The title is my only “wat” (“temple”) pun of this post. I promise.
After our quick Bangkok visit we took a train north to Chiang Mai. Instead of taking the more popular overnight sleeper train we opted to make the 12-hour journey during the day so we could see more of the Thai countryside. Although most of the scenery didn’t warrant a photo (even if it had, the windows were too scratched up to allow them) it was still a good choice because it allowed us to watch the landscape transform from urban sprawl to endless rice paddies and finally to the tree-covered hills of northern Thailand. Fresh off of our spectacular street food experience in Bangkok and having heard that the food in Chiang Mai was even better, we were basically salivating the entire train ride. Once again, Thai food didn’t let us down!
The Moat City
The Old City of Chiang Mai is a square surrounded on all sides by a moat, which made the city very easy to navigate. There are gates on each of the four sides of the city with the south side having two and it seemed like the best street food markets set up shop close to one of the gates and usually just outside the moat. Not only did the moat and gate system make the city easy to navigate, but it also lent the city a medieval air which jived nicely with all of the old temples in Chiang Mai. Reportedly there are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai (not all in the old city) which gave us plenty of beautiful architecture to take in between meals.
Typical Chiang Mai Day
We started our mornings at various cafés, usually having a more western breakfast and frequently having the iced coffee that is mercifully served all over Thailand (Chiang Mai may be 12 hours north of Bangkok but apparently the weather didn’t get the “you’re supposed to cool down as you go north” memo). After that we would walk all over the city to see the various temples or we would just stroll through the city with stops here and there for juice smoothies or more iced coffee.
Then we would hit some restaurant/food cart for a light lunch, and it was always freaking delicious (of course). After lunch half the time we would head back to our air-conditioned room to stop sweating and take a shower or Anna would get an hour-long Thai massage while I would write these posts. All of this was really just a time-filler for the main event: dinner!
Chiang Mai’s Street Food Highlights
Rather than just list all of the delicious food we had, we’ll just hit the highlights. The North Gate was our favorite market by a wide margin, primarily because we had the best two dishes of our entire 8-month adventure there. The best was a dish called Nam Tok which we ate 3 times over the course of 2 dinners. It was introduced to us on a Chiang Mai Street Food tour we signed up for on our second-to-last night there and we knew we had to go back for seconds (it turned into thirds) the next night.
Although the food tour turned out to be far more expensive than was warranted, we can’t complain too much because we learned about this dish. It consists of some meat (usually pork or chicken but we had it once with fish) cooked with rice, onions, and chillies and then finished with a bath of fish sauce and lime juice and accompanied by sticky rice. We both immediately ranked it as one of the best dishes we’ve ever had!
The other highlight was this lady’s khao ka moo, a pork and rice dish accompanied by a hard boiled egg. She boils her pork knuckles and shoulders with soy sauce, sugar, and cinnamon five-spice for 10+ hours until the meat is falling off the bone. It was incredibly tender and flavorful and she was a bit of a character in her own right with her cowboy hat, leather apron, and cleaver. Her’s also seemed to be the most popular stand in the market with a crowd of around 5-10 waiting almost all the time.
Sweating off the Calories
Lucky for our waistlines we found a free walking tour of the Old City’s wats online and spent most of our non-eating time wandering around them. Much like church fatigue in Europe, however, we started to get a bit weary of the wats after the third day when they started to blend together so we decided to leave the old city and walk around the new city a bit. There’s not a ton to report here other than we have been just stunned at how beautiful the temples are. You would expect a couple of dogs in the bunch but we didn’t see a single one that could be described as anything less than beautiful. So without further ado our Chiang Mai wat photos: