Chiang Mai’s ever-expanding Nimmanhaemin district remains the city’s undisputed hipster hotspot
Some compare Chiang Mai’s increasingly popular Nimmanhaemin Road district to Bangkok’s Ari neighbourhood, while others say it’s dangerously close to becoming the next Thong Lor (an insult or praise depending on your perspective). But whatever the case, this thriving hub of artistic activity is definitely the place to see and be seen.
Located a little bit to the north and to the west of the main walled downtown city core that most visitors are familiar with, this district is anchored by the stretch of Nimmanhaemin that lies between Huay Kaew Rd. and Chiang Rai Rd. The main drag itself can be walked in less than 15 minutes, but within this compact quadrant there exists a mind-boggling concentration of cafés, bars, restaurants, bakeries, hotels, art galleries, and specialty stores.
There are enough cafés in Nimmanhaemin to satisfy any java junkie, and coffee lovers here all seem to have a favourite. If you take your coffee seriously—in other words, you know the difference between a long black and a flat white—then consider Ristr8to (15/3 Nimmanhaemin Rd) ground zero when it comes to finding the best brew in the ’hood. Owner and head barista Arnon ‘Tong’ Thitiprasert is a veritable encyclopedia on the subject of coffee, and his passion for his product shows through in every cup. Try their signature ficardie (an extra-kick latte served in a 5.5oz Picardie glass). The owner also has a secret fascination with the number 8, which accounts for the shop’s name and the rather odd opening hours (open daily: 7:08am-8:08pm). And in the wake of the success of this neighbourhood favourite, a second branch, called Ristr8o Lab, has opened on Soi 3.
Coffee lovers should also seek out Impresso Espresso Bar, a funky and spacious indoor/outdoor coffee venue with a relaxed garden atmosphere (28/1, Soi 11). Simple espressos are skillfully executed—which is fortunate, considering the name—while the delicious lattes feature exquisite designs in the froth (open daily: 10am-9pm).
• Coffee Wish
• Wawee Coffee
Dining options are seemingly endless in this ’hood, with even vegetarians finding bliss at Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant (Soi 10), a simple dining room of wooden tables adorned with fresh flowers—a humble setting for Chiang Mai’s most highly praised meat-free fare (open daily: 11am-8:30pm).
Early morning meal seekers will love The Larder Café (333/9 Sukkasem Rd) where smooth cappuccinos, lattes and Americanos hit the spot—the fresh roasted beans come from Toongs, in Hang Dong. They also whip up great breakfasts and sandwiches, as well as a range of milkshakes. Just be aware that they are only open from 8:30am to 3pm, and are closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Another gem is the tiny but tasty Nong Bee Burmese Restaurant (Soi 13), where hard-to-find fare such as tamarind salad, and green tea leaf salad are as delicious as they are cheap!
For later in the day, over in the popular Think Park area, two great drinking and dining options are Kafe Vino, a wine bar and restaurant, and Dogaholic Café, which is more of a pub. These two hotspots are situated so close together groups often move from one to the other throughout the evening. The cuisine at Kafe Vino is a mish-mash of fusion Thai, Japanese and Western, and of course there’s a decent wine list, while Dogaholic’s main appeal is the live music and atmosphere—the kind of place you often leave with added Facebook friends of various nationalities. Both venues are located on the Huay Kaew Rd. side of Think Park, and open from 4pm till midnight.
• Rustic & Blue
• Why Not
There are dozens of cake shops in this district, but fans of pies—not as common in Thailand—will be glad to hear about Charin Homemade Pies (Soi 17). Try the delicious pumpkin pie for a Thai twist on an American favourite, but don’t miss their deliciously tart lemon meringue pie, or classic USA style apple pie (open daily: 10am-10pm).
When it comes to ice creams and gelato the choices are also pretty endless, but the tiny, out of the way Kod Kring—which in English means “ring the bell”—is definitely a unique neighbourhood favourite (9/1, Soi 5). Choose from a list of coconut milk ice creams, including jack fruit, durian, and black sesame, or indulge in a refreshing lychee sorbet (open daily: 8am-6:30pm).
Finally, for a true taste of Thailand, there’s Mont Nom Sod (45/1-2, Nimmanhaemin Rd). In business since 1964, this traditional Thai dessert spot specializes in kanompang sungkhaya, which is a sort of sweet milk-tea coloured foam that is poured over toast and eaten with a knife and fork. It sounds weird at first (if you’re not Thai, that is) but acquiring a taste for it is remarkably easy. They also make and sell an array of homemade ice creams right on the premises (open daily: 3pm-11pm).
• Smoothie Blues
• Mango Tango
Once the sun goes down, a seemingly infinite number of drink spots pop out of the woodwork along the main road and on every side street. Two well established anchor points—for beer lovers anyway— are Beer Lab, located on the main road at the corner of Soi 12, and Beer Republic, on Soi 11. Both specialize in premium suds—import draught and craft—and both are pretty much packed every night of the week.
Located right next door to Beer Republic is El Patio Wine & Pintxos, a fun and funky wine bistro—with indoor and outdoor seating—serving up Spanish tapas, as well as Mediterranean and other Euro-fare. Chris, the affable owner, has a smile for everyone who walks through his arched gable entryway. Or, for a decidedly younger crowd, check out LISM Café on Soi 7, and Daily on Soi 11.
• Warmup Café
• La Casa Del Habano
On the east side of the main street check out the excellent selection of both Thai and English language books at The Booksmith (between Sois 5 and 7). On the west side, pop into Ginger for three levels of shiny and chic fashions and accessories, including jewelry, shoes, bags and dazzling designer duds. There’s also great shopping to be had in the Nimman Promenade, an arcade of independently owned shops, set back from the main road between Sois 4 and 6. Chabaa is a funky little shop there, perfect for gals who like bold and daring fashions and accessories. Over on Soi 1 the 1 Nimman Gallery hotel has a huge showroom in the back, displaying handicrafts, paintings and objets d’art, while Silver Birch, at the end of the road, specializes in wood carved furniture and decorative pieces.
Where to stay
If you’re going to hang out in this district it only makes sense to book a room here and there’s an ever increasing list of options available.
Lanna inspired architecture and superior amenities, including a gorgeous outdoor swimming pool.
1 Nimman Gallery Hotel
Artistically designed rooms that combine decorative fabrics, rattan, and other natural materials.
A former two-story student dormitory becomes a funky boutique hotel brimming with quirky artcentred touches and a 60s-70s retro feel.
Kantary Hills, Chiang Mai
A mix of hotel suites and serviced apartments with kitchens and washing machines (great for long stays). There’s also a great rooftop pool.