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As one of the hottest tourist destinations in Thailand, Chiang Rai features many excellent dining opportunities. While both, Thai and international cuisines are available to visitors, it is the distinctive northern Thai cuisine that Chiang Rai is best known for.
Northern Thai sausage is worth trying; it is a spicy pork sausage that contains rich flavors from herbs. You’ll also find that there’s a huge variety of chilies and different dipping sauces, which are often enjoyed with sticky rice. Basically, the cuisine there is entirely different to the rest of the country and it is well worth trying as many tasty new dishes as possible.
Most of the dishes served in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai are similar, because they share the same type of food, originating from the Lanna Kingdom. The main staple food is sticky rice, also called glutinous rice. You can find this sticky rice easily because almost all of the local restaurants will promote this food on their menu.
Visitors also should experience the pleasure of eating authentic northern Thai cuisine, including dishes that have been influenced by Thailand’s neighbors, Burma, Laos, and even China.
The dishes in northern Thailand taste a bit spicy, because plenty of chilies are used for the main sauce or for a dip. But they aren’t as spicy as the dishes from the central or southern Thai cuisine. Below are listed some of the northern Thai dishes that you have to try when visiting.
In Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai, the food is characterized by its unique taste through the use of herbs and chili sauce. The epitome of northern Thai dining is a traditional khan toke dinner, which features a variety of dishes served on a small, round table. Visitors can easily try a khan toke dinner at several restaurants in the town.
This is a grilled pork sausage from northern Thailand and northeastern Burma. In Thailand it is a standard food of the northern provinces and it has become very popular in the rest of Thailand as well. It contains minced pork meat, herbs, spices, and ‘Kaeng Khua’ red curry paste.
It is usually served as a snack or starter. Traditionally, Sai Ooa was a homemade sausage, but today it is readily available in shops. The pork is mixed with an aromatic curry paste, grilled, and then served with sticky rice and fresh veggies. This sausage is a “must-try” dish when you are in northern Thailand.
Gaeng Hung Lay is one of the most iconic dishes of northern Thailand, and arguably one of the tastiest! Pork belly and pork ribs are slowly stewed with a whole bunch of herbs and spices. The result: Tender succulent pieces of pork that have been entirely permeated by the rich and aromatic sauce.
It is a dish to impress, and though it takes time, the taste is really good. The curry consists of pork belly, pineapple, ginger, shallots, sweet soy sauce, masala powder, sugar and fish sauce. It can also be mixed according to your preferences.
Khao Soi is one of the most popular dishes in Northern Thailand. It is a mild, coconut-based curry, served over soft egg noodles and topped with crispy egg noodles – and perfected by optional additions of lime, onion, chili and pickled cabbage.
Khao Soi is featured in the cuisine of the Shan people who primarily live in Burma. There are different variants of Khao Soi that are made without any coconut milk and with rice noodles instead of egg noodles. Khao Soi is easily found at street food stands as well as in restaurants throughout northern Thailand.
In Northern Thailand, you’re especially likely to run across two of the most popular chili dips. The first is Nam Prik Num, a green, moderately spicy paste that’s generally paired with steamed or blanched vegetables for dipping; some sausage is a popular addition to the plate for some protein heft.
There is also Nam Prik Ong, a dip made with pork and tomatoes. it is frequently referred to as “Thai Bolognese” for obvious reasons; it’s usually paired with blanched or steamed veggies and crunchy pork rinds. Just add sticky rice, and you have a light meal or substantial snack.
Lap Moo is a favorite dish for almost all local people. The main ingredients are minced fresh meat (pork with blood and boiled organs which are thinly sliced) mixed with chili paste ‘Lap’ (roasted dried chilies and several kinds of spices).
There are two versions of Lap Moo, fresh (or raw), and cooked. Cooked Lap Moo, or sometimes called “Lap Khua Moo”, can be done by stir frying in oil. The cooked version is nicely flavored, but sometimes it can be oily for some people. Local people normally eat the raw version of it but we recommend you to try the cooked one.
Begin your day with a high-quality coffee or tea. You can find many types of coffees and teas in Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai’s Arabica coffee is also well-known across the country, due to it being grown at high altitude. It is the majestic hub for some of the best coffee spots in the North.
Refresh yourself after a long day with some fruit juice or smoothie from a market stand, you can find many types of fruit in Chiang Rai, from dragon fruit, durian and mangoes to blueberries. For those who like beer, head to a local bar and try their local brew.
Don’t be fooled, Chiang Rai is no rural backwater – it is one of the biggest hubs for some of the best coffee in the North. Chiang Rai’s proximity to Thailand’s famous hill tribe coffee plantations ensures your caffeine fix will not only pack a punch, it will also be locally sourced.
For those who want to try the local coffee, and have a furry companion, there’s a café that serves a huge selection of delicious cakes and invigorating coffees, and also is home to some lovely cats.
Fruit is commonly found in Thailand, from durian, blueberries, mangoes, to oranges and pomegranates. Fruit juice is usually made fresh from handpicked fruit and it tastes really good and refreshing.
Walking around in the city center or in a local market you will come across lots of fruit juice stalls. Alternatively, you can go to a café with seating, for a more comfortable way to enjoy your juice, and have a chat while your body cools down from the heat.
Chiang Rai offers limited options when it comes to beers and bars, there’s not so much going on after sunset. However, you can still find some bars in Chiang Rai; most of the beers there are international ones, only few are local.
If you are looking for a quick beer for refreshment, go to bar Lamyai. Even though there isn’t much on the menu, but the drinks there are a reasonable price. If you are looking for local craft beers, head to Kaffee Hub or Easy House.
In this section, we have a recommendation for a restaurant in Chiang Rai that serves outstanding Thai and international dishes. They also have a vegan-friendly option on the menu. We picked this restaurant based on their quality, reviews, prices and service.
Take a break from the sightseeing and unwind at this restaurant. It is located beside a river, so you can relax and enjoy the food while having a very nice view. It is recommended to try the Thai dishes, like stir-fried rice noodles with seafood.
Location: 211/7 Moo. 20, Kaewai Rd. Tambon Robwiang, Chiang Rai
Opening Hours: Daily from 8am – 10pm
Book your next trip to Chiang Rai with us and let our experienced staff craft the best trip for you and your loved ones. Try our handpicked restaurant for the real taste of northern Thai cuisine. Please contact us if you have any questions!