Somewhere along the so-called “banana pancake” trail, lies a mecca where all types of people flock to experience creativity, relaxation, and inspiration. If Goa was your first instinct, you’ve missed the mark this time. In northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a backpacker favorite for a sure bet on a good time. Dreams of elephants, jungle trekking, and the colorful cultures of the Hill tribes immediately come into your mind.You’d think with all the cool vibes and the somewhat hippie-esque scene, it’d be easy to come by a healthy meal. In reality, while Thai food can be healthy, most easy options are not. Drinks are pumped full of cheap flavor syrups and many popular dishes are loaded with sugar and oils. But if you’re willing to put in the leg work, a delicious and nutritious feast awaits you.
35/1 Soi 9, Th Moon Muang (near Sriphum Moat)With a delightful atmosphere featuring a cafe/grocery store combo, this has become a local landmark. Every day they bake their own bread and serve up fresh brewed, locally grown coffee. Their menu is quite expansive, but they’re best known for their breakfast and Thai vegetarian dishes (though not exclusively a veggie restaurant).The portion sizes are large here, making up for it being a bit pricier. Kao soi is a popular local dish usually made with chicken, but Blue Diamond gives it a tasty twist with tofu instead. The thai fishcakes and mango salsa are also standout stars. Eat there, or grab something to go on your way to check out one of the hundreds of wats in the city.
20/1 Ratchamanka RoadAround the corner from Tha Pae Gate in Old City, lies a little bistro surrounded by grass and flowers. It definitely stands out, making the buildings nearby look a bit shabby. The sunny atmosphere gives a great impression of great things yet to come. The menu is HUGE so it can be hard to choose. Dada is owned by a Thai-German couple, so there are both Western and local options. If the phenomenal smoothies and the large, fresh portions weren’t good enough, they’ve got free wifi to boot. If you’re there for breakfast, try their mango pancakes...so sweet, so delicious, you won’t even think to reach for syrup!
TianZi Tea House
119/1 Kampangdin RdThis plays screams healthy, and they do it at the top of their lungs. Equipped with a macrobiotic kitchen and an organic health food store, most things on the menu are vegan. The only exceptions are those that include a bit of honey. The dishes here are a bit of an Asian fusion, with distinct Chinese and Japanese influences on Thai classics.Their passion is to “contribute to a healthy planet for healthy people,” and you couldn’t pick a lovelier place to do it. Much of their proceeds also go towards building biodiversity protection and fair trade in the Upper Mekong region. The grilled tofu with carrots are an excellent choice, but for those who are a bit wary of soy, the squash soup or the high quality salads also make for a fantastic meal. Keep in mind, there is a lot of foliage here, so make sure to douse on some DEET (or perhaps a more natural alternative) before lunch to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
Thai Farm Cooking School
Moon Muang Road Soi 9, Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District +66 81 288 5989If you want to get out of the city to grab a bit and get your hands a little dirty, you get a two-for-one deal. An organic family farm, TFCS uses 70% of their own home grown produce in all of their cooking classes. You learn to make an array of scrumptious Thai dishes that can be customized to allergies or vegetarians. Pick up and drop off in a songthaew can be arranged ahead of time, and it’s an all day affair. For a little over $30, you’ll feast on six courses that you prepared and cooked! That dash of pride definitely adds a nice flavor. Be sure to request Benny: not only is she full of happiness and good humor, she’s an incredibly knowledgeable chef. Whether it’s in the market, on your tour through the farm grounds, or in the kitchen, she’ll walk you through everything with the biggest smile on her face.
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