Chiang Rai town is dotted with food shops and restaurants offering a wide variety of food, ranging from local dishes to international cuisine. Arriving here or any other northen provinces, you are recommended to taste delicious local food. Generally, Khantok dinner, which is a traditional dinner set of northern people is served in most Thai restaurants. Furthermore, splendid northern-style dance is performed in some of them.
The Night Market is the best for budget eats, but beyond that there are a few good restaurants to choose from. Be sure to sample the town's delicacies like the huge ching kong catfish, caught in April to May; litchis, which ripen in June and July; and the sweet nanglai pineapple wine.
As the main cash crop of the province is rice, the most important natural resources in Chiang Rai are its water and soil. More people in Chiang Rai Province earn their living through agriculture than any other occupation or business; some offer garden crops for sale at roadside stands.
Special regional fruits include lynchee, pineapple and strawberries. There's lots of mango, mangosteen, orange, several varieties of banana, rose apple, man-gaeo and papaya production. Fruit prices vary substantially according to season, but a good variety is always available, much of it cheaply.
Vibrant new cash crops include Arabica coffee, tea, mangos and potatoes. Along with its many small mountains and rivers, Chiang Rai has much flat land suitable for farming, and also produces beans, corn, jute, barley, onions, garlic, green leafy vegetables, asparagus, mushrooms, longan, cantaloupes, watermelon and tobacco. The 5 or 6 month long rainy season ensures a good water supply and promotes rapid plant growth.
Nang Leh sweet pineapple is a proud local specialty, more individualistic the other prize fruits. In late February or early March, crunchy and tart little Pu Leh pineapples become available, and remain so until the end of the rainy season. During the nice season after the rains, try the inexpensive Man Kaeo fruit, which is turnip-like without much taste, but pleasant with an enjoyably juicy crunch most Chinese apples lack. Khao Soei, Nam Ngiew and YenTaFo are 'Chinese' style noodle dishes, and quite popular! Sometimes the noodles are homemade. Usually meals at home, if not of noodles, come with rice. Of the many kinds, I find saffron rice the tastiest. Sticky rice here is looser and more tender than in Isan (the north-east). It is similarly eaten with spicy pastes, minced meats, roast chicken, fish and a variety of vegetables. Typically, people sit on a mat with many bowls of food between them; some food may be wrapped in banana leaf. Fingers are used, or a Chinese-style spoon; but increasingly, Western-style spoons and forks are preferred. Knives aren't brought out with the food, as the meats have already been cut. Accompanying cooked food, one often finds lime, cucumber, cabbage and long beans.
Khantoke dinners-buffet of northern dishes, including steaming pots of pork curry with ginger and garlic (Gang Hanglae) and minced pork with chili paste and tomato (nam prik ong kap kaep mu). Try Sabun-nga at SangKhongNoi Soi 6.
Nam Ngiew, Khao Soei and YenTaFo-kinds of Chinese noodle dishes, quite popular! Khao Soi Islam, on NgamMuang between Banpaprakan and Tanalai, west side, is highly recommended. Another good khao soi restaurant, serving only mid-day, is behind the WiangCome, on Jed Yot. Nam Ngiao is available at many small open-air restaurants all over, and for yen-ta-fo try the first stall on Goh Loi Rd., just past the snooker club).
Typical meals at home, if not of noodles, come with rice; the expression for eating, "kin khao," translates literally as to eat rice. Of the many kinds, I find saffron rice the tastiest. Sticky rice here is looser and more tender than in Isan (the north-east). It is similarly eaten with spicy pastes, minced meats, roast chicken, fish and a variety of vegetables. Typically, people sit on a mat with many bowls of food between them; some food may be wrapped in banana leaf. Fingers are used, or a Chinese-style spoon; often Western-style spoons and forks are preferred. Knives aren't brought out with the food, as the meats have already been cut. Accompanying cooked food, one often finds lime, cucumber, cabbage and long beans. Water is the most common drink to accompany common meals.
Gat Mai health-food and natural products store, in among the plants and gardening supplies on the north side of PratuChiangMai Rd, sells khao doi klong brown rice, red rice, and many kinds of "ya samun-pai" natural medicines too.
For frozen Western-style meats, cheeses, boxed or canned Western food, try Chiang Rai First Food Co., 886/7 Pahonyothin (just west of the highway on Tanon Wat Panon; tel 716618).
For gracious dining atmosphere, look along the river. There are several spacious restaurants, most with live music. Or, just right from the end of SanKhong Luang soi 6, going south (off Kong Chang Soi 9, dog-legging a bit at its end), is a fine restaurant, Kum Jao Nang, with live guitar and food arriving on a boat from a kitchen across a small lake. Lan Jaan Beer Garden atop Nin Si Saeng Hotel, near the next T-intersection south from the stoplight at Pahonyothin and San Khong Chang-Payaban. There's live music there also, and a quite different view of the city! On SanKong Noi are many good restaurants, including SabunNga with Kantoke dinners and Celebrate, a clean, brightly lit place with excellent variety, great service and a wonderful selection of cakes. Also recommended are Krua Arum Di, just north of the old runway's end, on Sanambin Road, and Tong Kao (999) on Jed Yot.
For vegtetarians, there's a good restaurant ("Jae") on the east side of Wiset Wiang Road, between Uttrakit and Singhaklai (from the C&C Hilltribe Museum take the next street west north half a block, or from AUA go east then turn south). Another is southeast of the bus station, just a two minute walk (be careful, there are two, and the closest, across from the t-intersection from the fruit market, is not truly vegetarian. They do serve fresh carrot juice though).
A bit southwest of town, along 1208 towards Khun Gon Waterfall, a few nice, spacious restaurants of excellent atmosphere are to be found.
West of Mae Chan near the Hot Springs is Silver Spring Resort, with an absolutely fabulous restaurant and very gracious atmosphere. Menu in Thai only, but definitely one of the best.
International Restaurant variety in Muang Chiang Rai
German food (Bier Stuba on Pahonyothin just south of SanKhongChang)
Italian food (Cloudia, on Jet Yod just south of the clock tower)
French (Aye's at the end of the of the road to the bus station, on Pahonyothin, and at Alliance Farangset, on Rachyotha Soi 4, Friday evenings only)
English/Dutch (Ladda Bar amidst the Jed Yod farang bar strip)
Fast American (KFC and Dunkin Donuts at Big C)
Chinese (China Town on Dusit Island, Yunnan Restaurant at 2211/6 Kwaewai Rd - turn east just before the bridge to Mae Sai-plus Kanom Jeen next to the 7-11 by the Mengrai monument)
Japanese (suki-yaki at MK Restaurant in Big C, and Phatpong Bar on Jed Yot)
Vietnamese (west of the Ha-yak Mengrai monument & on the highway just north of Big C)
Pakastini (north of the Mae Sai bridge, west side of Hwy 1 at first intersection)
Isan -(south of Si-yak Kuah Dam on the west of Sanambin Road)
Hindu/Indian (roti wagons east of the clock tower on the south side of Banpaprekan)
Moslem and vegetarian (many, many places).
There's even baby-back ribs, at Family Bakery on NongBua, a good bit east of the Ha-yak. The mu-satay with peanut sauce at the Big C food court is also highly recommended.
In Chiang Rai western style pizza has been popular for years. A few shops have closed recently, but it's available at:
The Pizza, a bit further south on the other side, near Edison and Swenson
Pizzeria Mamma Mia on Pahonyothin at the bus-station road T
La Cantina, on Jed Yod Road, by Lobos (B90 and up, probably the best in town though often with many noisy kids playing inside)
Lobo Beer Bar, just south of the clock tower and La Cantina.