A slice of life in Chiang Mai

December 17, 2011 | Thailand, Travel | 17 Comments
Chiang Mai gate night market

“Sawadee ka … pad krapow gai kai dow?”

It takes me a second to decode the stream of rapidfire Thai as it emerges from behind the surgical mask, the crinkling of the eyes betraying the hint of a smile.

“Krap, krap.  Korp koon krap”, I reply.

I’ve only been here a few short weeks but the local night market food vendors already know me well.  Why yes, indeed I would love some ground chicken and basil on rice, with a runny fried egg on top.  It wasn’t that hard to guess, I suppose – I’ve probably ordered it from her at least three times this week.

She has been playing with me lately, though – quietly turning up the heat in each meal to see just how much it takes to make me sweat.

It’s an experiment I’m happy to be a part of.

Turning away as pungent smoke starts to billow from the wok, I walk the dozen paces to say hi to Mrs Pa.  A big grin lights up her face as she recognises me, and with a raised eyebrow she enquires “Strawberry and orange?”.  She knows that this is my favourite after her recent recommendation, and while strawberries stay in season that’s unlikely to change.

We talk for a bit – I make sure she is feeling better after hurting her back earlier in the week, and she catches up on my small amount of daily gossip – as she serves the endless flow of customers that line up into the street for her amazing fruit shakes.

For those that know her Mrs Pa is an institution.  I mean, how many other stall owners at Chiang Mai gate have featured in a CNN article lately?  The perfect mix of ingredients comes with every shake – the freshest fruit, a dash of sugar here, a pinch of salt there, blended with ice and served with a smile.

Mrs Pa, Chiang Mai gate night market

The cold drink is a welcome relief as the spicy pad krapow makes my taste buds tingle.  I look up from my dinner occasionally, surveying the sea of plastic tables for a familiar face.  Chiang Mai has become a blogging mecca of late, with dozens making the pilgrimage in recent times.  Some pass through in a matter of days, while others hang around for months or even years.  It is that kind of place.

That I don’t spot anyone I know tonight is somewhat of a rarity.  There is usually someone else around for dinner, whether by chance or design.  Many of us live nearby, and those that don’t still seem to regularly turn up at Chiang Mai Gate after dark in the hunt for food.  Like a moth to a flame it draws us in, day after day.

The price is one reason, since tonight’s food and drink cost under two bucks.  The freshness is another – everything is sourced daily and prepared in front of me.  I would be far more concerned about getting sick from a lonely hotel restaurant than from any of the busy food stalls in this city.

Like Chiang Mai itself, though, I think it’s the atmosphere of the market that keeps bringing us back.  There are plenty of foreigners here but this place has a local feel.  It is laid back, relaxed, chilled out.  A low buzz of friendly conversation is the backdrop to the noise of nearby traffic.  You pay when you’re done, not before you start.  Find a seat, sit down.  Your dinner will find you when it’s ready.

There is nothing particularly special about today.  Yesterday was much the same.  Tomorrow probably won’t be much different.  A few different faces, maybe.  A new fruit shake.

This was just a little slice of daily life in Chiang Mai.

I don’t think I ever want to leave.

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  1. Reply


    December 19, 2011

    It sounds awesome Dave. I really want to go!

    • Reply


      December 21, 2011

      Step 1. Buy a ticket.
      Step 2. Go.
      Step 3. Give me a call when you get here.


  2. Reply

    Marc d'Entremont

    December 19, 2011

    The night market is terrific. I hope you're enjoying your time up north. Returning to Thailand and Laos next week. Can't wait!

    • Reply


      December 21, 2011

      I'm not surprised!

  3. Reply


    December 20, 2011

    Mmm, I can close my eyes and vividly remember this. The fresh fruit juices. The woks. The flimsy tables and chairs where we ate. I LOVE it. Can't wait to make CM my home!

    • Reply


      December 21, 2011

      Would you be surprised to know that I ate there again tonight?

      Chiang Mai is calling your name...

  4. Reply


    December 20, 2011

    Dave, I felt the same exact way when I spent some time in CM last year. Keep on enjoying yourself!

    • Reply


      December 21, 2011

      I always try to, Ryan :)

  5. Reply

    Kelly de Vries

    December 21, 2011

    I want to be there. So, do you think my husband and I can drop everything, sell it all, and be there in a year or less with our 11 and 13 year old boys? How do you support yourself...really, what I want to know is how do WE support ourselves?

    • Reply


      December 21, 2011

      Hi Kelly,

      I don't know your particular financial situation, of course, but in general the answer to that question for most people in first world countries is 'yes', within a couple of years. Drop me a line (dave at whatsdavedoing dot com) if you'd like to have a chat in more detail, I'm happy to give any advice I can.

      • Reply

        Kelly de Vries

        December 27, 2011

        Thanks! I'll definitely add you to my contacts. We've got some possibilities in the works and once we know more, I'd love to chat more. Thanks for the reply.

  6. Reply


    December 21, 2011

    I really like this post! Would love to see these for everywhere you visit!

    • Reply


      December 21, 2011

      Good suggestion! I'll try to write one for anywhere I live in for a month or more in the future... :)

  7. Reply


    December 22, 2011

    Sounds like a pretty awesome life to me! So glad you are doing well in Chiang Mai!

  8. Reply


    January 2, 2012

    Chian Mai is in my list as a city I could live. I really enjoyed it when I went there with my husband last year. It's nice to hear the stories of people who are doing it already :)

  9. Reply

    Cole @

    January 25, 2013

    Hopefully be there towards the end of this year for a few months.

  10. Reply

    Caroline @ Traveling 9 to 5

    January 26, 2013

    We had Mrs.Pa's smoothies daily in Chiang Mai! The local market's there are amazing - you're making me miss that city!!

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