Behold: The Best Walking Food Tour of Chiang Mai
One of the greatest things about a visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand is that you get to experience all of the fantastic, flavorsome food of northern Thailand–much of which is difficult to find in the United States. Lots of people love Thai food, but many don’t know that Thai food is extremely regional, and northern Thailand has influences from the cuisines of Myanmar and Laos that make the food uniquely delicious.
When my nephew and I traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I’m not gonna lie, it was primarily for the food. Yeah, we could have gone to southern Thailand’s beautiful beaches. We could have feasted on her succulent coconut curries. Instead, we headed north. While there we created our own day-long, self-guided walking food tour of Chiang Mai, which we share with you today. You could take tuk-tuks to each place, but it’s definitely walkable if you are willing and able, and if you enjoy seeing a city on foot. Everything is located in and around the Old City.
To get your day started off the right way, opt for a phenomenal Burmese curry-style dish known as khao soi. Like any iconic dish, every place makes it a little differently. Khao Soi Khun Yai was our choice, and the dish was transporting. We shared a bowl, knowing we would have many food stops ahead of us, but we were sorry we did. Pro tip: get your own bowl. You won’t want to share. Though, in truth, you might want to pace yourself.
Khao soi is typically served with soft egg noodles bathed in a spicy, golden coconut curry, topped with fried egg noodles. It’s presented with a number of toppings: pickled mustard greens, shallot, cilantro and lime are common, as well as spicy chili sauce on the side. The chicken version typically features a single chicken leg that has been slow cooked in the broth until it’s fall apart tender. Beef and veggie/tofu versions are available at various restaurants, check before going if you have specific dietary needs.
Restaurant: ข้าวซอยคุณยาย, Khao Soi Khun Yai, Grandma’s Khao Soi
Address: ซอย ศรีภูมิ 8 Sri Poom Rd, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Hours: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday
After this satisfying breakfast, we got talked into taking a tuk-tuk, an experience which I detailed in Getting Taken for a Ride in Chiang Mai. You can feel free to skip that part, just keep walking and avoid the persistent tuk-tuk drivers!
Post-Breakfast “snack,” or, is it second breakfast?
Our next stop was SP Chicken, a restaurant in Chiang Mai famous for their tender, juicy roasted chicken, and an influence in acclaimed chef Andy Ricker’s experience. (See Ricker’s cookbook, the gold standard on northern Thai cuisine, PokPok.)
Restaurant: SP Chicken
Address: 9/1 ถนน สามล้าน ซอย 1 พระสิงห์ Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Saturday
In my research, in addition to rave reviews of the chicken, I also found a recommendation for the restaurant’s chicken liver salad, so we ordered 1/2 of a chicken, sticky rice, and the chicken liver salad. My nephew wasn’t convinced when I said “salad,” but it’s important to mention that what are commonly called salads in Thailand are dishes mainly made of meat and herbs, like this chicken liver salad.
The juicy, roasted chicken comes with a dipping sauce and loads of cooling veggies on the side. We really enjoyed it, although there were other dishes in the day that really blew us away.
When you go to SP Chicken, you may also notice that the chickens are quite small. So 1/2 chicken actually may not be enough for two people, if you aren’t doing this self-guided walking food tour in totality! If this is your lone stop, you may want to order a whole bird.
At this point in the day, we still had a little room for one more afternoon stop.
For lunch, we walked to Lert Ros in Chiang Mai, a restaurant known for its fish and a dish that may sound a little weird but could just rock your world: fermented pork.
Restaurant: Lert Ros
Address: Soi 1, Ratchadamnoen Road | Opposite Vieng Mantra Hotel, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Hours: Noon – 9 p.m. daily
Lert Ros is located down one of the many tiny roads in the Old City, which look more like back alleyways. Be patient, and you will know the place when you see the gigantic line of grills, filled with delicious things, just outside the restaurant.
People flock to Lert Ros for the fish, which is grilled right in front of your eyes.
We ordered a whole fish, and it was good, but what really got us…what really astounded us…was the fermented pork.
Maybe it’s because it looked rather unappetizing outside of its leafy barbecue wrapping. It seemed gelatinous, greasy, and even had the wiggle of aspic. You could forgive a girl for feeling a little trepidation.
This confused us. Plus the name itself could use some rebranding…fermented pork? Sounds like something left in the fridge too long.
One bite and we were converts. It was rich and salty, tender and a total umami bomb. And the crispy parts–where the fat had been caramelized? Sublime. You should definitely try this dish.
To finish off our gorge-fest for a few hours, we got the best desert in Thailand (I’m just calling it right here and now), mango sticky rice. They do a great, classic version of mango sticky rice at Lert Ros.
At this point we were stuffed, and the heat of the day was upon us. So we rested for a few hours and regained our appetite before making our way out to find another legendary food cart, featuring pork leg stew.
Restaurant: Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak
Address: ประตูเมือง Thanon Manee Nop Parat | Sri Poom Subdistrict, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Hours: 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.
If you want what is potentially the best pork leg stew in Thailand, check out the famed Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak, often known for being served up by the “cowboy hat lady.” Featured years ago on Parts Unknown, the Cowboy Hat Lady is likely to have the longest line in the sea of vendors near Chiang Mai’s North Gate. And for good reason. As a girl raised in northern Minnesota, this was nothing like anything I’d ever eaten before.
Grab a table if you want to stay and eat, or stand in line to get a takeaway container, served up by the Cowboy Hat Lady herself.
The dish comes with tender pork leg and rice bathed in a master sauce, with a healthy dose of Chinese five spice powder. You’ll also get a boiled egg with a bright orange yolk.
To be honest, we were still stuffed from our morning’s escapades. But we made room, and we were glad, because it was so, so delicious. Sadly neither of us had space for the rice.
Our feasting was nearly done. But we needed one last thing on our way out of the vendor encampment, something sweet to top off the day.
One of my favorite things to enjoy when in Southeast Asia are the fruit shakes. At the fruit shake stands, you can choose the cup you want — each contains a unique combo of fruit. Passion fruit is my personal favorite, but I also like the red dragon fruit for how pretty it is (it doesn’t have much flavor, really). We stopped at one of several fruit stands–most carry much the same options for similar price, so take your pick.
With our fruit shakes in hand, we walked along the canal and sat down on its edge to watch the sunset; happy, satisfied and pleased with our custom made self-guided walking food tour of Chiang Mai.
What delicious finds do you love in Chiang Mai, Thailand?
Let us know if you try our self-guided walking food tour of Chiang Mai!
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to her clients.
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.