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You always hear about how incredible the street food in Thailand is but if you’re not familiar with the available dishes, are unsure how to order or don’t know the area well, it can be difficult to know where to go to find the good stuff.
When I’m in Bangkok I never know where to go and quickly get overwhelmed/frustrated knowing that there’s so much great food there, but I don’t know where it is or what to try. Chiang Mai’s a different story though – here I know exactly what to do and where to go to eat on the street…
You can find street stalls serving just about everything spread throughout the city day and night, however for some go-to dinner places large clusters of stalls spring up in the evenings starting around 5:00 p.m. at the following spots:
Chiang Mai Gate (South Gate)
The closest and easiest to get to from the main tourist area of town and many of the guesthouses, Chiang Mai Gate has one of the largest groupings of street stalls every night. There are multiple noodle stalls as well as places offering a range of stir-fried dishes, fresh fruit, sweets or desserts, and som tam along with a couple stands selling pre-made dishes, like curries and soups, that you get in a bag to go. You can easily find something for everyone here and there’s a 7-11 and small Tesco Lotus to pick up any extra drinks, snacks or necessities.
During the day there is a fresh market at this same location selling fruits, vegetables, some prepared foods and meat options including fried chicken and sai ooua, a local Northern Thai sausage stuffed with spices and herbs.
Chang Pheuak Gate (North Gate)
On the west side of Chang Pheuak Gate on the outer ring of the moat you’ll find another cluster of street stalls with lots of seating. Though still a popular spot with its range of offerings, it’s usually a little less crowded here and sees fewer tourists.
Find the khao ka moo lady wearing a cowboy hat dishing out slow-cooked pork leg with rice and egg to a long line of hungry customers.
The back gate of Chiang Mai University on Suthep Road
Starting at the back gate of of Chiang Mai University and heading east along Suthep Road is a row of cheap eats geared toward the student set. While it’s probably a tuk tuk or songthaew ride away from wherever you’re staying, you’ll see a different part of town, get some good food and eat with the locals. After grabbing a bite to eat head over to the nearby Nimmanhaemin Road filled with trendy drink spots.
This is more of an option for those living in Chiang Mai rather than just passing through, but Kaew Narawat Road just past the Nakorn Ping Bridge on the east side of the river has a range of stalls and street-side restaurants that are busy in the evenings. It’s a good place to stop if you’re working in the area.
All markets, whether they’re selling produce or amulets, will have food stalls at least nearby. The Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets in Chiang Mai have stalls selling snacks, drinks, sweets and full meals spread throughout the market as well as concentrations of food stalls with some seating areas. The two student markets near the front gate of CMU on Huay Kaew also have a range of stalls and carts open nightly. (For a list of different markets in Chiang Mai with locations and opening times check out my three-part market guide here, here and here.)
Of course you’ll need to have a few plates of phad thai and green curry…but branch out! I’ve heard people complain that they were sick of all the rice and noodles, and it’s true, Thai food is based around a lot of rice and noodles. But saying that’s all there is is like saying Italian food is all pizza and pasta, or Mexican food is all beans and tortillas. In the end, I think these people just must not have known what new dishes to try. Some of my usual recommendations for visitors are:
Ordering and paying is a little bit different depending on what type of place you eat at. For street stalls, you’ll need to order standing up at the stall and then either wait for your food to go or sit nearby and they will bring your meal to you.
For most made-to-order dishes, ask for the name of the dish and then specify what meat you’d like – usually chicken, pork, shrimp or mixed seafood (most dishes don’t come with beef). Some places will have tofu to substitute for a meat or you can ask for ‘mai sai neua’ – the dish without meat.
You can also personalize your dish further by asking for a fried egg (kai dao) added on top of stir fried rice dishes like phad grapao gai, fried rice or phad king gai (stir fried ginger with chicken) or ask for the whole dish piset – ‘special’. This will make your dish larger and in some cases, with extra bits and pieces – like liver and congealed blood in some noodle soups – added in.
When you’re finished, walk back up to the stall to pay. Average prices are 30-40 baht per dish, with 5-10 baht added on for fried eggs or piset. Anything 50 baht or over is starting to get a little pricey… (As of today, 32 baht = about $1 USD so dishes usually cost around $1 – 1.50.)
Have you spent time in Chiang Mai before? Where did you go for your street food fix? What are some of your favorite thai dishes? This guide is by no means exhaustive…what questions about Thai food or eating in Chiang Mai would you like to see in future posts?