Six of the best: Chiang Mai

Snuggled within the ancient walls of the old city, it’s hard to believe that Chiang Mai is the second largest metropolis in Thailand. In the far north of the country, near Laos and Myanmar borders, Chiang Mai is a cool oasis in summer but even in the humid, rainy season offers a relaxing holiday destination.

Beyond the elephant camps, Hill Tribe villages and docile tigers, you can spend a month in this city without getting bored. Here are six of my best Chiang Mai experiences.

1. Noodles: There’s so much more to this food group than Pad Thai. You’ll find the regional specialty Khao Soi (curry noodles) on the menu from breakfast through to dinner. I’m of fan of ‘big noodles’ of wide, luscious rice noodles ‘massaged’ with soy and other sauces, served with stir fried tofu and vegetables.

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2. Markets: Chiang Mai’s markets are legendary. From the local produce markets that pop up everywhere to the massive Warorot markets, locals and tourists alike love them. Without a doubt, the sprawling Sunday Walking Market on Ratchadamnon Road is the best – great food, interesting wares and lots of happy Thai people enjoying their weekend ritual.

3. Wander through the back sois (lanes). Off the major streets lie dozens of meandering laneways. Observe local life and stop for a drink or meal at one of the many unnassuming cafes (like Natures Way and Peppermint café, open all day with free wife, fresh food and friendly service).

4. Hire a driver. We were driven in a spotless modern taxi for the day for a mere 1500 baht (~ Au$50, shared between three). If you want to do something other than Hill Tribes, elephants, rafting or zip lining – do your own research first and make a wish list. Our driver was a little resistant to our plans at first (so remember to negotiate itinerary as well as price before sealing the deal) but we managed to get him off the track for a swim in a waterfall and lunch at a health spa out of the city.

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5. Follow the monks. Take an early morning walk to watch the sunrise glint off the wats, monks walking the streets to collect offerings or to just sit in the grounds of a temple and listen to the chanting. My favourite pre-breakfast walks includes the river, being the only farang at the San Pakoy market and catching the sunrise at Wat Chedi Luang.

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6. Relax. As a massage slut from way back, I was in my element sampling the full spectrum from foot massages at the walking markets, to cheapies and luxurious spas.

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Coffee – an espresso to rival any in Melbourne.

Massage – go for broke and book a package, you won’t regret it.

Map/tips – you’ll never get bored with a Nancy Chandler map (but remember to check the website for updates)

Vegan/vegetarian visiting Chiang Mai – read my top tips.

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Brooklyn food and fleas

Not the jumping, biting kind.

Just across the bridge from Manhattan, Brooklyn has some of the best vintage and food markets in the state.

First stop, the Saturday flea at Fort Greene.

Some vegan ‘noodles’ as a palate cleanser.

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Followed by mahi-mahi tacos, that green apple salsa was a revelation.

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And everyone should have a rhubarb and Thai basil soda, at least once in their life (twice even better!)

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Then we hopped the subway to Wiilliamsburg, to catch Smorgasburg before it closed.

A market snuggled next to the Williamsburg bridge with million dollar views.

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For an ice cream.

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Mr Berrington could fool an omni – blackberry/chocolate a stellar combo on a hot day.

Don’t forget to check out the undercover weekend market on 7th Street on your way back to the subway. Full of new and used clothes and art, plus the cutest little toilet totem in town.

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Simple San Francisco style

 

You can tell a lot about a place by its food. Move away from the heart-clogging diners around Union Square and travel beyond the reaches of the cable car for a taste of the real Frisco.

Heading to San Francisco for my first visit, hippies, Haight Asbury and the Golden Gate Bridge are three images that immediately sprung to mind. For many tourists it’s updated with the tackiness of Fisherman’s Wharf, aggressive panhandlers downtown and of course, the interminable wait to ride on the cable cars.

I wanted to get back to the hippy roots of the city but in the opposite direction of Haight. Greens, an iconic vegetarian restaurant that opened in the ‘70s, called my name. Getting there turned out to be half the fun.

Skipping the hour queue for the Powell-Mason cable car, we jumped on the Market St tram all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. I love the old streetcars from around the world that whiz down the 6 mile route from the Wharf to the Castro, and travelled it most days we were in town.

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Once we headed beyond the Embarcadero, directions to the Fort Mason restaurant were sketchy. While the map, on paper at least, showed a clear route down Bay Street, on the ground it was illusive. Instead the footpath lured us over the hill to the marina, through the small national park. The ascent was bolstered by spectacular views of the bay and the Marina on the other side welcomed us. The sprawling Green Meadows Park felt a million miles away from the homeless in the city centre.

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With literally five minutes to spare before the end of lunch service we finally arrived at Greens, relieved to be welcomed to a table. The stress evaporated as we sat in the light-filled converted warehouse, watching yachts bob outside in front of the iconic bridge. The view is complemented by a spacious interior design using mostly reclaimed timber, high ceilings and large artworks.

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The food, crafted from organically grown produce was some of the freshest I’ve ever tasted (and I’m both a gardener and organic market shopper at home).  The menu has echoes of its 70’s wholefood roots but has swapped stodge for simplicity. The baby potatoes and corn in my grilled brochette is probably the most flavorsome I’ve ever eaten complementing, rather than competing with, the chimichurri sauce and spicy Mexican slaw.

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The ambience at Greens enhanced the experienced. While only a couple of diners remained so late in the service the staff didn’t hurry any of us, as if understanding the importance of atmosphere on good digestion.

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Calmed and sated by our lunch, we ambled back through the sculptures of Green Meadow Park and took in the views of Alcatraz, Fisherman’s wharf and the bridge once more. Without the pressure of time and unknown geography and buoyed by an organic beer with lunch, we could relax into the beauty of the national park.

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Greens is worth an excursion, so close to the hackneyed San Francisco tourist sights but a million miles away from the urban tension. Choose it for the sheer simple flavours of the produce, inspiring natural design of the restaurant and the iconic views. But also for the path less travelled, which was as refreshing as the meal itself.

How to get to Greens

The walk from Fisherman’s wharf should take about 30 minutes, when you know where you’re going. Click the link for directions.