Long-time resident James Austin Farrell shares a few of his favourite “hidden gems” in and around the city
Journalist, editor, fiction writer, and dog-lover James Austin Farrell has been living in, and writing stories about Chiang Mai and Thailand for the past 17 years. Nowadays you will mostly see him cycling in and around the moutains, or to the chargin of some of his friends, not leaving the Nimman area (where he currently resides).
Located on the corner of the popular Nimmanhaemin Road, opposite Maya Mall, is a tract of notso-long-ago undeveloped land that has become the area known as ‘Think Park’. During the daytime it’s quiet except for a handful of tourists taking photos under a gigantic cat statue, but during the evening the wheels are set in motion. Linked by cobbled-stone walkways are a number of shops selling arts and crafts, while markets and exhibitions are held throughout the year. It’s become regular hang-out for locals and tourists looking for something that aligns with Chiang Mai’s ‘city of culture’ epithet.
In the area in front of Chiang Mai University (Huay Kaew Rd) hordes of students shop in thetwo adjoining markets located a little farther down from the university entrance. There’s also a myriad of outdoor stalls selling mostly Thai and Japanese food, as well as sweet snacks and fruit juices. But what you should do when visiting Nar Mor is watch the sunset inside the university at the Ang Kaew reservoir (go into the university entrance and follow the road right). It’s not only an international selfie hotspot, but also offers a chance to sit with students serenading friends on the banks of the reservoir. The markets and restaurants are open daily from around 5pm till 10pm.
Grand Canyon & Water Park
This newly opened water park is located in a water-filled quarry about 15km outside of Chiang Mai (Nam Phrae, Hang Dong District). Due to a number of (mostly cliff jumping) accidents in the past there are now some restrictions on leaping off rocks, but the water park is very safe. After paying a B300 entrance fee you can splash around in the turquoise water, bouncing off large inflatables, with the Doi Pui mountain range in the distance. Afterwards, sit back in one of the coffee shops or picnic spots and watch the setting sun dip below the red rock cliffs. Open daily: 8:30am-6pm | Tel: 095 685 3145
Originally scripted as an outdoor shopping promenade The Harbour (Huay Kaew Rd, just before Phucome Junction) has turned more towards nighttime reveling than procuring clothes. The shops are still there, though restaurants and bars stretching down the street and within the walkways have become the main attraction. The customers are mainly young Thais, though some expats and tourists often end up there. It’s a good chance to kick back with the locals and hear live Thai bands.
Open daily: 10am-midnight www.facebook.com/TheHarbourThailand
This immensely popular, though quite hard to find restaurant—turn right on Canal Road at Phucome Junction on Huay Kaew Road. and it’s the first soi—serves mostly breakfasts, sandwiches, wraps and salads, but often with innovative and intriguing variations of ingredients. It’s thoughtful food, as the name suggests. There are also plenty of options for vegans and the gluten intolerant. The intriguing menu, and its rather hipster, healthy appeal, has amassed quite a large adoring following since it was opened not too long ago. Soi Sudjai, Canal Rd. | Tel: 094 619 2225 www.facebook.com/Food4ThoughtCM
This stylish and upmarket Japanese restaurant, with a la carte and hot-plate buffet options, is popular with local expats and Thais, as well as visiting dignitaries. There’s many dining options, including an outdoor patio, an intimate interior, and private upstairs rooms. They also just opened a wine bar on the same property serving imported and local beers, wines and spirits. Open daily for lunch (11am-2pm), and dinner (5:30pm-10pm).
Nimmanheamin Soi 5 | Tel: 053 215 801 www.facebook.com/tengokunimman
Situated on an idyllic property where great Italian food is cooked by chefs at the side of a lively and picturesque garden dining area. There’s a staple menu, but also regular specials created by a passionate Italian owner who’s more than able to regale you with stories about the dishes you eat. The laid back dining experience and always genial atmosphere results in a restaurant that’s packed most nights, especially on the weekends. Open daily from 5pm till 11pm.
Nimmanhaemin Rd, Soi 11 | Tel: 053 289 262 www.facebook.com/whynotchiangmai
The Service 1921 Restaurant & Bar
Located in the Anantara resort—originally the British Consulate in Chiang Mai—this restaurant harkens back to the days British East India company first started settling in Thailand. Decorated with relics from that era, with a British Secret service theme, there’s the added excitement of a hidden dining room only accessible through the library bookshelves. The cuisine is Thai, if not creative iterations of Thai dishes, as well as Chinese Szechuan. Open daily for lunch (11:30am-2:30pm), and dinner (6pm-11pm).
123/1 Charoen Prathet Rd. | Tel: 053 253 333 chiang-mai.anantara.com
This Italian restaurant was opened by one of Chiang Mai’s most well-known Italian food entrepreneurs. It’s a little out of town (Meechok, Nong Chom, San Sai District), but it’s worth the taxi fare, not only for superb Italian food but because it also boasts one of the largest wine collections in Thailand—2,000 labels, 6,000 bottles. There’s also some fairly rare spirits available, at rare prices.
Open daily from 11:30am to 11pm.
555/148 Fifth Avenue | Tel: 093 272 2406
La Casa Del Habano
Part of a global franchise, with outlets already in Bangkok and Pattaya, it was still somewhat of a surprise for La Casa Del Habano to turn up in little old Chiang Mai in September this year. Swanky, and somewhat reminiscent of a secret society hide-out, you can take your pick from a huge collection—stored in a locked glass vault—of premium Cuban cigars, to be enjoyed with some of the world’s finest malt whiskies.
Nimmanhaemin Soi 9 | Tel: 05 206 8600
Sangdee Gallery & Café
Although a gallery with regular exhibitions, Sangdee also hosts nightly events which range from open mics to hosting DJs. Being fairly eclectic you can expect a mixed crowd: party goers looking for a late night place, or an older clientele there to watch a guest pianist or local poet. In the past it was better known to Thai locals and expats, but lately it has become popular with backpackers and digital nomads. Open daily from 11am till midnight, serving coffee, snacks, beers, cocktails, and wine.
Sirimankhalajarn Rd, Soi 5 | Tel: 053 894 955
For more insider tips, also check out writer Joe Cummings’ favourite hangout spots in the city: Chiang Mai Insider’s Guide by Joe Cummings