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Jan 24, 2007 09:37 AM

Best chow in Chiang Mai & Siem Reap?

We'll be in both places for 4 days -- leaving very soon for a last-minute trip! What restaurants/street food should we not miss??

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  1. Just returned from Siem Reap and enjoyed:

    Khmer Kitchen
    The Red Piano
    The Soup Dragon (breakfast Pho)
    Happy Herb Pizza

    Despite critical acclaim for Taj Mahal, it was my least favorite meal in the town.

    2 Replies
    1. re: jwobkk

      I ate at Khmer Kitchen last night. Though it was certainly good for the price by Western standards, I wasn't too impressed. I felt the curries I ordered were just so so. Though I ordered them spicy, there was hardly a hint of hotness. So far, the Chowhound-recommended Khmer places in Cambodia have paled in comparison to the Cambodian food I ate in the USA (particularly Floating Rock in the Boston area). But to be fair, I would be singing their praises if they were in the US because of the very low prices.

      I ate at Happy Herb Pizza in Phnom Penh. It was decent and gave a nice buzz maybe five hours later. I wouldn't recommend it except as a novelty.

      1. re: aventinus

        I changed my mind a bit about both these places (tried them again in Siem Reap). Khmer Kitchen never quite wowed me but I was impressed by the elegance of their Khmer cooking and by the overall high quality for such a low price. I think my mistake at Happy Herb Pizza in Phnom Penh was to ask them to go light on the "happy." I asked for moderate/heavy in Siem Reap. The "happy" (that is, marijuana, purportedly a traditional Khmer spice) truly is a interesting cooking herb that makes the pizza more than a novelty. It's actually tastier in the pizza than oregano IMO. But beware: the effects are a bit stronger than you might expect if you've only smoked ganja (as they call it in Cambodia).

    2. I wasn't able to find authentic Khmer food in Siem Reap. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know -- I go often. I really like Khmer/Vietnamese sour soups, so if you get a chance to order that, try it!

      Chiang Mai is known for a curry noodle dish called 'Khao Soi'. It's really yummy, and I recommend trying to find a 'khao soi' restaurant full of locals. The more, the better. The problem with most Thais is they believe Westerners can't eat Thai food (too strong flavored, too spicy, etc.), so if you want authentic, go where there's no tourists!

      Also, if you want a beautiful meal, with excellent drinks too (hard to find in Thailand!!) try Mahanaga on the waterside. They have trees growing out of the bathrooms and the whole place is built using antique Thai teak houses. A nice place to impress your date. :) That aside, the food is 'fusion' and not at all authentic Thai. But worth it for the scenery.

      1. Since I'm getting a bunch of help from others, I should actually do my part....

        In Chiang Mai, get up to Warorot market in the morning and go down stairs and get some kanom jiin, a noodle curry with various toppings/ingredients you add at the table. It'll look a little unsanitary, perhaps, down there, but I ate there several times without problems and it was cheap and excellent. Basically you'll just say kanom jiin and point to the curry you want. On the main level, there are people selling curry pastes and meats. You can get northern Thai sausage, I believe, up there.

        Between Warorot and Lam Yai at night is a street market. Best street food I had in Chiang Mai. The ripe jackfruit and grilled meats alone were worth the trip up there. Not a huge variety, but what there was was very good. Few tourists. Almost all locals. Not entirely sure what time it starts or what days it is. I didn't get the sense that Chiang Mai was much of a street food city, but maybe that was just because I stayed inside the wall for the most part.

        I wasn't too impressed with the food options around the Night Bazaar areas. Too touristy. Though there is a Bavarian restaurant with Thai girls in lederhosen. However, there are lots of roti stands around and that's a must. I must have eaten my weight in roti while in Chiang Mai.

        I had Khao Soi at Lamduan and Just Khao Soi. The former is primarily a local place and a ways from the heart of the city. We just told a taxi driver where we wanted to go (went for lunch) and he took us there. Just Khao Soi is just inside the wall, I believe, not too far from the Night Bazaar if I remember correctly. It's a midscale place. I don't know if the curry itself was quite as interesting as Lamduan's, but they had this wonderful condiment tray with great ingredients to add to the dish. Both worthwhile.

        There are a decent number of midscale restaurants in Chiang Mai. One that came recommended and we tried was Huen Phen, which had a lot of regional specialties, like nam tod and gaeng hangleh. It was an excellent meal in a nice setting. Definitely recommend. Reading my journal again just now to find the name tempts me to go back to Chiang Mai on my upcoming trip.

        Those were the highlights of my trip last year about this time. (Also the Thai Cookery School if you have the time.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: extramsg

          btw, I think Lamduan isn't open for dinner.

        2. Second the rec for Huen Phen in Chiang Mai, but try it at lunch. More casual, more an all-Thai crowd, and the dishes are laid out for you to choose from. Just be sure to arrive by 11:30 or so on weekdays because the place is total packed out with locals by noon or 1230.

          For more Northern Thai, head to Aroon sort of kitty corner to Tha Phae gate (outside the gate). Ask specifically for Northern Thai specialties and they'll tell you what they have that day, or will just bring a selection.

          Lamduan definately trumps the other for khao soi, and try their grilled sausage (chile and turmeric-spiced) and sate.

          The Sunday afternoon-evening market has some good things to eat. From Tha Phae gate. Duck into the temple compounds because that's where vendors set up. Look especially for khanom jin served from traditional clay pots.

          5 Replies
          1. re: foodfirst

            That Sunday market is impressive. I climbed up the gate and took pictures. It's people and hawkers as far as the eye can see. I thought the food options were inconsistent, but some of the wats had some really nice stuff. Damn it! Quit talking about Chiang Mai. How am I ever going to convince myself to go to somewhere new if people keep mentioning all the fantastic things about Chiang Mai?!?


            1. re: foodfirst

              I haven't been to Lamduan Khao Soi in nearly a year, so I used this thread as the reason to go today. Their khao soi gai was as good as usual, nearly equal to the best in CM. I was surprised at how empty it was at noon. There's another similar restaurant across the street and just up the block. There's no name in English but they were doing a brisk business. I got a bowl of khao soi there too. It had an equally rich broth, which is what makes for a great khao soi. Both of these places give use the meaty part of the wing (sometimes called the "wing drumstick"). They give two. I prefer khao soi stands that give you real drumsticks. The khao soi vendor at "Thanin Market Behind" has an equally rich broth and his drumsticks stew in it all day. That's my favorite khao soi place. There's another on Neimanheiman and Soi 13 that's nearly as good. Ask for the "Phi Set" and you'll get a double sized serving.

              I agree with the recs for Huen Phen for either lunch or dinner. Despite the fact that the tourists have all discovered it (lunch time too) they still do excellent northern Thai cuisine.

              I have to disagree with the recommendation for Aroon Rai though. They've been living of their Lonely Planet write-up for too long. I go there once or twice a year to visit friends staying near Tha Phae Gate. Aroon Rai is no better than any of the other backpacker restaurants serving standard Thai food in the tourist ghetto.

              For more authentic northern Thai, try Hong Taew Inn on Neimanheiman Rd (across the street and a half block down from the Amari Hotel). It's very similar to Huen Penh at dinner. Or, try Ruen Come Inn on Srithron Rd, east off the Superhighway across from Wat Jet Yod. It's an elegant old teak house and they serve authentic Lanna cuisine. it's pricier than most of the others mentioned on this thread but worth it for a splurge.

              1. re: el jefe

                You really have to specifically ask for Northern Thai food at Aroon Rai, otherwise you will definately end up with standard backpacker fare. The downside of mass tourism, I suppose -- give 'em what they want.

                We were surrounded by farang eating chile-free somtam and tom kha gai green curry. We asked for 'ahaan thang nya thaownan' (only N Thai food), got a big smile from the waitress, and were served a few curries (not gaeng kae or hang lae) and a couple of nam prik that brought tears to our eyes.

                The place is still respected by locals and the northern dishes are prepared by a N Thai cook who has been there forever.

                1. re: foodfirst

                  Only been in Chiang Mai for about 20 hours now, but I went to Aroon Rai -- spelled "Aroon (Rai)" on the sign, specifically with parentheses -- and had a very good northern sausage salad dish with garlic, mild red peppers, two kinds of onions, tomatoes, etc. Tasty stuff. However, they didn't make it even remotely spicy, even though I asked for spicy ("pet pet"). Too many wimpy tourists, clearly. Still, it was yummy. I'd forgotten everything I'd read in this thread, and went in there pretty much blindly, so I'm glad I ordered a northern dish.

                  I'll have to try Huen Penh next.

                  A guesthouse proprietor strongly recommended a place called Palaad Tawanron to me for their tom yum koong, but it's so far outside the central parts of the city, way out near the zoo, that I might not go.

                  1. re: Ike

                    Swasdee (THai greeting)

                    As a Chiangmaian, I would recommend you to explore streetfood at Sunday Market (located around Tapae Gate to Phrasing temple), can't remember the name of the road, but you can ask any locals..(it starts in the afternoon until late at night).

                    If you would love to know how local people eat, go to suthep road..there're so many local restaurants to choose (opposite dental/pharmacy school of CMU)..there's the best "Yen ta fo noodle", called "Yentafo Sriping" need to describe how good it is, you will see it when you get there during lunch time..go futher west down the road, there's a small restuarant called "Phuket Rai Klam"..(opposite the southgate of CMU)..they serves good thai food (more central and southern food), but believe me it's the best..don't forget ot order THai tea...I love it..


            2. I'm glad you seem to like it. Maybe I've been there the wrong times but after 10 trips in the last 6 years I'm still unimpressed. Sorry. It's nowhere near as good as Huen Phen which seats 5 times as many people yet usually has a wait at lunch (never more than 5 minutes though). 90% of the people I see eating at Aroon Rai are carrying a Lonely Planet book.