Chiang Mai has always been that holiday destination that I would tell my friends “I really want to visit” but for some reason, the idea of booking a flight there eluded me. Until mid-last year when Jien and I felt the need to spend some R&R as a family come year-end.
We booked our flights and with May Anne in tow, set out to explore Chiang Mai and what it has to offer. Travelling with a toddler meant we had to take it a lot slower than our former pace – to ensure she gets enough rest and that her needs are taken care of.
Jien and I also opted for a hotel that offers a good enough range of amenities and baby/child facilities, like baby crib, shower equipment, freezer storage option, kids entertainment space, kids pool and meal options. We chose to stay at the old city, where night markets, restaurants and bazaars are within walking distance.
Nimman is hipper with plenty of cafés, bars and restaurants but it’s also more difficult to walk around since there are so many cars and motorbikes. And judging from the nightlife there, it would be a bit noisy for May Anne to sleep well at night, we felt.
We did hang out at Nimman during the day – since coffee is better (seriously!) and there are more fashion boutiques to check out. Maya Lifestyle Mall and 1Nimman is also worth checking out if you’re in the area as come night-time, there will be performances, food markets and knick knacks available for sale around the open spaces.
If you’re in Nimman, you should definitely check out the coffee at Transit Nunber 8. The baristas are pretty skilled and they use good quality beans too. Ristr8tto is also popular in Nimman but we didn’t find the brewed coffee that impressive.
Based on reviews we’ve read, Tong Tem Toh is a spot for Northern Thai (Lanna) cuisine – something I’ve never tried before apart from Chiang Mai sausages. The place was crowded even past lunch hour so it’s best to get there early if you want to secure a table.
The Northern Thai style hors d’oeuvres (183 baht) allows you to try a bit of everything, with two types of Thai chilli dip. One with roasted peppers and shallots (nam prik noom) and the other has minced pork and tomatoes (nam prik ong); I like the former better as it’s sweeter and creamier in texture.
There’s sai qua (grilled pork sausage), pork rind, moo yor (boiled pork sausage), jeen som mok kai (fermented pork and egg) and boiled eggs, with blanched vegetables. Not a big fan of the pork rind but the sai qua is pretty decent. We also tried the Northern style pork soup (83 baht) and added on a non-spicy version for May Anne.
I didn’t fancy either one because the spicy version was a tad overpowering while the non-spicy version tasted and smelt overly porky. The grilled pork neck could be more fatty; the cut we got was a tad dry so it wasn’t as tender as we hoped for it to be.
If you’re visiting Transit No.8, check out Bannkhum Noodle & Coffee House just a few doors before the coffee spot. We chanced upon it when our driver dropped us off at the road leading up to the café and there were quite a few locals (blue collared workers) eating inside.
The Khao Soi is delicious – we ordered another bowl because half a bowl per person isn’t enough. Jien and I also shared a portion of spicy pork rib noodles and clear pork noodles. Pricing is fair I reckon; I remember it being 40-45 baht per bowl.
We managed to squeeze in a fancy dinner at David’s Kitchen, said to be the best restaurant in Chiang Mai. Food was quite impressive by international standard and service was impeccable throughout. The staff were well-trained and table etiquette were properly observed. Since it was Jien’s birthday dinner, we opted for the set menu plus wines (they have a solid selection).
No visit to Chiang Mai is complete without visiting Doi Suthep. You’ll need to hire a car to take you up to the temple and wait for you until you’re done to bring you back to the city. It took us slightly over an hour to get to the bottom of Doi Suthep and the car service cost us about 1,200 baht (return trip).
On Saturday, we explored Jing Jai market since it’s one of the must-do things in Chiang Mai. This market has more unique knick knacks compared to the night markets, where items are more tourist-y and mainstream. At Jing Jai, you’ll find handmade items, local food, decent coffee – basically more things to see.
May Anne caught a fever on our second last day so I had to stay back at the hotel to take care of her while Jien explored the preview of Loy Kratong around the old city. A bummer really, as I was really looking forward to checking this out myself.
I wouldn’t recommend visiting Chiang Mai in November as the weather is still really hot. I think late December and January would be ideal since the weather is cooler. One thing we realised about Chiang Mai is that it’s not very baby friendly.
Apart from David’s Kitchen, Tong Tem Toh and our hotel, the other eateries we visited didn’t have a baby chair. Also, the road surfaces aren’t always even so it’s hard to move around with a stroller. We didn’t bring a stroller but in case you’re planning to bring one, that’s something to take note of.