Get Cultured: Chiang Mai — A Local Guide to Thailand’s “Rose of the North”

We caught up with Dui Pachanon, Business Operations Specialist at Quivvers, who gave us the scoop on how to live it up like a local in her native city of Chiang Mai…

On your first day here, seeing this is a must
: Go straight to Nimmanhaemin Street. This is a hip and cool area that perfectly blends local and western cultures. I suggest getting a cup of coffee at Doi-Tung coffee shop or To-Tell coffee shop & bookstore. Then walk around and check out the many great shops perfect for both the window peruser and serious shopper :). And don’t miss out on trying “I-berry” a famous Thai ice cream shop with a hip vibe and funky decor (they also sell interesting, creative products).

Most people don’t know this, but to get a true taste of the local culture”… The Samoeng district of Chiang Mai offers a truly local experience, where you can observe the traditional lifestyle and get a true taste of Chiang Mai. While there, learn how to plant rice from experienced farmers and get acquainted with organic farming methods; it’s also a lovely place to relax and enjoy the bucolic villages’ slower pace of life.

local travel guide chiang maiFor a glimpse of daily life, I recommend this form of transportation: Most definitely the Thai tuk tuk — a small three-wheeled vehicle that is both exhilarating and reliable (just be sure to agree on a price with the driver before you commit to the ride). Another option is “Songtaews” the red pickup trucks outfitted with a canopy and twin rows of bench seating. You can find them everywhere in Chiang Mai. The cost will depend on how far you go, but definitely take a crack at bargaining (which is part of the Thai way of life and can be a fun sport, too).  Walking is always an option as it is easy to get around in Chiang Mai.

I had my best night’s sleep at…I love to stay a little ways from downtown to appreciate the beautiful natural landscapes and escape the traffic. About 20 minutes from the center of Chiang Mai lies a small hotel call “Baan Mon Muan.” This beautiful property is built on a hillside with amazing mountain vistas. There are only 8 villas and each one has a unique view and private porch. I love sitting on the porch and glimpsing the mountains in the day or watching the stars by night – feels like heaven to me. I wish I could live there…

The meal at this local eatery had me salivating for days: Huen Phen is where the authentic local food is at. Order “Kao-soi,” yummy Chiang Mai style noodles in pork/beef/chicken curry and topped with fried noodles.  Also try “Sai Ooua,” a northern style fried sausage, and “Kab Moo,” crispy pork skin with a traditional (spicy) northern style paste dip called “Num Phrik Noom.” Yes, my mouth is already watering!

Best place to find artisan handicrafts: You can’t miss Ta-non-kon-dern, a local market in the heart of Chiang Mai. Artisan crafts such as woodcarving, pottery, and hand-painted fabric and umbrellas can be found here.

Local celebration not to be missed: Songkran Festival is my personal favorite. It’s a celebration of  the Thai traditional New Year and water festival. During the festival, you’ll see people line the streets with containers of water, water guns, or even garden hoses drenching one other and anyone passing by. The festival is from April 13-15 — the hottest time in Thailand, which makes it perfect for throwing water at each other. Songkran is also traditionally a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends, neighbors, and monks.

Favorite pastimes: Grab a cup of coffee with some old friends, ride a bike around town, people watch & sightsee.

For a more bucolic/green setting I escape here: Chiang Mai is not a big city (yet), so it still has many gorgeous natural landscapes to explore. I would suggest driving through the beautiful Mae Sa Valley, continuing up the steep and windy road to King Nong Hoy’s Royal Project. Go to the peak of the mountain, which is approximately 1,500 meters above sea level and you’ll arrive at the hill station of “Mon Cham”. Here you can soak in the beautiful sunsets, watch the clouds sail by or pick fresh strawberries and grapes from one of the local farms (during the winter months only.)

The art/music scene is alive and well here: Attend a KanToke dinner. It’s one of the best ways to witness a traditional performance, listen to local music and enjoy authentic Northern-style Thai food while dining on low tables — legs crossed, bamboo utensils in hand.

Where the locals get tipsy: Nimmanhaemin Street has a lot to offer from lively pubs (stocked with endless supplies of Singa and Chang beer) to high-energy night clubs. Go to Monkey Club for the city’s best live music. Drink till you get tipsy then eat off your hangover with some “Mid night Fried Chicken,” a  local favorite that is sure to “soothe” your tummy before you go to bed!

If I had only 24 hours to explore Chiang Mai I would: Rent a motorcycle and drive along Route 1069. This road will take you through the well-forested backwaters of Doi Suthep/Doi Pui National Park. There are a multitude of gorgeous natural attractions to explore — stop at a few elephant camps, then hit the waterfalls and end at a botanical garden before you head back on the road — Life is good…

Dui Bio Photo - Author of Get Cultured Chiang MaiAbout Dui Pachanon
Pachanon was born and raised in Thailand. She came to the U.S. in 2006 to see the world and pursue her dreams. She finished her MBA at Lakeland College,WI., and now works as a business operation specialist for Quivvers. Pachanon loves travel, yoga, Norah Jones, books, coffee and living in Milwaukee.
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*Check out last week’s Get Cultured: Portland and be on the lookout for the next installment in the series.

*For another dose of culture, check out our piece on a hot cooking class in Chiang Mai.

Featured photo by: by avlxyz/flickr
Tuk-tuk photo by: by garycycles2/flickr
Mountain photo by: Mark Fischer

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The Culture-ist