Chiang Mai Street Eats
Chiang Mai is a major city in Northern Thailand and is also referred to as the food capital of Thailand.
I spent about 5 days in Chiang Mai and left with a really full stomach and greater appreciation of Thai street foods.
Pad Thai, braised pork dishes, fried fish or chicken, noodle soups, spring rolls, sausage or chicken on a stick, papaya salads are just a small selection of what’s available from the stalls around the city.
Other dishes like kôw soy (Chiang Mai’s famous noodle soup) you an enjoy plating yourself with various fixens at a stall or have it prepared for you and enjoy it while sitting at a nearby table.
Many items like fried wontons you can just take and eat while walking around.
The price for most of this food is incredibly cheap at about 35-45 Baht ($1-$1.25) for a bowl of noodles or around 20 baht ($0.60) for some wontons or spring rolls.
Thailand does desserts so well! You can see fresh fruits like mangos, strawberries, durian, pineapple, rose apples and other fruits all beautifully cut up and ready to be eaten on the go at most of these markets (and all around the city).
There is also a smoothie vendor at every corner selling delicious smoothies or fruit juices for just about 30 baht ($1). Sometimes they add extra sugar to these smoothies, which you can ask them to omit unless you want it to be extra sweet.
Mango sticky rice is my personal favorite and SO SO SO good in Thailand! The ripe sweetness with the mango, the thick base of the sticky rice mixed with creamy coconut sauce and crunch of the roasted yellow mung bean on top can’t be beat. My favorite one was found at the North Gate Night Market but I’ve never found a mango sticky rice that I did not like!
Another unique treat were these small disks of wafer (very similar to a fortune cookie) that were covered in marshmallow.
Crepes, chocolate covered marshmallows and cups of strawberries were all over the markets as well.
You can find street food stalls dispersed throughout the city at anytime of day, but they come out at full force during Chiang Mai’s famous night markets.
The main night bazaar is located on Chang Klan Road, about a 15 minute walk from Tha Phae Gate. It’s open every night but full disclosure, this one is my least favorite. It’s made up of about 25-50 permanent stalls, has uninteresting tourist shopping stalls packed with elephant pants surrounding it, and just feels like a carnival.
So instead, I encourage you to visit the pop up night markets that temporarily set up shop at either the North or South gates of the old city every night. The food at these stalls is eclectic and I think almost anyone can find something they enjoy.
South Gate Night Market
My favorite dish at the South Gate Night Market (open every night) was the Kanom Krok. The chef couldn’t make them fast enough! These are usually eaten as snacks in Thailand and I think can be viewed as a dessert as well as they are slightly sweet in taste as it’s made with coconut milk. I didn’t find too many of these stands around the city so grab them at the South Gate Night Market if you see them!
North Gate Night Market
My favorite dish at the North Gate Night Market (open every night) was the braised pork with egg and rice. You can identify the stand as the chef wears a big cowboy hat and is known as the “woman with cowboy hat”. I heard about this stall from Anthony Bordain’s No Reservations show in Thailand and was happy that I sought it out as it was delicious. A lot of the stalls in the North Gate Night Market do not have English signs explaining what they are selling. So just be aware of this and open to exploring dishes that you may not be able to identify 🙂
Saturday & Sunday Night Market
I really loved the weekend markets as well – and I think it’s worth making sure you stop in Chiang Mai over a Saturday or Sunday if you can. Yes, they can get extremely crowded. But as long as you’re patient, it’s a great experience.
The Saturday night market takes over a long strip of Cnr Wua Lai street just below the South Gate. 75% of the vendors (by my own estimation) that set up there are selling locally made handicrafts.
The Sunday market dominates Rachadamnoen Road and surrounding streets right next to Tha Phae Gate. It was some of the cutest crafts that I found throughout South East Asia and most are different and unique to what you will find in the traditional tourist shops.
If shopping for handicrafts isn’t your thing, you will still find a ton of street food vendors at both. I ate a good amount of food just walking around the markets.
My favorite vendors at both night markets made a different kind of noodle dish. While Pad Thai can be found in heaping mounds already prepared, there are a ton of noodle dishes that are assembled right in front of you and made to order.
A Few Tips
- Both weekend markets can get very crowded (especially the Sunday Night Market) and so if you have a serious aversion to crowds, try to go earlier around 5-7.
- Both Saturday and Sunday night markets are very similar. The Sunday Night Market has more craft vendors and artwork and I found it to be much more crowded.
- Not surprisingly, some of the food vendors I loved, some of them I thought weren’t the best. But everything is so cheap that you can always sample and throw it out if it’s not to your liking! Worst case you can always find fries 🙂