Chang Mai is what I always imagined Thailand to be before I visited. Forget Bangkok and the beaches (though those are nice too), Chang Mai is where you will lose yourself in Thai culture. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a temple, even the cheapest of food is outstanding, and the hills surrounding the city are a lush, seemingly untouched rainforest. Chang Mai’s old city streets are filled with artists, backpackers, tourists, expats, monks, and locals all mixed together in a mixture of traditional Buddhism, funky street art, and sizzling street food. Throw in a few Western influences like nutella food trucks and an endless amount of coffee shops and I’m sold.
Chang Mai is best explored on foot, as the alley walkways will almost certainly lead to a discovery of great restaurants and hidden boutiques. You’ll see people of all colors and cultures, and hear a bevy of languages along the way. We met people from all over the world who quit their jobs and were backpacking throughout Asia; it reminded me a little of the hippie culture that we live in back in Berkeley. Chang Mai definitely had a good vibe and I wish we had had more time to explore its secret paths and awesome coffee shops.
Ok, but what about the food?
The street food! We were told about the amazing food in Chang Mai and I have to say that it was not an exaggeration–the food was phenomenal…..and cheap! The prices in Chang Mai were much, much lower than in Phuket; you could easily have a huge dinner with drinks for $7. One of the best meals we had in our three weeks in the country cost $2.50 per person. Why sit down at a fancy schmancy restaurant when the best chefs in town are standing on the street corner?
Bucket List Eats: Lert Ros
We came to Chang Mai from the beaches of Phuket and while there we met a couple from Ireland than was on one of our boat tours who had just arrived from Chang Mai. As we did with all other tourists, we exchanged notes on places to go, things to avoid, and–most important of all–where to eat.
They raved and raved about a tiny restaurant name Lert Ros that was by the eastern gate of the old city, which is exactly the area we stayed in. When we got to Chang Mai we tried to Google it and asked around, but no one (including Google) knew of the place they were talking about. Eventually we found a yelp review that gave very general directions so we decided to walk around and hoped to find it.
After 20 minutes of back and forth, we were about to give up when we looked down an alley and saw a man grilling some fish out front of a very unassuming (and tiny) restaurant. Our Irish friends had told us about the amazing grilled fish and we realized we had found the place by accident. We then ended up having one of the best meals of our entire stay…….served on Tom and Jerry plates.
Where to Stay:
We walked up and down the old city square and my recommendation (and that of others I’ve since share travel tips with) is to stay inside the city square near the eastern Thappe Gate, near Rachadamneon Road. The small, walkable streets just north and south of this main road have great restaurants and boutiques. We booked a bed and breakfast for only $40/night, but we heard of backpackers with hostels for only $10/night. This is a great map to get acquainted with the city.
Where to Eat:
It’s actually hard to miss the street food in Chang Mai as you will stumble upon markets simply by walking down any street, but these this article has great advice for where to find markets and how to order.