Wats and street eats in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The great thing about traveling east is that jet lag works in your favor: you wake up early and can get out and about as soon as you want. We woke up at about 6:30am, promptly gave up trying to fall back asleep, and headed for breakfast. We then took a casual stroll to see more of the beautiful Wats and explore the Old City of Chiang Mai, which is a pleasant walk from the hotel.

Before we start, let me set some ambiance for you. I’d like you to go to your nearest restroom, turn on the shower at max heat on full blast, close the door, and go fill a spray bottle with hot water from your kitchen tap. If you want bonus points and/or are female, make sure you are wearing long pants. Now, go back to the bathroom with the spray bottle, turn off the shower, and proceed with reading the blog in there. Make sure you spritz yourself with the water bottle once for every Wat we visit. By the end of the post, you should be as humid as we were by the end of our tour. It’s like a mini trip in your own home! That being said, the sights were well worth the sogginess.

The walk began with a narrow street, no sidewalk, with tuk tuks and the occasional large truck passing by, honking all the while. As we get closer to the Old City, the Wats start to appear, some more simple than others.


Chiang Mai is an interesting city in that even before you get to the “Old City” there are certain old, beautiful features mixed in among the more modern buildings. As we walked, I noted several beautiful old wooden buildings which are now in disrepair, still standing among the coffee shops and tattoo parlors. One thing Chiang Mai has no shortage of is tattoo parlors, offering a variety of styles I’ve never heard of, including bamboo tattoos. Chiang Mai also has a huge assortment of massage parlors. They are actually so common that we have seen combination massage parlor/Wats, which is an interesting and pretty convenient one-stop-shop. The most popular offering is the Thai foot massage which is heavily advertised.

Most of the Wats are not tourist attractions, so unfortunately we don’t have the name of most that we walked past and entered. The good news is that all of the monks and other folks at the sites are very welcoming and happy that we have dropped by to appreciate the buildings. In many cases, it is the rooftop architecture that attracts me to the Wats that we stop in to visit.


The decor is often ornate and incredibly beautiful, especially on some of the Wats with Chinese influence.


What also strikes me as we make our way towards the Old City, inefficiently waiting to cross the street with each Wat (they seem to alternate back and forth on the sides of the road) is how beautiful the imagery and colors are, and how tied to the Chinese lunar calendar they seem to be, despite having clear Buddhist and Hindu imagery as well.


Of course, there are some amusing sights as we wander through these compounds. For example, rogue chickens.


We continue on, making our way towards downtown.


Finally, we arrive at one of the many Old City gates, which line the square perimeter. Crossing through means that we have reached the Old City, which is both residential and historical.


Past the city gate, we continue to make our way to our new destination: a famous stand where you can get Khao Soi Gai for cheap, somewhere buried within the temples and residential area. We make our way past several beautiful, wooden Wats.


We also pass the Three Kings statue, and then make our way past the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Facility Vocational Training Center, where we had hoped to pop in to support the effort to train the female inmates to perform jobs such as spa technician upon their release. Unfortunately, they were booked solid for the afternoon, stomping out our foot massage plan. We continued to make our way, winding through residential areas where we saw a different slice of Chiang Mai, including the “All Service Center”. Amazingly, the All Service Center did offer a pretty wide variety of services, including Thai Visa applications, car rentals, auto and home insurance, and loans. Residents had also set up some stands by the roadside for food.


We continued to make our way through the narrow streets, coming upon a beautiful Wat that was built in 1492.


We were then attracted to a different Wat in the distance, which had a large Buddha sitting on it.


The street view was beautiful, as was the view from its second story balcony.


And there, in the parking lot of this beautiful Wat, was what we had come for: the Khao Soi Khun Yai noodle stand. It’s an open-air operation, run by a kindly older woman. You walk up and can smell the incredible mix of spices, then find a seat at one of the tables. Then, they bring you the main attraction: one of their only three dishes, either Khao Soi, spicy noodle soup, or noodle soup. We ordered the Khao Soi and the spicy noodle soup to try some variety.


To say the least, the Khao Soi was probably the best slurp of food I’ve ever had. Certainly the best Thai food I’ve ever had. The broth is thick and rich, with a pungent yet tangy, yet spicy taste that is similar to red curry but thicker and warmer. It’s rich without being fatty and the bite of the soft noodles and crispy fried noodles is perfection. The first bite coats your mouth, and it gets more complex as you add in the toppings like fresh lime juice, raw red onion, and pickles. The spicy noodle soup was similarly good, tasting of lemongrass, kaffir lime, cilantro, and a tangy chicken broth. Needless to say, this was the best meal I’ve had in quite a while despite being so unassuming (sorry fancy Issaya in Bangkok!). The kicker: the total price, including drinks, was 100 Baht or roughly $3.

Across the river, we spotted one more Wat we wanted to visit before heading back to the hotel and changing out of our sticky clothes for the afternoon.


This Wat had a really interesting mix of styles, including several architectural themes that mixed what looked like Javanese religion (these red and green statues), Khmer/old Hindu architecture, and Chinese lunar iconography. Inside, we also noticed several Hindu and Buddhist themes as well.


Finally, we past the Old City walls again on the way home after flagging down a tuk tuk.


(If you’re still enjoying the ambiance, at this point you can go to a different room and change clothes. As for me, a well needed shower did the trick with the humidity).

In the afternoon, we decided to take a look at modern Chiang Mai, walking away from the Old City and into Chinatown, visiting Warorot Market. It’s a bustling place in the middle of Chinatown, past the Muslim quarter in Chiang Mai.


The market is filled with beautiful piles of spices, dried meats, fresh fruits and veggies, and other snacks. Of course, we had to check out the Chiang Mai sausage stand. It’s a flurry of activity, with the crowd holding out money and being passed sausages as they are portioned and weighed out.


The sausage was fabulous. We enjoyed it as we continued walking around the market, getting especially excited when we found the curry station, with huge vats of several different kinds of curry pastes ready to go.


Dinner is at David’s Kitchen, the #1 TripAdvisor rated restaurant in Thailand. The food is generally French, although there are some hints at fusion. Perry got the panang curry lamb shank, which was served in a French style but with a panang curry sauce. We shared a seared tuna starter with a papaya and lemongrass salad, which was delicious. I was boring and just got the Australian strip steak with pepper sauce. Perhaps most fun was the decor at the restaurant – they take the time to personalize it to you, so we had a cute little name tag and they had made our place settings with little baby pink felt hearts since we marked “date night” when we booked the table. At the end of the meal, they gave me a rose. Overall, not a bad end to a long but fun day here in Chiang Mai.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s