Travelling in off-season has an unexpected bonus: we can get into any hotel we want booking online just a day ahead of arrival. We used Travelfish to help pick hotels and plan the trip on the fly, the writers's sensibilities lined up with ours.
So of all the zillion hotels in Chiang Mai we both pick this one, the Lai Thai. It has a run down old school 1990s vibe to it, but you can never really tell how old places are when they either age really quickly or were just cheaply built in the first place.
And it's cheap and it has aircon and a pool. Such a bargain lures tourists from all walks of life: from traditional backpacker types, family groups, Les Patterson-esque sex tourists dressed up in their RSL best to go out and bang an underaged Thai boy/girl to a busload of Australian high school kids on excursion. And a pair of food nerds like us.
We rarely include hotel room pics but this one is extra classy.
Groovy ye olde room service phone. It actually works.
We wander Chiang Mai old city in search of some b-kyu cuisine but it's surprisingly hard to find. We find tourist restaurants, trekking holiday shops, laundries and western cafes galore but finding where locals eat took a bit of work.
Our first happy-making find was outside a primary school where street stalls are set up to feed swarms of hungry kiddiwinks. Heading off threats of stranger-danger accusations we loiter outside the school to find something to eat.
It's great to see many kiddies are choosing real food over junk, which has it's fair share of fans.
Hows this for an after school snack: noodle soup with blood cubes, a simple nam ngiaw. It's super good and pretty healthy as far as after-school munchies go. 20B.
Mass tourism has pushed much local life out of Chiang Mai's old city but it still exists. We stumble across the super tops sausage lady cooking outside a suburban house that could have been a setting for 'The Brady Bunch in Chiang Mai'.
She makes the sausies by hand then grills them.
We're suprised to find the sausies are filled with rice, yet they have a meaty flavour and the skin has a lovely bite. The outside was super crisp and resisted as you bit in. She served them with slices of fresh cabbage and a couple of bitey green chillis that only needed the tiniest little nibble to release their heat. 20B for four sticks with two sausages on each.
Sausies hung out to dry on the fence in the street.
Great street art under construction in Chiang Mai old town.
We wandered across town to the Night Market Bazaar but either it was timing or reality but the place seemed kind of pathetic. If you wanted to by cheesy souveniers it was perfect.
Closer to the Lai Thai a couple of ladies set up a night stall next door to the wonderfully named Technicolor College. We see a steady trickle of locals popping in. Sold.
We order by point-and-smile, there are only three things on the menu so we ordered them all. There were only two women running the show here, taking orders, cooking and serving. Here's our fried mussel omelette under construction.
And pad Thai under construction.
The final feast - omelet with mussels, fried radish cake and pad thai. Bean sprouts with everything. Add chilli sauce to taste, sweet but overly so for some extra flavour (kind of like Taiwanese omlette where you add your own ketchup/red sauce). Head back home to hotel to watch Star Wars in Thai on the old telly.
On our way to the markets we stumble upon this makeshift breakfast stall right near that crappy tourist night market place.
We'll have one of those.
There's nothing like congee (or jok to the Thais) for breakfast. Pork meatballs with shreds of ginger in a plain rice porridge.
Especially when there's a raw egg to mix through it. Oh baby.
We saw toast stalls throughout our Thailand travels, though like most of Asia, it involves warm bread rather than toast. What's breakfast without carbon and crumbs?
Downtown Chiang Mai.
Destination: Warorot Market area. It's tops, everything we have been looking for in Chiang Mai.
We get a second breakfast from this super lovely lady.
She's got a couple of big pots broth on the go, pork or fish to choose from.
Choose your toppings to shove on top, pickled mustard greens, dark purple lemongrass, bitter green fronds, chillis, cabbage and mixes of herbs and garlic. Sold.
This is the official start of our obession with nam ngiaw or nam ngiao, a twist on the kanom jeen we've tried in southern Thailand. This one has the pork broth poured over soft fresh white noodles, tomato and blood cubes. It's like a spicy spag bog. It's so good we return the next day.
Here is the fish based version.
Here it is again loaded up with freshing toppings. A bowl of super deliciousness will set you back about 25 to 30B.
There's a food court in the ground floor of the market, right below our breakfast stall. The food looked good but the atmosphere looks a bit sad compared to eating on the busy street above.
This guy was making pork crackling and let us taste some straight out of the fryer. Hot fresh pork rinds, oh man. Shame the camera mis-fired.
Here are the finished pork rinds. We grab some for cocktail hour later.
Vicious guard dog.
Great looking locals joint around Worowat market.
The coolest 7 Eleven in the world.
Ready to go lunches at market stall.
Rice rolls made to look almost sushi like.
More ready to go lunches at market stall.
Sausage and rice snack packs, 25B.
We saw these pastries in Bangkok as well but never got around to trying them. Next trip...
Market pussycat, getting ready for Christmas.
Tops resto kitchen.
Vicious attack cat.
Street fightin' man.
Random roadside resto serving kap khao style (rice and pick your own dishes), just outside the Old City. We walked past this place a few times but it never seemed to be happening at the right time.
We walked around a huge block up Sridonchai Road, home to large scale Chinese hotels. This resto was specialising in duck noodle soup and not much else.
Duck noodle soup, no surprise what we ordered here. The broths made in Thailand always seem to be a cut above, perhaps they need to be just that extra bit punchy to cover the small amount of noodles and protein you get in a bowl.
Duck noodle soup with extra blood cubes for Alison.
Love the noodle shop signs in these parts.
We take a look at the night market right on the edge of the Old City.
It's a buzzing, happy place with a healthy mix of locals and tourists. Or maybe that's local and international tourists. Who knows...
At the part of the market along the old wall there are dedicated tables to different stall owners, so you can't just sit down anywhere. If you order something from another stall as well as the 'owner', it shouldn't be a problem.
We pick this stall right at the edge of the market.
We like the look of the broth and bits in pots and we are starting to tired of the trying to decide where to eat. So here it is.
Turns out to be more nam ngiaw - though it will never be the same as market lady's noodles. The fish version was more curry like, more kao soi, with little star shaped fish patties in the mix. The pork was made with pork neck and not particularly spicy, something the stall owner made a point of reassuring just us in case.
Grilled stuff stall.
It's a festival of meat.
The stall next door to our noodle lady.
It's a sausage fest of Mount Isa proportions.
A snack of Northern Thai sausage. Man this stuff is good.
After the food market we thought we might kill some time walking through the Market Walking Street. If there are seven levels of heaven, and the corresponding number of hells, then this was our personal Level 7 of the underworld. A long, endless stretch of stalls selling tourist tat, a group of kids walking through the middle chanting and singing for money and blocking everyone's progress, everyone else shoving and pushing and just no way to escape...
The street just went on and on and on, until a temple with an exit saved us. If you ever go there, you've been warned.
The next day we head back down to Warorot market and its a little quieter on a Sunday morning. We try this deep fried pastry sweetie at random: it's sweet and peppery at the same time, like syrupy sugary crostoli.
We also thought we should try some khao soi, the dish that seems to obsess just about every food/travel blogger/writer that writes about Chiang Mai. So we headed out over the Ping River, down pedestrian unfriendly roads and into the hunt.
One of the places mentioned in a few round ups was Khao Soi Lam Duan Fah Ham. Trust us to pick one of the hardest places to get to by foot. Yes yes, I know we should have just got a cab but that wouldn't be any fun.
Located along a busy road (352/22 Th Charoenrat) we hoped it was going to be pretty good for all the effort that went into finding it.
Super tops interior. Good start.
Note the very special typo in the menu.
After all these years of food blogging we still make noob-ish blunders: like choosing the table with the worst light. But you get the picture: the curry noodle soup was good, it's kinda like a super thick laksa. We tried a chicken and a pork version, each one in a similar rich broth.
Fixin's to go with the khao soi, pickled veg, shallot and limes.
A side of deep fried pumpkin, which tasted like deep fried pumpkin. Sweet and oily.
And more northern Thai sausage, this one a light shade of green from the herbs mixed in.
After trekking back across town we grab an iced coffee from a street vendor near the football stadium. So sweet, so big and so much landfill plastic.
A friendly street cat naps on Alison's feet. What is it with cats and stinky shoes? And yes they are ugly shoes but man they work a treat slogging along in hot weather.
We wander around the northeastern corner of the old ruins. Still out here there are guesthouses, glider tours and Tiger Kingdom touts, there's not much of the city where you can really escape it. But there's a few intersting spots, this lady is out drying chillis near an old quonset hut.
Ever wondered what frozen ready meals Thai university students eat? Well we did. We've walked so far we hit up the Chiang Mai Rajabhat University Demonstration School.
More frozen jewels at the university 7 Eleven.
As always we check out the university canteen, they are cheap and calm places for a rest and refuel. The funniest part of this stop was seeing two nurses from the nearby hospital having a friendly girly cuddle, when suddenly one reaches over and grabs the other girls boobs! Someone's fantasy played out in real life.
Frying it up outside the uni was this street stall. Guaranteeing a few extra heart attack customers for the hospital.
Sidewalk cauldrons of burning, scalding oil.
Fried up pieces of chicken skin, thai style. You know it's good, it was made by a lady in a fake Chanel top.
We find an organic-y food fair on the edge of the Chiang Mai Convention centre, but we're too full to partake, dangit. We were surprised to see a fair amount of Japanese influence in the food, sushi is a constant about the town but there was prawns, egg and chicken oyako don and takoyaki here as well.
Another great looking resto just outside the Old City.
Evel Knievel stunt cat.
There's tree lined quiet side streets galore in and around the old city, though hotels are encroaching on all of it.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch after our epic walk we have a beer snack of pork crackling and fiery green chili paste. Bliss in every mouthful.
You can catch street vendors selling local food to workers in and around the main tourist areas.
Some stalls are more tourist orientated.
At night we head back down around Wororot Market to find a night market.
We get in at the start to get the freshest food. Everybody's happy.
Sweet potato balls are insanely good. Sweet with an outer crunch.
Remember to eat your veggies kids. Our aim tonight is to grab some takeaways and head back home to eat on our trusty blue plates.
While we didn't get some of this, but we did get a fishy dip with a mix of fresh cucumber in slices, long green snake beans, cooked fern fronds and a bag of fried omelet squares for dinner.
Mulberries on little plates.
Official market dog with +1 skills in hangdog food begging face.
Fresh squiddy larb. This is Shawn's favourite dish of the trip. Lemongrass, chilli, lime and loads of tentacles. We grabbed a second dish which we first assumed was corn, but it turned out to be wonderful pieces of super soft squid in a light gravy laced with turmeric.
The best food is precooked and laid out bainmarie style, and served in plastic goldfish bags.
Our morning lady's stall gets taken over by a night lady. Another night and we would have come back for this.
Our night market haul and our beloved blue plates, don't travel Thailand without them. Packets of cooked rice are easy to get as well (as well as beers) to make a feast better than you will get in most food stalls or restaurants.
Serving suggestion. It may not look pretty but this was possibly our favourite feed of the trip. The squid larb especially sticks in Shawn's mind: so fresh, spicy and alive. Missing is the coconut custard filled quarter of a pumpkin that mysteriously got eaten later.
After a crapola hotel breakfast we get the bus out of here. As always on this trip: we never seem to wait more than ten minutes to get a bus.
Bus station spiritual advisor and his two-legged friend.
Off to Fang. We love Thailand.