City on a Plate

24 hours in Chiang Mai: Thailand's culture capital

With its amazing temples and hipster vibes, Chiang Mai should be on everyone's bucket list. Allison Foat crafts a perfect one-day itinerary of what to do in this northern Thai city

20 May 2018 - 00:00 By allison Foat

Try flat noodles or the pièce de résistance of Thai treats: mango and sticky rice. The best place for it is Tab Tim-Krob, a cantina-style set-up where a whole mango is sliced in front of you and dished up alongside warm, fragrant rice, and drizzled with sweet coconut cream sauce - the stuff of dreams.
Forty minutes from the CBD is the shimmering Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Built in 1383 to house a bone of the Buddha, it is the most sacred temple in the province and a truly spectacular pagoda. Access is via a funicular, although Buddhist devotees prefer to climb up the 306 steps of the intricately carved serpentine staircase.
Today the wat is a working monastery and a great example of Lanna architecture, with enormous ritual bells, a frescoed cloister, exquisite murals, and a terrace that offers views over the city.10.30AM: COFFEE & CHILL
The baristas at Ristr8to on trendy Nimmanhaemin Road are slaying it, and it so happens that the 2017 World Latte Art champion, Arnon Thitiprasert, is in-house, so you're assured of a sublime flat white topped with fancy foam. Speciality coffee is a thriving culture in CM and this particular brand, with an outlet in Bangkok as well, has a cult following among hipsters and connoisseurs.11.30AM: SHOPPING
The most on-trend place to swipe your plastic is One Nimman, a chic retail paradise that has smartly merged culture, art, food and design into an uber stylish shopping emporium.
From galleries to boutiques, eateries, a spa and an organic supermarket, it's a great space to spend a few hours, perhaps take in an exhibition, or meet up in the food court where there is grub to suit every budget.1PM: LUNCHThe speciality dish in this part of the land is Khao Soy, a noodle soup dish with coarsely chopped pork, tomatoes, fermented soy beans, chillies, shallots and garlic, topped with bean sprouts, scallions, and coriander.Locals like it at Huen Phen, a restaurant that has been serving it and other traditional foods - such as Guay-Tiaw-Kao-Soi (egg noodles with curry in coconut milk), for 40 years. There's often a waiting list but put your name down and stick around - it's worth it.
A few minutes from town is Studio Naenna, a core community of 10 women weavers, embroiderers and designers who belong to Weavers For the Environment.
All are craft makers from various ethnic groups, who create high-quality, environmentally friendly silks, ikat, cottons and brocades on the backstrap looms of the Karen tribe. The group, established in 1988, has revived the ancient industry and has sustainability at its heart. Naenna is based in a bamboo-thatched workshop in lush surroundings, with a small boutique on site.
Markets can be overrated, but not in Chiang Mai. Wander around Warorot, also known as Khad Luang, one of the city's oldest and most authentic, that's open daily from 5am.
Situated within a multi-storey building, it has clothing and other merchandise for sale on the upper floors while on street level there are food stalls offering every imaginable speciality snack, as well as fresh fruit and veggies. Locals love to shop there too, which is always a good sign.4.30PM: MASSAGE
For some Thai-style TLC, Green Bamboo Massage is a reputable, family-run salon that offers a variety of heavenly treatments and therapies that employ age-old techniques. The staff are highly trained and the business is eco aware, one of the few using only organic products.
If you go, take something along to donate to their micro charity, be it clothing or canned foods. With costs starting at 130THB (about R50), Green Bamboo offers pampering perfection in every sense of the word.
Before you head out to dinner in town, it's worth stopping for a sundowner at the colonial-style Service 1921 Bar at the Anantara Hotel. The building was the first location of the British consulate in Chiang Mai.Take a seat on the upper verandah, order a classic Peruvian pisco and watch the sun go down over the Ping River.
The 1921 houses two dining venues plus a bar with an excellent mixologist and an expansive wine and whisky menu.
The renovated former embassy has been here for close to 100 years, and is a throwback to the days when M16 agents used to gather in the same dark-panelled rooms to discuss Her Majesty's Empire.
KiewKaiKa has put a twist on traditional Thai dishes and the result is glorious. The recipe for pla-hang-tang-mo is a case in point - fish roasted to a dry, powdery form, seasoned with granulated white sugar and mixed with deep-fried crispy shallots.
KKK in Bangkok has just landed a mention in that city's Michelin Guide and their newest shop in Chiang Mai looks set to follow suit.
Small-plate-sharing is the way to go here so you can sample as much as possible. Chef Poy's plating warrants countless Instagram pics and the award-worthy eclectic interior design is by the woman behind the stylish Trace Hotelistro.11PM: LIVE JAZZ
North Gate Jazz Co-Op is in the Old City near the landmark Chang Puak Gate. Order a bottle of Chang beer and kick back to the sounds of true blue classics. There are two live sessions a night between 9pm and midnight, and Tuesday nights are free, with jam sessions by some of the best musos in the city, local and international.
The venue is small and quite rudimentary - like most of the best bars - and seating is limited so get there early and nab the sofa in front of the bandstand.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day, Financial Mail or Rand Daily Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.