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Bangkok and Chiang Mai planning

I have a 2-week trip to Thailand and Laos coming up and excited to be back in a region I used to travel to more frequently a few years ago. Most of my trip will be in Laos, but I will spend a few days each in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

I've gone through a lot of threads here and blogs and internet articles and whatnot and have come up with the list below based on categories. I'm not so worried about Bangkok as I like the foodcourts and eating on the street, but I've pegged here a few of the restaurants I've come across that look interesting. Deliberately left out anything Northern or Issan. Chiang Mai I have never visited before, so I'm interested if I've captured some good ones here. I'm building a list of specific dishes for all these places as well. Anyway, looking for comments or thoughts on these restaurants and otherwise any commentary on the food scene there.

Bangkok
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Seafood- Krua Apsorn, T Pochana, Lek Seafood, Somboon Seafood, Ban Klang Nam, Khun Ying Seafood Restaurant
Street- Phad Thai Rajthevee, Thip Samai
Chinese-Thai- Chua Kim Heng (goose)
Thai- Baan Prachachuen, Baan Phuengchom, Bussaracum Royal Thai Restaurant, Klang Soi Thai Restaurant
Southern Thai- Khua Kling + Pak Sod Restaurant, Phuket Town Thai Restaurant

Chiang Mai
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Khao soi- Lamduan, Kao Soi Sa Mer Chai, Kao Soi Islam, Baan Bua Loy
Kanom jeen nam ngiaw- Nam Ngiaw Thapae
Isaan cuisine- Sorn Chan, Wera's Laab Ped, SP chicken, Yod Sap Restaurant
Northern cuisine- Houn Soontaree Vechanont, Tong, Baan Rai Yam Yen, Huen Phen (lunch), Hong Taew Inn, Aroon Rai
Drinking food- Pa Daeng Jin Tup (read about it in a NYT article with Andy Ricker)
Others- D-Lo Burmese Restaurant, Mitmai Yunnanese, Him Baan Suan (Thai Chinese)

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  1. If thinning out the list, I would give Somboon a pass. With the exception of their curry crab, their food has always been inconsistent. The last time we visited, their curry crab wasn't even worthwhile.

    If you have never visited, you may wish to check out Aw Taw Kaw (often spelled Or Tor Kor) wet market, at exit #3 of the Kamphaengphet MRT stop. Here, you can see all sorts of fruits, veggies, seafood and meats, and sample many. It across the road from Chatuchak Weekend Market.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

      Yeah, I went to the market years ago, but I might pay a visit again. Thanks for a heads up.

    2. Unfortunately I cannot remember specifics on Chiang Mai. On Bangkok I have been to Krua Apsorn (Samsen), Lek Seafood, and Somboon Seafood Silom area I believe. I was not overly impressed with Lek Seafood (other people were) -- not sure if I ordered the "right dishes" - but either way never went back. Of the three mentioned I would raite Krua Apsorn the best of those -- not to mention for a lazy curry crab eater like me -- I did not have to fight with the crab shell when eating the curry :o

      Went to Thip Samai, which speciallizes in only Pad Thai and is very busy. I was worried when I went there that the volume was so high and they were cooking it in larger batches that it would not be good. I would rate there pad thai about a 4/5 (I am finding it hard to find good pad thai -- and this was good pad thai). I think a lot of vendors do not cook pad thai with tamarind and without tamarind .... pad thai is not that great (they use vinegar instead). They have two different types - normal (Thamadaa) and special (Phiset) ..... I prefer the normal style the best.

      3 Replies
      1. re: cacruden

        Thanks. I'll focus in on Krua Apsorn as my destination spot as it seems to be the most consistently praised. I'm originally from Maryland and can pick crabs in my sleep, so I'm fine with any preparation....I just noted the pad thai places but when I've been to Bangkok in the past, I just jumped in on street operations that were convenient. Not really a priority for me.

        1. re: Silverjay

          Silverjay you already got a bunch of good recs. I recommend trying the different foods at Walking-Street. But I ran across this short video from Chef Leah Cohen from Pig and Khao. she filmed it in Chiang Mai and recommended going to this cooking class there. It looks like a terrific idea. I know you may rather eat than cook, but it seemed like a lot of fun and a chance to eat some good home cooked dishes. In this one she makes Khao Soi and mango sticky rice.
          here's the link
          http://travel.chefleahcohen.com/

          1. re: foodwhisperer

            yes, re: walking street, try to schedule your trip so you are in Chiang Mai on a Sunday, which is the main walking day, w/ enough kanom-jeeb (Thai shumai) and mango/sticky-rice and assorted other yumminess to keep one full for a month :)

      2. I'd narrow down the Chiang Mai list as follows:
        1. I'd eliminate Kao Soi Islam. Kao Soi is a Burmese/northern Thai dish. KS Islam is run by Muslims from the south of Thailand. Their version is different than most Kao Sois and, imho, not very good.
        2. I haven't been to Hong Taew Inn in a long time but I go past it occasionally. Most of the clientele is western which I don't take to be a good sign. If you're not in the area anyway, I don't think it's worthy a special trip.
        3. I haven't been to Aroon Rai in very long time but it's been there forever. It has a great reputation but I can't figure out why, other than for most tourists it's their first meal in CM.
        4. D-Lo is closed. I'm hoping to find a good substitute but so far I've been unsuccessful other than one place off Nimmanhaemin that does a great Tea Leaf Salad but little else. It's surprising how hard it is to find good Burmese food despite the large Burmese and Shan population.

        One other comment on northern Thai restaurants -- Huen Muan Jai is also excellent. It has a very similar menu to Tong. Prices are similar at both places but Huen Muan Jai has a much nicer atmosphere. The downside is that it will be much harder to find, while Tong is easy to get to by tuktuk or songthiew.

        6 Replies
        1. re: el jefe

          Perfect, thanks for the intell. And please do hit me up at my email in profile if you are indeed in town the second half of December. Would love to meet up with a follow NYer who knows the scene. Cheers.

          1. re: el jefe

            Do you have a list of good places in Chiang Mai? We will be there at the end of December - anything would be helpful!

            1. re: walkrunstumble

              Silverjay's list in the original post is pretty comprehensive. If you want my specific rec's, most are in the northern or western parts of CM.
              Tong - Nimmanhaemin Soi 13
              Huen Muan Jai - Ratchapuek Rd (~500 meters north of Kad Suan Kaew)
              Wera's Laab Ped - Nimmanhaemin Soi 7
              Huen Penh - lunch only
              Mix - Nimmanhaemin Soi 1 - Despite advertising "molecular mixology cocktails" they do excellent, inventive Thai cuisine, artistically presented, in an upscale atmosphere
              My favorite place for Khao Soi is the noodle shop next to Chang Puak Hospital, just north of Chang Puak Gate
              I'd never before seen the photo-blog that Dave F linked. Interestingly, Austin Bush doesn't appreciate the Khao Soi at Khao Soi Islam either. But I also agree with him that the biryani is pretty good, if that's what you came to CM for.

              1. re: walkrunstumble

                "walkrunstumble", Any chance of a report of where you ate in Chiang Mai?

              2. re: el jefe

                i'll put in a kind word for Aroon Rai --while it's true that it's heavily touristed because it's central location and prevelance in guidebooks, i think their gaeng-hang-lay has been delicious every time i've been there...and as it's more or less a street stand underneath a building, it's worth lunching there if in the area...

                1. re: el jefe

                  I'm pretty quick to point out others' mistakes so I need to make a correction to my own post above.

                  According to http://eatingasia.typepad.com/eatinga... the women running Khao Soi Islam are Cin Haw Muslims originally from Kunming so theoretically their Khao Soi is authentic. If you read the post and look at the photos you can see the difference between their Khao Soi and everyone else's. Maybe Khao Soi Islam is the only authentic version and the others are the local Chiang Mai bastardized version . You decide.

                  Thanks to Jamie at JamieFeldmar.com for setting me straight.

                2. I'd guess you know about it, but Austin Bush's blog is invaluable, with gorgeous photos: http://www.austinbushphotography.com/...

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Dave Feldman

                    Thanks Dave. I had indeed come across that blog...BTW, I'll be in Las Vegas in late January if you're around. I've already shortlisted Chada Thai and LOS as two of my dining targets.

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      I'm in Las Vegas and will file reports soon after I get back. I ate a LOT of Thai at these two places.

                  2. Just went to Huen Phen for lunch based on the list here.

                    Experience was mixed. I noted a few bad reviews on TripAdvisor (though that's neither here nor there - i'd trust chow more than TripAdvisor). (Actually, as an aside I sometimes wonder if I should underweight any restaurant with too many reviews on TripAdvisor :-))

                    We went a bit late for lunch - around 2pm. Were seated reasonably quickly, handed bi-lingual menus with pictures. Clientele was mixed with locals in slight majority. Looked busy. Waitress came by in about 10 minutes and we ordered. So far so good.

                    She came back in a few minutes - they were out of any fish dish (one of us is non-meat eater, so had to order fish). Ok - so lesson 1 - if you go here, try to go early in the meal time.

                    It took 30min+ for food to finally arrive, and not all dishes arrived - i think it was alost 45 mins and a couple of reminders before we got all our dishes. Service was slow and waitress constantly looked overbusy and harassed; Now, I do moderate my expectations based on how much am paying, so this was not too big of a ding.

                    Food itself was ok to good. We didn't try any of the pork dishes - though most dishes were pork based - so that's a warning for anyone with dietary restrictions.

                    Total for 2 was THB 300 with 6 dishes, rice, drinks. Reasonable price.

                    Wasn't a disappointing experience, but not anything that makes me want to go back there.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: matal

                      Just back from Huen Phen for lunch.

                      I really don't understand why they don't create two separate restaurants to eliminate the confusion over lunch vs dinner. It's different cooks, different menus, different buildings. I understand the negative reviews. Most are dinner reviews. To make an NYC analogy, it would be like reviewing Eataly and Del Posto in the same place just because they have the same owner. I appreciate the dinners at Huen Phen but neither my wife or many of my friends do. We all like lunch there.

                      As has been written many times, you need to get there early for the best selection. Most of the food is prepared in the morning. I'm glad they run out of things. It means everything is usually fresh. 11:00am to noon is the optimal time to get there. We got there today at 12:15 and waited 10 minutes for a table. They were only out of one of the 5 dishes we ordered.

                      The food was as good as usual, but the service was the most abysmal of the 50 or so times I've been there (two of the waitresses there know us including the one that took our order). That definitely would have had a bearing on my opinion of the restaurant if this had been my first trip.

                      I'll certainly be back again hoping that the service problems are only temporary. For those of you with your own transportation, they have a second location south of the city on the Royal Flora Road but with a slightly limited menu.

                      Glad to read the positive reports of Huen Muan Jai too.

                      1. re: el jefe

                        Another reason for conflicting reports can also be due to items ordered. Most cooks will have hits and misses.

                    2. 1) Dinner yesterday night at Anusam market

                      The food area is mostly in the middle of the outdoor open air market with stalls of different sizes from food carts to a couple of restaurants with tables sprawled over large area outside. We ate at the one of the largest and most crowded spots with tanks outside containing live fish and crabs. Picked out the crab and fish (sea bass) to have, both sold by weight came to 670, 590 respectively (!). Food was fresh (obviously), delicious, service polite and prompt, ambience pleasant (the occasional Abba song from neighboring cabaret show notwithstanding). Overall a worthy experience though the total price tag (~THB 1500) smarted a bit. Would recommend for a meal after browsing at Anusam.

                      2) Akha Ama coffee shop (http://www.akhaama.com/) highly recommended for friendliness, good coffee, atmosphere (young university age Thai's mostly when we went) and advice from Lee - who pointed me towards Huen Muen Jai. Lee couldn't recommend any good Burmese places since D-Lo, so am leaving Chiang Mai with that wish unfulfilled this time.

                      3) Lee + recommendation here led us to Huen Muen Jai for lunch - highly recommended. Prompt friendly service, relaxed breezy seating in a garden set back from the street; food was good to very good. Khow Soi memorable. Pounded eggplant with egg - a dish we tried at Huen Phen and liked - was spicier here, and tasted better this way we felt. Steamed beef, northern vegetables, and another fish dish - all worth much more than the THB 410 total the lunch cost us.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: matal

                        Yes, we thought Huen Muen Jai was much better than Huen Phen. We had visitors from the states who went to Huen Phen and Huen Muen Jai and when we suggested going to Huen Phen for dinner, they said they wanted to go back to Huen Muen Jai.

                      2. Just back from Thailand and I liked Huen Phen in Chiang Mai - lunch more than dinner. Pork reigns and the fermented pork ribs are to die for (if your like fatty meat). There is a "Northern food selection" or similar dish on the lunch menu, which translates into a selection of sausages: very tasty. It also features pork rind, which you may get addicted to - we bought huge packs at Warorot market to see us through the rest of our trip.

                        Another place to visit is the Raming Tea House on Tha Pae Road for a cup of tea or coffee and their Lapis Herb Cake: a divine layered cake flavoured with osmanthus flowers and lemon.