The Chiang Mai wrap up: How to best eat, drink, shop and buy drugs (legal ones) in Thailand’s ‘rose of the north’

If you’re following me on social you’ll know I’m currently in Cambodia in and I’ll be creating a few posts on that soon but I first want to wrap up my time in Chiang Mai (which isn’t over yet, I love that place sooo freakin’ much, I’ll be back) so let’s get cracking shall we?

If you find yourself in Thailand, get to Chiang Mai or you’ll regret it forever. Then, while you’re there, be sure to do at least some of the following then leave a comment to tell me how glad you are that you did. So, here’s your To Do list.

Take an eco trek

You can read all about mine over here.

Getting my Sheena Queen of the Jungle on.

Eat, eat, eat!

There are so many restaurants in Chiang Mai that you could spend a lifetime there and never try them all. Of the places I did go, these are my faves.

Coconut Shell

This place became my lounge. Don’t ask questions. Just go. Their khao soi (a chicken or prawn yellow coconut cream-based curry with noodles as well as crispy deep-friend noodles) is the best in town. Also, almost every dish is R19. I don’t know how they make money. When I return, it’ll probably be the first place I eat.

Coconut shell for the win!

Indian  

If you like Indian there are lots of places in Old Town where you’ll find it going cheap cheap. Taj Mahal makes an epic butter chicken, New Delhi does a lekker vindaloo (but the butter chicken is blah) and The Grill of India seems to be good at everything. The latter may or may not be a hangout for INTERPOL dodgers – surprisingly polite British ex-hitmen – but don’t let them put you off. The garlic naan is super crispy!

Cat House

This cute li’l spot’s full of mooi man bun-rocking digital nomads powered up on the restaurant’s very own, super awesome, must-try kombucha. If you eat two things make it the heavenly fermented Burmese tea leaf salad which sounds disgusting but tastes like heaven. I also ADORED the shakshuka which is served with the most delicious super garlicky hummus I’ve ever had. (So don’t talk to the mooi man bun dude afterwards. Just wink.)

Shakshuka!

The Canteen

This rad tapas place serves up delish little dishes from R19 per plate. In fact, most of them are R19! Don’t miss the cashew and red ripper dip (OMG!), baba ganoush and haloumi. The pork rinds are a nice surprise too as they on top of lots of jalapeno bits you can smear on other things.

The Hideout

Everyone I met raved about the bagel sandwiches at this place and I was a bit resistant in going ‘cos, I mean, come now. It’s a sandwich. How good can it be? But I was wrong, wrong, wrong! Try the Tropic Thunder. The bagel’s as soft as a cloud, the chicken is super tender, the bacon is crispy and the grilled pineapple is plentiful. I added egg and mayo, devoured it in a flash, instantly bloated up like a whale (my body hates wheat) and have no regrets.

Yes, yes, yes!

The pizza place with the name I forget

Finding good pizza in Asia is hard, yo! I spent most of my time at Manee Guesthouse and there’s a pizza spot right outside called By Hand that’s supposed to be good but the stuff it was serving up was at ‘Cape Town prices’ so I gave it a skip. I did end up at this random little spot outside my fave nail salon (keep reading) and had a dirt cheap epic margarita (pizza, not the drink) so if you’ve got a craving, I’d go there. It’s certainly not Cape Town’s Big Route but it hits the spot and won’t murder your wallet.

Fat Elvis

This place is right next to The Canteen. Atmosphere points? Zero! But the spicy buffalo wings and blue cheese dip is the stuff that dreams are made of. Think super meaty Zinger wings covered in Spur’s Durky sauce!

Just looking at this pic is making my mouth water.

Taste From Heaven 

I’m not a vegan but Chiang Mai is vegan/veggie paradise. Of the several vegan restaurants I tried I most liked Taste From Heaven. Don’t miss their red ‘duck’ curry. It’s the best faux-duck dish I’ve ever eaten. Hell, it’s one of the best curries I’ve ever eaten full stop!

Other places I didn’t go to during this trip but have been in the past and adored include Mr. Kai (cheap cheap, more great khao soi), Tikky Café (also cheap cheap and great everything including iced coffees the size of your torso) and Bistro Terrace (try a craft beer like my beloved Chiang Mai Weizen and the pork gyoza/dumplings).

I’m sooo craving this beer right now.

Buffet

There are loads of buffets in Chiang Mai and now my thighs rub together because of them. My two faves are embarrassingly ‘Westernised’ chains you’ll find all over Thailand. The first is Sizzler (an American steak house chain) which is great if you’re craving salady stuff (the buffet is 99% salad, so bear that in mind if you go – here’s a link to my experience with the Bangkok restaurant) and Shabushi for a Korean hot pot, sushi, dim sum and more. You’ll find both in Central Plaza Chiang Mai Airport (despite its name, it’s not an airport. It’s a mall that’s NEAR the airport) and Central Festival, Chiang Mai’s biggest mall.

 

Shop, shop, shop

There are several malls and lots of markets in Chiang Mai. The two big night markets are hard to miss as they pop up in the centre of Old Town every Saturday and Sunday night. Visit at least one of them. From a foodie aspect alone, it’s beyond!

Don’t not try the sushi. They almost sell it faster than they can make it (on site) so it’s fresh.

I also visited three malls while there:

Central Plaza Chiang Mai Airport – a nice mix of local vs Western. It’s like the Canal Walk of Chiang Mai. (There’s an even bigger version of this in Chiang Mai called Central Festival which I haven’t been to.)
Maya Lifestyle near Nimman Road – this is Chiang Mai’s most upmarket mall but it doesn’t have as many stores as Central Festival. I popped in because I wanted to go to H&M. For the record, Central Festival has an H&M too so next time I’ll rather go there.
Kad Suan Kaew – this is a grungier, older mall where mostly locals go. It’s not flash, but you’ll find some great deals, especially on clothing. Think gym pants for R30 from a close out store. If you’re from Cape Town, the best way for me to describe it is to say Central Plaza/Festival is Canal Walk and KSK is Kenilworth Centre.

Central Plaza Airport – five floors to explore (but no H&M.)

If you only go to two make it Central Festival (Festival has everything Plaza has and then some, including an H&M which Plaza doesn’t) and KSK. If you only go to one, make it Central Festival.

Be a medical tourist

I waited until I got to Chiang Mai to fix a broken tooth and it was the best decision ever. Get clicky clicky here for the deets on that.

I also got my eyes tested and bought lenses and frames from Vision Centre but the experience annoyed the shit out of me because I was told an eye test would be R80. So, I took it, they got my ‘script’ spot on and then refused to give it to me unless I bought lenses and frames. WTF?! Wouldn’t it have been nice if they’d said ‘R80 PLUS A WHOLE BUNCH EXTRA?!’

I nearly walked out and left my script on the table but ended up finding a pair of frames that I like (WITH A HEART FULL OF RESENTMENT) and the total cost was R1,2K. Fair enough, but since learning I could’ve gone to one of Thailand’s many big optician chains, like their version of SpecSavers, and had more choice and possibly paid less, I’m pissed.

If it’s Botox you’re after, you’ll find a million places offering it in Chiang Mai. Some are in malls, some are stand-alone clinics. If you’re just doing your eyes or those ‘11’ lines between your brows, I wouldn’t be too picky about my doc. Unlike filler, which is art, Botox is easy peasy. The only instance in which I’d get fussy is if I was doing my entire forehead ‘cos shit placement can result in brows that droop or lift up. My advice here is to shop around by walking into any clinic you spot (and you’ll spot loads) and asking for their price per unit. In South Africa you’re looking at, on average, about R80 per unit. In Chiang Mai I found places (that looked very pro) offering it for R60 a unit.

You don’t have to hit up the needles to get your mooiness on in Chiang Mai. There’s a great nail salon called Nail Chic that offers gel nails, does a beautiful job for half the price you’d pay in South Africa. Just don’t confuse it with City Nail which is double the price.

Gel nails and giant ice coffees for the win!

Drink, drink, drink

‘You wanna go night bar?!’ There are loads of places you can drink in Chiang Mai. Millions. Too many to mention. One of my faves, however, is UN Irish Pub for its relaxed vibe and lekker li’l beer garden. It’s right next door to Zoe In Yellow, Chiang Mai’s most popular bar/club, so when you’re well and truly pissed, enough to handle a throng of barely legal drunken foreigners, head on over there. Just make sure you go before 12.

The moment the clock strikes 12 everything shuts down and literally EVERYONE gets up to start what can only be described as the drunken zombie version of the Masai Mara wildebeest migration, usually to two other options just on the lip of Old Town. It’s actually the best fun ever. As you walk (it’s probably about a 7 minute trek, but I can’t trust my beer-addled brain), peeps alongside you will be all ‘Hey, where are you from? Where are you going?! We’re going here! My name is X and this is Y. Come with us! COME!’ It’s one of the quickest way to make friends and join a ‘pack’.

So! Those two places? One of them’s called Spicy. DO NOT GO TO SPICY. Spicy is a complete shit hole where they make you buy drinks up front, take away your bag and stick it in a locker (for real) and it’s so loud inside that, unless you know sign language, you can’t make conversation. You can just drink and dance and hope to God you don’t need to change your tampon ‘cos guess where your fucking bag is? Yes. IN A LOCKER!

So fuck Spicy. Rather go on to Living Room. This is the better of a terrible twosome but let’s not forget you’re a drunken beggar who can’t be a chooser. What makes it marginally better than Spicy is the fact that it’s not crowded, has leather couches you can sit on, an air-conditioned dance floor and bar service is fast. Every time I ended up there I was one of maybe just 30 to 50 odd peeps (bearing in mind that the end of April is the start of the low season).

When you arrive, you might be met by a super charming American dude at the door. He looks like James Franco and will touch your arm and act like you’ve been best friends forever. ‘Oh hey, so good to have you!’ Where are you from? How’s it hanging?’ He’ll make you feel like he’s been waiting up all night just for you. He’ll say ‘Babe, when you come out, please be super quiet, okay?’ He’ll smile, put his finger to his lips and glance sideways, indicating that this is a secret little club nobody knows about. Then he’ll hug you and guide you in and you’ll be all Dude, are you fucking mental? There are people streaming in and out of this place every night. The popo, like, totally know what you’re doing. But whatevs. In you go.

When you’re inside, you’ll find a lot of the patrons are like that too. You’ll spend all night suspicious, just waiting for the moment they ask you if you want to go meet Bobby and maybe become one of his ‘special girls’ and join their freaky deaky sex cult. But then you’ll realise that everyone’s just super-duper high. Do not buy drugs. Just drink.

But on the subject of drugs

You might be glad to know that most prescription only drugs in South Africa are totes OTC in Thailand – and going for a snip of the SA price tag! When I’m there I stock up on birth control, sumaptriptan (the generic of Imigran, a migraine med), fluconazole (the generic of Diflucan, the thrush tablet. Sexy, I know, but EVERY girl needs these in her medical aid kit at home ‘cos ain’t nobody got time for creams and shit) and Utin-400 (an antibiotic for bladder infections which I get at least once a year when I’m super-duper down).

If you buy any of the above and are stopped at customs, don’t freak out. None of these require you to carry a script. The grey area is my favourite sleeping tablet, zopimed, or one of its many generics, like zopiclone. They’ll merrily sell this to you without a script (OR CHEERFULLY OFFER YOU VALIUM INSTEAD), but if you’re carrying it through airports, you’re supposed to have one. ‘Supposed to’. I didn’t know this until just googling it and have been carrying script-free zopis in and out of the country for years with zero problems. I really don’t see Thai airport officials wanting to lock you up for your half used of strip of sleeping tabs to help knock you out on the plane. But you never know. So, I’m not going to dispense any advice on this topic.

Instead, you get another giant iced coffee! (They’re all around R13 a pop.)

Either way, shop smart. If you’re wanting anything on my ‘totes legit’ list first hit up a Boots or Watsons. There you’ll find the generic and pay the best price. The smaller pharmacies will attempt to screw you over by telling you they don’t have the generic, only the expensive dude. A prime example? Diflucan is R112 at a smaller pharmacy, but fluconazole (the generic) is R26 at Boots. Here’s to happy cheap to maintain vaginas, yo! Also, aren’t you glad I couldn’t give a shit when it comes to talking about this stuff? For the love of God, can more female bloggers please start dispensing unfiltered advice that people really need? I couldn’t give a rat’s ass as to how to best strobe up my cheek bones. I want to spend three weeks drinking yeast-riddled beer in a perma-damp bikini, fuck up the delicate balance of micro-organisms in my vajay and then fix it like a boss!

Anyhoo, like I said, I’ll be going back to Chiang Mai at some point because I’m completely obsessed with the place, so I might update this list as I find more cool things to add it to it or simple create a new post and link the two together. So watch this space.

Love, love

Leigh

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Editor of South African beauty blog Lipgloss is my Life.

5 thoughts on “The Chiang Mai wrap up: How to best eat, drink, shop and buy drugs (legal ones) in Thailand’s ‘rose of the north’

  1. Brilliant read as usual🤗🤗🤗 With each read, I find myself newly knowledgeable on things I never knew existed heheheh 😆😆😆

  2. I’ve never been to Thailand but Chiang Mai’s always been on my bucket list! Want to omit the cliches and jump right into a more immersive Thai experience – especially the culinary and eco trek part. Thanks for sharing such a thorough post 🙂

    Oh, and if you ever plan a visit to Delhi, give me a shout. Will tell you cool places for butter chicken!

    You can also write travel reviews for my new website and win Amazon vouchers! https://localfeedback.org/submit-a-review/

    – Susmita from Local Feedback

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