Many friends had spoken highly to us about Chiang Mai. This may have created some lofty expectations for Thailand’s central city of the north.
Located 700km north of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the capital of the Chiang Mai Province. With a population of approximately 1 million, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s fifth largest city. Set within the rolling foothills of the Himalayan mountains and surrounded by lush greenery, Chiang Mai attracts a large number of outdoor enthusiasts as well as those who want to flee Bangkok’s bustle.
The city itself is really quite pretty. Its historical centre lies within the walled city, only now partially bordered by remnants of an aged brick wall, and surrounded by a moat. Within the remaining city walls are more than 30 temples, along with some shops and guesthouses.
We tried to do a “Monk Chat” at one of the local temples, but what we received back was this note. Apparently, the monk who normally chats with Engish-speaking visitors was not available.
While it may be charming and with a slower pace of life than Bangkok, we did experience some frustrations while in Chiang Mai.
With a list in hand of some recommended shops and eating establishments to check out, we were met with disappointment a number of times when we were not find our desired location. Our frustrations were due to a number of factors:
1. Not all streets in Chiang Mai are labelled. Our accommodation, Isra House, was one example of a destination located on an unlabeled street. It holds the reputation of Chiang Mai’s most hidden guest house.
2. Houses and buildings are usually not numbered. If on a labelled street, usually only the street name or number is given. If we were lucky, we were able to find out what Soi (side street) the destination was located near to.
3. We found that addresses and maps were not always accurate. Even when we thought we knew where something should be, it often turned out to be different. Google Maps definitely led us astray more than once.
4. A lack of a good public transport system (there are no trains or buses) meant that one had to rely on tuktuks or songthews (red trucks), or spend a lot of time searching on foot.
5. The language barrier meant that even if you stopped to ask for directions, it was difficult to find someone who spoke English well enough to understand what you were looking for or provide any helpful information.
All of this meant that we spent many hours wandering the streets of Chiang Mai, often on empty stomachs, with sore feet and tired legs.
In light of these frustrations, the redeeming factor in our Chiang Mai experience was the coffee scene.
Doppio Ristr8to is a cafe owned by a Thai guy who worked in the Australian coffee scene before returning to his roots in Change Mia to open up this cafe/roastery.
We were impressed by the wide range of brew methods and single origin coffees that Doppio offered.
The individualized nature of their iced coffee beverages was also appreciated. Serving the espresso and milk in separate pouring vessels, the customer is given control of each element to craft their ideal beverage.
Our visit to Akma Ahma Coffee on Hassadhisawee Road was the true highlight of Chiang Mai for us.
We had the chance to sit down with Lee, the owner of Akma Ama, and share some coffee together.
Over coffee, he explained how the coffee served at his cafe, the Chiang Mai peaberry, comes from his parents’ coffee farm, just a few hours north of Chiang Mai.
We heard about his desire to improve the quality of coffee served not only at his cafe, but also throughout the Thai coffee community.
Lee is a super cool guy. Sincere, warm, and humble, we both took quite a liking to him and hope that our paths will cross again one day.
A heads up to people in the coffee industry: There is some awesome stuff going down in Northern Thailand with coffee. If you ever get the chance to meet Lee or visit Akha Ama Coffee one day for yourself, we highly recommend you don’t pass up this opportunity.