Since we had a week in Chiang Mai, we had a chance to explore many restaurants and entertainment venues. First the food
- Rachamankha. Our first night we ate at our hotel restaurant where we shared two dishes. While the atmosphere in a outside courtyard was lovely, the food was only OK. The Thai noodle stir-fry with prawns and bean sprouts wasn’t especially interesting. Lamb and minced spice stir-fry with rice was not as expected but was a spice-wrapped baby lamb chop fried in tempura batter. We had hoped for more interesting and delicious food.
- Huam Phen. By arriving at 5:45 at this incredibly popular restaurant for locals and tourists, we were able to get in with only a 30 minute wait. We split three dishes. The first, a house selection of hors d’oeuvres, included fried stuffed pork, pickled pork, pork sausage, fried pork and somehow in this pork feast, a northern style fish with chili. Although we each had our favorites. We both enjoyed all but one dish–the fried pork was really just the Thai version of fried pork skin. Entrees were a Burmese pork curry (Burmese means very little spice) for Tom and Joyce had a Chinese-influenced chicken with cashews. While the portions of each were very small, both of the sauces were tasty, rich and complemented the protein. Total bill: food $10: wine $40.
- The Gallery, located along the restaurant-and-bar-packed street that runs along the river, it has great atmosphere; a beautifully lit, multi-tied deck that goes down to the river. Our table, right next to the water, was perfect and gave us head-on view of fireworks and a veritable parade of fire balloons (balloons with candles in them that are released into the sky at night). Unfortunately, the service was slow and inconsistent and the food just satisfactory. The roasted duck in homey and chili glaze was acceptable, but a bit dry. The whole roasted rubyfish was tender and well cooked, but almost totally lacking in taste. Certainly not our most memorable Thai dining experience.
- Ekathipchokedee. We had three dishes at this popular, family-owned restaurant in the center of the old city by the Three Kings statue. Fried oyster with egg on a hot dish and the Thai-steamed curried seafood were very good (and very inexpensive). Our only disappointment was the rather tasteless stir-fried enoki mushrooms with asparagus and shrimp in oyster sauce. Although we have had some delicious oyster sauce on this trip, this one was bland and tasteless.
- Tamarind Village, where we had tamarind-glazed spareribs (which were very good despite what we thought to be excessive fat) and Larb Ped, a spiced minced duck breast salad with chili oil, pan-fried shallots and kafir lime leaf in cabbage leaf cup (very good with a lot of well-spiced duck meat and a nice complement of raw vegetables). The hotel area also had an exhibit of lovely infra-red black and white photos of Angkor Wat (our next stop) from British photographer Martin Reeves.
- Anantara Hotel, a very modern, very upscale hotel on the river, offers mostly Thai cuisine with an extensive wine list. We had two dishes. the fillet of sea bass with red curry and kafir lime leaf was good, as was a pad Thai loaded with prawns, mussels, squid and bean sprouts, with a sauce of tamarind and chili paste. Wile the food was good and the atmosphere lovely, we have had equally good food for half the price. This being said,we did expect to pay some premium for the atmosphere, the multi-person wait staff and the Musak-like music from the band. Even so, walking back past the fresh seafood stalls in Anusen Market, we did begin to wonder whether we would have enjoyed one of their meals just as much for one-quarter the price.
- Canoe Restaurant, a restaurant near our hotel that we chose for a fast lunch. We began with a sampling of three appetizers: Pomelo, ginger, lemongrass,shallots and roasted coconut in cha-pu leaves; prawns wrapped in deep-fried rice paper rolls with sweet and sour sauce; and chicken satay with chutney and a sweet chili dipping sauce. While we enjoyed the first two, the satay had too much of a chutney taste for us. We then shared an ample-sized, but very disappointing Pad Thai.
- Satesinlp, is a lovely open air restaurant set around a pretty manmade pond a little outside of the main city. We split three dishes. The first appetizer consisted of small pieces of river fish, coated in herbs, wrapped in a screwpine (also called pandan leaf) leaf wrapper and lightly deep fried (although extracting the fish from the part of the interwoven leaf that was not well enough cooked to chew was a challenge, the fish was delicious). The second appetizer was not quite satisfying; dried shrimp, diced shallots, ginger, lime, roasted coconut, peanuts and chili in a betel leaf shell, with a sweet sauce. It was OK but nothing we could get excited about. The last item was a spicy spring soup with Thai herbs, chili paste, coconut milk, shrimp, fish and squid (very rich and tasty with a bit of heat and spice.
And as a bonus, the guide who recommended and brought us to Satesinlp encouraged us to sample some of the items she just bought to prepare her family’s nightly meal. A slightly sour type of tamarind that would be used in soup and two types of worms–bamboo and silk–that would be quickly fried and sprinkled atop a noodle dish. How did they taste? The tamarind, as mentioned,was slightly sour. The bamboo worm, long and narrow, had a nice crunch, but little taste. The silkworm, nice and plump, had less of a crunch, but was very tasty–juicy with a pleasant earthy taste.
Chiang Mai has two major nightspots and live music venues. One is the Riverside Restaurant, which, as the name would suggest, backs onto and has a three-story open-air deck along the river. In fact, the entire riverfront along Fahhan Road is filled with restaurants and bars. So too is the area in the blocks surrounding the intersection of Chotchasan Roads, east of the Eastern moat. The night we stopped by there, we were too early for the music which began at 9:30.
The North Gate Jazz Coop is supposed to be the hottest music club, and one of the hottest nightspots in town. It may very well be the case. We walked In about 9:00 and were told that the music would start around 9:30. The crowd began filling in, and the drummer set up, but no other musicians. 10:00 and the place was filled, but no musicians. 10:30, even more people, but where was the music. As it turned out, most of the 9:30 musicians never showed up. The music would have to wait for the 1:00 group who were called to come in early. They came, they played (and were quite good), and everybody was happy–except Joyce, who was very,very tired by that time. The crowd was big and diverse: Easterners and Westerners, young and old, black and white. And in the midst of all this activity, Tom had a chance to try a shot of a local whiskey–Sang Son–which tasted like an earthy, but very mild Bourbon. We also had marginal red wine by the carafe
Although Jazz Coop was hopping, the rest of the town (at least the portion between the Jazz Coop and our hotel–not counting the Night Bazaar or Fahham Road) appeared to be asleep. We walked home about midnight and had the road to ourselves. It appears that Chiang Mai, with the exception of a handful of places, is a very early town.
We stayed at the Rachamankha Hotel in the historic area of Chiang Mai. As usual in Asia, the staff was very helpful. The hotel had an interesting mixture of corridors and open spaces. The rooms surrounded a large courtyard and the outside dining area was very pleasant in another outdoor courtyard (complete with a fireplace for cold mornings if you wanted to eat breakfast outside…which most people did as it was so pleasant. It had a lovely outdoor pool and a large library filled with books, as well as 2 computers and printer. A lovely and peaceful place to relax in