The Chiang Mai Guide
Picture a place that makes you feel better than you have in years. Possibly ever. Maybe you were stressed or overwhelmed back home. Maybe you needed a recharge or a change of scenery. That’s all here, of course. But then you find more. You find world-class incredible spas at every turn; healthy, spicy, vibrant food at every meal; natural sites so awe-inspiring, they can only be described as epic; and a list of superlatives that never seems to end. Gradually, you become an entirely new version of yourself. A more alive, more relaxed version. This is a dream, right? It can’t be real? Of course not. Then again, if this Utopia actually exists, we have a hunch it’s called Chiang Mai.
This ancient city has wellness steeped in its history. Take Thai massage. It originated more than 2,500 years ago, developed by a confidant of the Buddha. The wavelike, rhythmic technique inspired by Ayurvedic and Chinese principles has changed the lives (and postures) of countless people in Chiang Mai and across the world. And that’s just one part of the wellness treatments here. As the Tourism Board of Thailand showed us, you can work with a meditation guru to gain mental clarity, follow the lead of a yoga master, or trust the expert hands of a massage therapist to help you release tension. Or you can simply work on being present: Sip tea on the bank of the Ping River or walk through the colorful alleyways lined with brightly painted storefronts and greenery.
Once the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom, the Chiang Mai of today is a vibrant, modern city that holds close to its spiritual and natural roots. The surrounding farms supply the farm-to-table restaurants. The ancient health practices inform the spas’ clinicians. And the people are as friendly, kind, and insightful as any we have ever met. Chiang Mai is a beautiful, diverse, ancient metropolis that will give you an entirely new perspective on wellness and self-care—all while embracing your body and mind.
Ohkajhu Organic Farm410 2 Chiang Mai Outer Ring Rd., Tambon Nong Chom | +66.52.080.744
You can't go wrong with this (totally organic) menu. Roasted duck with a maple glaze, crispy tempura mushrooms atop seasonal greens, spicy goa beans with grilled shrimp. Everything here is made from scratch, including the homemade dressings. (You can buy a bottle or two to take with you.) And it can't get any fresher: The three owners run several organic, sustainable vegetable farms in Chiang Mai that provide 100 percent of the produce for the restaurant. There's also a charming organic coffee bus in front, where you can grab an organic Thai iced tea with coconut milk or matcha latte.
Rustic and Blue2/1 Nimmana Haeminda Rd. Lane 7, Amphoe Mueang | +188.8.131.520
Picture walking down Nimmanhaemin Road—with its intimate alleyways and colorful lanterns—and suddenly you stumble upon a quaint, whimsical restaurant. There's eclectic wood furniture, a large trellis overgrown with verdant plants, string lanterns, and bright, glossy green subway tiling. This is Rustic and Blue. And the food is as good as the décor. Order the mushroom and pear toast that will make you forget avocado ever existed (until, that is, you try their version of avocado toast) and the grilled Caesar salad topped with farm-fresh eggs and a salty, umami-packed homemade vinaigrette. Come ready to eat a lot—and stay late (there's live music most nights). And then return in the morning for a vegan beetroot latte and thick slices of toasted house-made gluten-free bread slathered in house-made jam.
The House by Ginger199 Moonmuang Rd.
This romantic, colorful restaurant-café-marketplace is one of the best spots to eat homemade curry and fresh vegetables. Imagine floral wallpaper in bright pinks and golds, dimly lit paper lanterns, and cozy velvet Victorian sofas. And then, as you’re lounging in your corner: steaming bowls of khao soi (rice noodles in savory coconut curry broth), nutty bulgur wheat with mushrooms, and nasi goreng (vegetable fried rice) brought to your table. The owners source most of their produce and grains from their nearby organic farm. We ended our meal with a pot of steaming tart lemongrass tea and mango sticky rice—creamy, chewy, sweet aromatic grains topped with sliced ripe mango and rich, decadent coconut cream.
David’s Kitchen113 Bamrungrad Road Wat Kate
It was the story behind David's Kitchen that did it for us. The owner, David, is a Londoner who first came to Chiang Mai two decades ago after a long and successful career in theater. He moved to Thailand, taught English to monks, met his wife, Khun Prom (a professionally trained chef), and then together they opened a restaurant. In other words, he lived out the fantasy that so many of us have here—and we wanted to see what it tasted like. David’s Kitchen has become one of the most popular places to eat in the city. Chef O makes decadent classic French dishes with a Thai twist (like incredible spicy fish salad with crisp green apple, wild mushroom risotto, and pan-seared tuna with mango). The cocktails are fresh and inventive (the Golden Triangle, a mix of bourbon, Thai orange, lemon, and honey, is bright and refreshing), and the desserts—made by Khun Prom, who is the pastry chef—are incredible. (Or maybe freshly made ice cream and sticky toffee pudding just taste better in Chiang Mai.)
Anchan Vegetarian RestaurantNimmanhaeminda Road, Soi Hillside 2 Suthep
When a vegetarian restaurant is this good, we are willing to give up burgers and salmon forever. This understated, quaint little spot is one of those places. The staff aces every dish. And, yes, it sounds clichéd, but you really won't miss the meat. Scratch that: You won't even notice it’s missing. The vegetable green curry is nutty, creamy, and deeply layered; the mango salad is bright, crunchy, and perfectly acidic; and the mixed-mushroom Thai omelet is so fluffy and custardy, it will make you forget to order anything else. At least, until you remember eyeing the banana coconut milk smoothie on the menu.
Cuisine de Garden99 Moo 11 Nongkwaii Handgdong
This place lives up to its name, especially if you order the ten-course tasting menu: It includes three-grain risotto with kale sauce and lotus root, grilled squid with house-made curry and tomatoes, and "the nest," a house specialty of a slow-cooked egg atop a bed of crispy noodles. You'll finish with light butter cookies in the shape of leaves. The presentation is impressive; everything is served to symbolize or replicate something from nature. And because the menu changes with the season, everything is extremely fresh. It's a bit of a drive south of the city, so be sure to make a reservation. The inventive, healthy food is worth the trek.