Café Society

This is not exactly high season, even for the more adventurous (or desperate) travelers among us. But you can’t have missed the unbelievable deals we’ve been running in Escape Routes lately—deals just too tempting to skip. So are we going to wait for the rain to stop before we return to our favorite city outside of the Big Mango? No way. In fact, we welcome a drop of rain when we’re watching it fall from the comfort of a well-designed coffee shop, a lovingly brewed cup of local joe in our hands. That’s why we’ve chosen to map out the best cafes in the Lanna capital, our favorite places to keep dry under a cloudy sky, ranging from vintage and rustic homes to sophisticated high-tea venues.
Vieng Joom On
A trip to Jaipur, India, inspired a doctor in her early retirement to open her own little kingdom. The result is this vivid magenta house on the banks of the Ping River. Past the vintage wood doors you’ll find a high-ceilinged shop retailing fine tea selections and related products, from porcelain sets to high-tea platters.
For a cup of tea, opt for the private space on the mezzanine, the perfect place to laze away a couple of hours enjoying the open-air balcony’s English country style. Or, choose the backyard’s comfy sofa to sip a cuppa while watching the river run by.
Exclusively-blended tea is the highlight here, with 59 selections, of which the highlights include Madame Butterfly (green tea with apricot) and Vieng Joom On (black and white tea with black pepper, plum, ginger and cinnamon). A high tea set is available for two persons at USD16 and comes with a selection of pastries, fruit and your choice of hot or iced tea. Separately, iced tea is from USD3 and hot tea is from USD2. Cakes USD4-5.
● 53 Charoenraj Rd., Wat Gate, Ping riverside, 053-303-113. Open daily 10am-7pm.
The Chedi
Nestled along the bank of the Ping River, The Chedi offers an elegant and peaceful setting, with a minimal, Zen-inspired style and just 84 rooms. In the center is a grand old house which has been transformed into a fine dining restaurant. Its colonial style and dark-wood hues give it a lounge atmosphere while the outdoor terrace is more laid back and should be perfect for fancy afternoon tea if the weather is not unbearably hot or wet.
The high tea set allows you to choose your favorite tea from five options, ranging from pure chamomile to Sri Lankan black tea. It comes with a huge selection of afternoon snacks in three-story porcelain platters with the scones as the highlight. The high tea is USD13 for one person and USD23 for two, served 3-6pm daily.
● 123 Charoenprathet Rd., 053-253-333.
Ping Nakara
The all-white villa that sits sparkling (when the sun does shine) next to The Chedi is Chiang Mai’s newest luxurious boutique accommodation, opened six months ago, with only 19 guestrooms housed over three floors. In a distinctive classic style, Ping Nakara also offers a high tea by the pool, for both hotel and outside guests, at the first floor restaurant’s cozy sofas.
Though the selection of teas is limited, you have a greater range of snacks thanks to a choice of either Western or Thai sweets (including the rare thong ake, saneh chan and kleeb lamduan). The set is USD17 for two persons. Once you’re done stuffing yourself you can make use of the Nakara Spa next door.
● 135/9 Charoenprathet Rd, 053-252-999.
Love at First Bite
Jirayut and Mattana Sawangwatana turned their love of food and bakeries into this small homey café when they moved back from the States in 1999, and it now has quite a reputation. Despite its success, Love at First Bite remains a peaceful place thanks to a tucked away location in a tiny alley beside Chiang Mai Christian School.
Weather permitting, we’d rather pass on the air-con glass box and sit in the garden underneath big, lush trees. There, you can enjoy a taste of their famed cheesecake along with coffee and other beverages. As the owners want to make the place feel like home, don’t expect any fancy decoration but simple bean bags and tables—after all, you’re here for the cakes and coffee.
● 28 Chiang Mai-Lamphun Rd. Soi 1, 053-242-731. Open daily 10:30am-6pm.
Mont Blanc
The brainchild of the second generation of Chiang Mai’s old favorite, Puengnoi Bakery, Mont Blanc offers Japanese-style French cakes and pastries, which combine the refinement of viennoiseries with the colorful and creative style and garnishing of the Japanese—best paired with tea or fruit juice. Don’t limit yourself to the cute cupcakes, though, as the sorbet ice cream is very refreshing.
Of Mont Blanc’s four branches, the latest outlet on Nimmanhaemin Soi 2, a 70s-style house, is the cutest and most private. The chef here also organizes a baking class for groups of four to eight people.
● Nimmanhemin Soi 2, 053-210-776. Open daily 8:30am-10pm.
Hidden in a tiny soi, this petite café, decked out in a Mediterranean-cum-Lanna aesthetic, combines frescos, wood and metal in a design created by the architect owner. The petite restaurant has an extensive list of Western food with a touch of Thai fare, and a famed bakery menu, including the stand out Charcoa chocolate fudge. Behind the restaurant there’s a guest house with six rooms in case you want to stay close to your favorite cake.
● 4 Sripoom Rd. Soi 1, 053-212-681. Open daily 7am-9pm.
W by Wanlamun
This classic white wood house is Chiang Mai’s latest purveyor of tasty dishes and creamy pastries. The few small tables in the front yard are perfect for hanging out on cooler afternoons but the air-con room, decked out in classic English style, offers a welcome respite from the heat or rain. Order the popular tiramisu or fruit tart along with cups of herbal tea and you’ve got your afternoon all sorted out.
● Chang Moi Soi 2, 053-232-328. Open Tue-Sun 11:30am-10pm.
Iberry Garden
With that giant yellow dog in the middle of the garden, you can’t miss this bare cement box resting under the giant banyans. Owned by popular comedian Udom “Nose” Taepanich and iberry ice cream founder Atchara Burarak, this ice cream café seems to be the always-hot chill-out destination for Chiang Mai’s dek naew. Inside, you’ll find vividly colored retro furnishings and, next door, a small shop retailing overpriced accessories, from purses to notebooks, all designed by Nose himself. (If you’re lucky, you might even get to spot him.)
● Nimmanhemin Soi 17, 053-895-181. Open daily 10:30am-10pm.
Ginger & Kafé
Behind its high walls, Ginger is a firm favorite among farang expats in Chiang Mai. Skip the outdoor terrace and go further into the high-ceiling air-con space where neo-Victorian wallpaper and decorative items are harmonized with vintage Chinese furniture and a huge glittering chandelier at the center. It’s more about the mood than the Bangkok-priced food and drinks here, though.
● 199 Moon Muang Rd., 053-419-011/-3. Open daily 10am-midnight.
The large green clover leaf standing in front of this small café suggests it’s your lucky day. Inside the floor-to-ceiling glass walls, stuff yourself with colorful Japanese pastries like the cupcakes (try the Oreo, Rainbow Alfo and Hana-chan flavors) or rich cappuccino pudding. Overall, a good place for young(er) people to hangout with friends, chatting over cute, colorful baked goods.
● 14/3 Nimmanhaemin Soi 13, 053-289-240. Open Fri-Wed 11am-9pm.
Fern Forest Café
A doctor and his wife have turned their lovely house into a homey café located among lush green trees and huge ferns, labelled and categorized like a veritable botanical garden. A few tables are set up in the midst of the Jurassic vegetation so you’ll feel very cozy and cool as you sip Sylvanian coffee.
Having their own Fern Forest coffee farm, this coffee promises to be a long way from your local Starbucks. By that, we mean strong, bitter brews that go particularly well with their sweet homemade pastries. If he’s in a good mood, the owner will attentively introduce you to the secrets of ferns, too.
● 2/2 Singharak Soi 4, 053-416-204. Open daily 8:30am-8:30pm.
The Old Chiang Mai Café
A short walk from Waroros Market this tiny coffee shop is set in an old building on bustling Thapae Rd. The Old Chiang Mai Café offers rustic tables to those weary after a tour of the market. Dip into the coffee menu or venture into the fruit smoothies selection. Potential writers, if you’re not quite ready to pen your novel right there and then, they have cute postcards to slip into the red postbox found right in front of the café.
● 54/58 Thapae Rd., 081-716-7979. Open daily 10am-8pm.
De Lanna Boutique Hotel
44 Intawarorot Rd., T.Sriphum Muang, Chiang Mai 50200, 053-326278-9,
Surrounded by old residential buildings and temples on Chiang Mai’s Intawarorot Rd., this boutique hotel blends seamlessly into the neighborhood. A contemporary Lanna-style runs through all 35 rooms which open onto each other, at the expense of privacy. If you happen to stay till Sunday evening, a five-minute walk from the hotel gets you to Chiang Mai’s very popular (and packed) Sunday Walking Street on Thapae Rd. Rates are from USD77 until Oct 31.
Here comes the rain: Free WiFi and free DVD player available.
Ping Nakara Hotel and Spa
135/9 Charoenprathet Rd., T. Changklan, A. Muang, Chiang Mai 50100, 053-252999
Chiang Mai’s latest boutique accommodation references King Rama V throughout its exquisite 19 rooms housed in a stunning white three-story building. Apart from the poolside restaurant, the Nakara Spa promises treatments by Aryuvedic expert Dr. Rajeev Marvah (who, they say, also works for Mandarin Oriental Dara Dhevi Spa). Introductory rates are from USD101.
Here comes the rain:
Try their “drinking checkers game” where losers get a shot of vodka or tequila or the smaller tic-tac-toe.
Baan Say-La
4-4/1 Nimmanhaemin Rd., Soi 5, A. Muang, Chiang Mai 50200, 053-894229,
On a budget? Check in at this tiny guesthouse on Nimmanhaemin Soi 5. A sister hotel of The Yesterday (, Baan Say-La adopts a vintage style much closer to the present day. (Let’s say early 80s.) Don’t expect anything fancy but the location, a very short walk to Nimmanhaemin Rd., is great. Rates are USD17 (fan) to USD31 (air-con).
Here comes the rain: The third floor has a chill-out alfresco balcony with a view of the quiet side of Nimmanhaemin.
The Puka Boutique Resort
17/4 Moo 6, Tambon Mae Pu Kha district, San Kamphaeng, Chiang Mai 5013, 053-965326
It takes a little more effort to get to Puka, as it is located in the middle of the paddy fields in Sankampaeng, 13km from Chiang Mai town center, but once you’re there, you’ll discover a nice spot for some real relaxation. Owned by a singer who’s also an interior designer, Puka’s style is a perfect match between comfortable amenities and traditional Lanna touches. The main dual-story shophouse-style building houses six guestrooms, all decked out with different themes and styles ranging from Chinese to Zen. The two-night package is USD149 for two persons.
Here comes the rain: Despite its location, the resort offers free roundtrip transfers to town as well as several activities, from cooking classes to Thai massage, to keep people entertained. If you’re lucky enough to run into the owner, ask him to give you a song.
263/1-2 Tapae Rd., Chang Klan, Muang, Chiang Mai 50100, 053-280789,
You could miss this artsy accommodation altogether but it’s right on Thapae Rd., near Thapae Gate. Past the little green gate, MoRooms offers 12 rooms designed according to a Chinese zodiac theme by 12 different artists. Each room definitely has its own identity: a tiny wooden space in the Rat room, a bathroom with a snake-skin like floor in the Snake room or a one-meter-high bed in the Ox room. It’s clearly more about the experience than comfort and amenities. Rates are from USD106 for the Rabbit, Horse, Tiger and Rat rooms until Sep 30.
Here comes the rain: Free WiFi is available, or get wet in the salt water pool.