Renowned travel writer Joe Cummings shares a few of his favourite hangout spots in the city
Although award-winning author Joe Cummings is currently based in Bangkok, he spent many years living and working in Chiang Mai, and still takes every opportunity to return to this endlessly fascinating city. Here are a few of his recommended dining and drinking spots, as well as some truly memorable hotel accommodations.
This recently relocated restaurant, opposite the British Council, features a kitchen run by a former Dhara Dhevi chef who cooks up French and Italian dishes with subtle Thai twists. Seating includes a communal table in the informal Glass Room, and guests are invited to explore the various wines available at the wine bar. Open Monday thru Saturday, from 5pm till 10pm.
113 Bamrungrad Rd. | Tel: 091 068 1744
The Dining Room
Modern Thai recipes showing Chiang Mai influences are served in 137 Pillars House’s elegantly renovated Borneo Company offices. Menu highlights include Gaeng Hung Lay Gae (northern dry curry, slow cooked lamb shank, and edamame) and Miang Yum Ped Nuea Pou (crispy shredded duck and crab salad with cantaloupe, shallots, and Shiso leaves). Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
2, Soi 1, Na Wat Ket Rd. | Tel: 05 324 7788
Rustic & Blue
This casual, creative restobar matches craft beer and signature tea-infused cocktails with such re-invented comfort plates as BBQ pork sliders with pickled beet, gluten-free chickpea-crust pizza, duck prosciutto crostini, and pumpkin-sausage gnocchi. The owners also make their own cheeses and charcuterie. They also host incredibly popular outdoor farm-to-table dinner weekends, the next ones being set for November 19-20, and December 24-25.
Nimmanhaemin Soi 7 | Tel: 05 321 6420
Connoisseurs of Kai Yang, Isaan- style grilled chicken, rave about cook/owner Chavalit Van’s version, which uses vertical spits to slowly roast the lemongrassand-and-garlic stuffed birds on a wall of charcoal. Fill out the traditional Isaan meal with a plate of spicy green papaya salad, a basket of sticky rice, and a cold Singha beer.
9/1, Sam Larn Soi 1
Tel: 080 500 5035
Akha Ama Coffee
In a town with more coffee shops per capita than anywhere else in Thailand, both branches of Akha Ama stand out. The coffee beans are sustainably farmed by 20 families—mostly Akha and other hilltribe minorities—in the Mae Suay district to the north, and then carefully roasted in-house to produce blends and single-estate coffees across an impressive range of strength and complexity. Delicious cakes and muffins, baked fresh every day, are also available.
9/1 Hussadhisewee Rd, Soi 3 | Tel: 086 915 8600
175/1 Rachdhamnoen Rd. | Tel: 086 915 8600
North Gate Jazz Co-Op
A close-knit group of jazz fanatics run this small venue just inside Chang Pheuak Gate. World class jazz musicians turn up for Tuesday open mic night regularly, from the former trumpeter for The Waterboys to the saxophonist for The Sun Ra Orchestra. The remainder of the week the schedule is mainly jazz, with Saturday nights reserved for high-quality rock.
91/1-2 Si Phum Rd. | Tel: 081 765 5246
A top-notch sound system and roomy stage make this one of the city’s best live music venues. It’s mostly acoustic except on weekends, when local and touring bands book in. Look for The Odd Gods, an all-original rock band whose members met here while backing up former Guns N’Roses guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal in February 2016. British chef/rocker/ owner Nicky Scott also serves up excellent pizzas, burgers, and other Western food.
Rat U-thit, Soi 2 | Tel: 086 729 2039
FB: Papa Rock Cafe Chiangmai
This nightlife institution—first opened over a decade ago—draws a primarily Thai crowd made up of university students, post-uni trendies, and the occasional visiting Bangkok celeb. The intimate conglomeration of one-story buildings is divided into three zones, with hip-hop in the main room, house music in a separate, smaller lounge, and indie rock in the garden. There’s an extensive menu of Thai and Western dishes, most of them quite tasty, and weekends are extremely busy so try a Wednesday or Thursday night if you need elbow room. 40 Nimmanhaemin Rd. | Tel: 05 340 0676
The brainchild of architect Ongard Satrabhandhu and interior designer Rooj Changtrakul, this uniquely Chiang Mai hotel, with its central quadrangle surrounded by brick-and-plasterwalled rooms fronted by full-length porticoes, is reminiscent of an ancient Lanna Buddhist monastery cloister. Authentic antiques decorating the interior hail from northern Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and southern China. The bar and restaurant combines a minimalist-industrial décor and boasts signed lithographs by Henry Moore and Robert Motherwell.
6 Rachamankha Rd.| Tel: 05 390 4111
137 Pillars House
The historic William Bain House (built in 1887), a legacy of the Borneo Company, has been renovated and re-purposed by Bain’s descendants as part of a boutique hotel named for the 137 solid teak logs supporting the building above the ground in Lanna style. Sixty villas in classic Chiang Mai postcolonial style have been added to the compound, while the original house contains dining rooms, lounges, and a library.
2, Soi 1, Na Wat Ket Rd. | Tel: 05 324 7788
Overlooking the Ping River in the historic Wat Ket neighbourhood, this property follows the overall design concept of the Thai-owned Sala hotel network, with minimalist lines of wood and concrete. The one pool villa and 15 rooms, each with at least a partial river view, boast Lanna accents via rich local textiles and teak furnishings. Both restaurants, Sala Lanna Eatery and Italia, offer scenic river settings, while the rooftop enjoys a panoramic view of town and river.
49 Charoen Rat Rd. | Tel: 05 324 2590
For more insider tips, also check out writer James Austin Farrell’s favourite “hidden gems” in and around the city: Chiang Mai Insider’s Guide by James Austin Farrell