefs will not cook each dish well. Good cooking is a skill and only chefs with years of experience can cook a wide variety of dishes well.
In Chiang Mai, there is an abundance of choices when it comes to food. They have several chain super markets in Chiang Mai. The most common ones are Tops and Rim Ping, The carry all the staple foods you will need, as well as a lot of imported goods. If you are here long term, you may want those little tastes of home occasionally. Also, food in Chiang Mai is northern style Thai food. It’s usually spicy, although there are some sweet sauces. It’s not the Thai food you get back home. Even in major cities like San Francisco, where it’s easy to find authentic Asian food, the Thai restaurants mostly serve Bangkok style food. So, it may take you a while to learn which foods you like.
Your are not just limited to grocery stores. There are two produce markets in the old city that are open daily and several farmers markets just outside the city. My favorite is JJ’s Market (Jing Jai organic market). Open Saturday and Sunday 6am – Noon during the harvest season. Always check before you go, to see if it is open. Opening day depends on the growing season. I believe one day is organic and the other is farm fresh, but not necessarily organic. One of the things you have to get used to in Thailand is that information is mainly in Thai and not always translated. http://www.openchiangmai.com/jj-market-chiang-mai/
There are so many restaurants in Chiang Mai; there’s no way to try them all. Some of the best ones are on back streets or in high traffic areas where it’s better to walk or bike to them. One of my favorites is Free Bird Cafe! It’s 100% charity business. All the profits go to Thai Freedom House, a charity language and arts learning center for refugee students. http://thaifreedomhouse.org/about-us/ AND…its also 100% organic! Before you turn up your nose, let me tell you; it’s the tastiest organic food I’ve ever eaten. They use no sugar and no MSG. Most dishes contain no oil, although I can’t resist the samosas. They are delicately fried and very light; no greasy after taste. Try the ginger salad, but share it. That freshly grated ginger is strong! So, you’ll need milder dish to go with it. https://www.facebook.com/FreeBirdCafe/ Be sure to bring along any gently worn clothing to donate for the store’s second hand shop, too.
The second restaurant I want to mention is The London Tea Room. It’s on Lane 3 just of Sirmangkalajarn Rd. in the Niman District. It’s a traditional English Tea Room with an old English phone booth out front. So, once you find lane 3, just keep walking until you find the phone booth. They make their own cakes and there is always a vegan selection. Every Friday there are specials so be sure to check the Facebook page (the website is expired) https://www.facebook.com/LondonTeaRoomChiangMai/
The last thing I want to talk about is crafting. If you are a crafter, you are probably into slow travel, not backpacker style moving about every couple of weeks or even months. Northern Thailand is home to many crafts people and artisans, often from the hill tribes that surround the Chiang Mai northern border. Classes are offered for many of the crafts, but only a few of these crafts are good for travelers. If you are a weaver, you might want to try back strap weaving and get your own loom. But for most of us even these small looms are too much for a small apartment. Other people enjoy embroidery. I like to knit and crochet.
There are several places to get embroidery thread in Chiang Mai. It’s a popular craft and good supplies are readily available. Sewing is also popular and small sewing machines are in expensive. Best get a new one. The stores selling used machines are unreliable and you have no way of knowing if a used machine has been used in a factory or a home with a cottage industry. These machines can be so worn out that need a lot of new parts.
However, once you have a working sewing machine there are plenty of fabric stores selling all qualities of mass produced fabric. The truly special thing about buying fabric in Thailand is that you can get the indigo hand dyed and woven fabric from the hill tribe shops. In this case, you will have a unique garment that can’t be found in any store. If you don’t sew, you can still choose your own fabric and have a neighborhood sewing lady make up anything you like for a song.
Another thing that you find in Thailand is hemp. There is one shop that sells the thread, Hemp is coarser than cotton, but holds its shape better because it has no stretch. For this reason, I don’t recommend knitting with it. You can get knitting needles and crochet hooks here, The yarn is mostly acrylic, there is only one place that sells wool. I will cover details about where to find the supplies in a later post.
Now you have a few tips that will help make living here long term more fun. Tell me other things you would like to know about Chiang Mai. If you currently live in Chiang Mai, please post below. telling us your favorite hard to find things to do, places to go, or shopping tips. I want to hear from you! Thanks for reading. Do come back for the next post.