Chiang Rai Guide
Where to stay:
My favorite guest house during our month in Thailand was Grandma Kaew House in Chiang Rai. It is in a perfect location,has super comfortable beds, the staff are really friendly, and they provide coffee, tea, bottled water, toast, and bananas.
Where to eat:
My favorite meal was at Khao Soi Samer Chai/Jai. This is one difficulty when you are trying to find restaurants in Thailand. Oftentimes restaurant signs are not translated into English and sites such as tripadvisor have multiple postings with different spellings. The khao soi here is lovely and you have to try the spicy northern style sausage. Dunk the flavorful sausage in your khao soi broth and thank me later!
Their papaya salad was too sweet for me. Go for the northern style spicy sausage, and the pork rinds with nam prik num, a green chili dip. The chips and salsa of Thailand!
This sausage is also known as Chiang Mai sausage, or Sai Ua La Wan (ร้านไส้อั่วลาวัลย์) and is chock full of lemongrass, kaffir lime, galangal and chiles. I read all about it on Mark Wien’s fabulous food blog here. Khao soi Samer Jai is open until 5pm, otherwise I would have eaten here more!
Where to get a massage:
We got really lucky in Chiang Rai and had the absolute best massage of our lives at Pai Massage If you stay at Grandma Kaew’s she can point you in the right direction. We opted for a 2 hour Thai massage for 300 baht each. Thai massage was new for me, but if you are a fan of deep tissue/sports massage you will love it.
We really didn’t do much sightseeing unless you count visiting the markets, which is actually one of my favorite sightseeing activites. Instead of visiting the White Temple, (we opted out because it was built in 1998 and has depictions including Michael Jackson which just feels weird) we went to a lot of markets to soak up Thai culture through food. We went to the night bazaar, sadly got rained out for the Saturday night walking street market, went to the Sunday night walking street which was barely a market (maybe fear of rain?), and my favorite, the bustling day market, a few blocks past the clock tower.
River area restaurants:
Following Mark Wien’s advice, we headed to Lab Sanam Keela and it did not dissapoint. Just don’t walk in thinking you are going to get pad thai and green curry! The jeen neung was nice tender beef with a few bits of fatty tendon that i couldn’t quite eat.
The nam prik kha was a galangal chili mix that went well with the beef along with a giant complimentary basket of herbs and vegetables. The tom sab moo was my favorite. Sour, a little spicy,earthy, with tender pork, juicy cherry tomatoes and lots of herbs melded together really well.
Neighboring tables had tasty looking fried chicken topped with dark sauteed greens, which I wished we’d had room for. Unfortunately, we had eaten just a few hours before at Lu Lam, which I would give a pass to.
We ordered pork laap, a stir fried pork dish with a few too many squishy bits of offal for my taste. I like innards, particulary kokoreç sandwiches in Istanbul, but those are crispy, not gummy. The best part of the dish was the crispy kaffir lime leaves and accompanying basket of fresh herbs.
We also ordered Gaeng hanglay (แกงฮังเล) – northern Thai pork curry. Unfortunately our pork belly was completely overcooked, and the curry was much too sweet for my taste. I tried it again in Chiang Mai and really liked it at a different restaurant.
My suggestion is eat at Lab Sanam Keela to try real Lanna food, and then have coffee (cakes looked amazing but I was too full!) with a river view at the beautiful Chivit Thamma Da.
What I wished we could have done:
The weather wasn’t really on our side for hiking. The place I wanted to go most was Phu Chi Fa Forest Park. If it were as easy as hopping on a cheap public bus I would have gone despite the rainy, cloudy weather. Getting between cities is easy in Thailand, but for most places like this you either need to be a) balsy enough to rent a motorbike b) rich enough to hire a driver or drive yourself. Being too chicken for a motorcycle and being budget travelers on the road for 7 months, we weren’t in a position for either scenario. However, we would have found a way to make it happen had it been sunny.