Eating in Chiang Mai Thailand vs. North America

Foreigners enjoy their hamburgers, French fries, soft drinks. But when it comes to eating in Chiang Mai, the locals just want to have some rice for every dinner. So after spending most of my life in Canada, why did I end up retiring in Chiang Mai, Thailand?

As in every major city, there is an array of fine dining restaurants in Chiang Mai Thailand, appealing to diverse tastes and budgets. Thai people love eating in Chiang Mai. The local restaurants are full of Thais and foreigners eating all sorts of Chiang Mai food. Rather than dealing with the fine restaurants that we all dine at (just not every day), this travel article deals with the day-to-day eating in Chiang Mai, from a local’s point of view.

The famous North American chain restaurants are Harveys, McDonald’s, and Burger King. In Chiang Mai, we’ve got street vendors. The end result is a fast-prepared, affordable meal.

street food eating in chiang mai thailand
Eating in Chiang Mai: Enjoying street food in Chiang Mai Thailand

Street food in Chiang Mai Thailand

Street vendors can sell fresh fruits such as pineapple, mango, watermelon, strawberries (grown locally) and more. Each fruit is cut into small pieces and put in a plastic container, and you have a long wooden stick to eat it with.

The cost of food in Chiang Mai Thailand for a fruit portion like this is around 25 Thai baht, which comes to around $0.80 USD. Plus, the fruits are kept cool and tasty. 🙂

Street vendors in this city also sell fast food and snacks. An example of cheap eats in Chiang Mai is a portion of fried rice, with meat and vegetables again placed in a container, but this time wrapped securely with an elastic band. The cost of food in Chiang Mai Thailand for a meal like this is 25-50 Thai Bhat ($0.75-1.50 USD).

You can also choose between a rice dish, a noodle dish, or a soup bowl. Tasty and normally ready-made and kept warm, in just one minute it will be taken out of the pot and offered to you. So a cooked meal with a delicious snack is one of the cheap eats in Chiang Mai anyone can and should enjoy. This is actually the most popular meal for many Thais in Chiang Mai. They buy it, take it home, unwrap it, put some rice in a bowl, place a few cups on a table with a bottle of water, and that’s tasty and simple eating in Chiang Mai!

We all love fast foods, and we all want them to be affordable. That’s what we have in common. What differs between Chiang Mai, Thailand, and North America are the prices, quality, and service.

I’ve tried warm meals, snacks, and fruit sold by small street food vendors, and I’ve never had any stomach issues after eating in Chiang Mai. The ingredients are fresh, stored on ice, if possible, and the cooking areas are cleaned often. So I see this way of eating in Chiang Mai as healthy and affordable.

I suggest that you bring a bottle of water that can be bought in a supermarket for around $0.50 USD, as you may get a little dehydrated, particularly if you’re doing a lot of walking. Dehydration is actually the only cause I see for a quick jaunt to the restroom, not the local Thai food.

eating in chiang mai restaurants
Wondering where to eat in Chiang Mai? Pick almost any Chiang Mai restaurants to have a feast!

The cost of food in Chiang Mai Thailand

Whether we take into consideration the best restaurants in Chiang Mai Thailand or the simple street food stalls, the cost of food in Chiang Mai Thailand is low compared to what we are used to in North America. A filling meal can be offered for a couple of dollars. On the street (one of the best places to eat in old Chiang Mai, actually), you get a warm meal and fresh fruit for dessert for that kind of money. And in most all you can eat restaurants in Chiang Mai Thailand for just $3 USD you can enjoy the main meal menu, desserts, and coffee. And that includes tips and taxes (even the tip for the parking lot attendant!)

The cost of food in Chiang Mai Thailand is inexpensive because the ingredients are locally produced and the labor cost is low.

The quality of food in Chiang Mai Thailand

The consistency of food in Chiang Mai Thailand is much better than back home. In North America, KFC, McDonald’s, and Harvey’s are popular restaurants for lunch and dinner. There’s nothing healthy in those fast-food restaurants!

In Thailand, you don’t have the greasy French fries, the hamburgers stuffed with ketchup, mustard, onions, mayonnaise, and more to mask the flavor of the beef you’re enjoying. Eating in Chiang Mai means consuming rice, fresh vegetables, fresh fish… and drinking water with your food, as opposed to a bucket-sized plastic cup packed full of ice and washed down with a sugar-flavored soft drink. You don’t even have to look for the best Chiang Mai restaurants to enjoy the best food from Thai cuisine.

The service at restaurants in Chiang Mai Thailand

Let’s compare a teenager making a few extra bucks at a fast-food restaurant to an adult making a living by working full time at one of the restaurants in Chiang Mai Thailand. Which one would you trust to provide the best service while you’re out eating in Chiang Mai? I don’t think I need to continue on this subject. 🙂

local food eating in chiang mai thailand
Local food in Chiang Mai Thailand: Traditional Pad Thai

Eating in Chiang Mai

If you’re coming to Chiang Mai, don’t go looking for restaurants that serve what you usually eat. It’s like staying at home while watching a travel documentary or watching a TV show about Thailand.

The food in Chiang Mai Thailand is delicious, nutritious, and affordable.

The basic ingredient for all meals is rice. Yes, even when it comes to breakfast. Personally, I’ve never been big on rice. Potatoes used to be a staple food of mine before retiring in Thailand. But potatoes are expensive in Chiang Mai, and while I confess to buying them to make potato soup and french fries, it’s the exception and not the norm.

Like I said before, the Thais are known to make anything taste amazing, so eating in Chiang Mai is a fantastic experience.

So, take the fresh ingredients along with the rice and some special sauces which are key to the taste, and there you have it – the healthy, delicious, and cheap food in Chiang Mai Thailand!

Top if you’re off with your locally-grown pineapple, watermelon, mango, strawberries, or a dozen or so more fresh fruits, and you can make an easy meal you’ll love and which is good for you.

But the funny thing about eating is that whatever you want is rarely good for you. What are your favorite things to eat? Cake, pies, sandwiches, French fries, hamburgers, ice cream? Yeah, in terms of eating them daily, they’re not good for you. And what the heck do you hate to eat? Broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, brown rice, boiled chicken… Yeah, those are the ones that are good for you. Take it from the mistakes of an old guy like me! 🙂

Anyway, if you’re going to come over to Thailand, make sure you vary your eating in Chiang Mai. You could find a soup that you just can’t get enough of, or a Thai dessert that you don’t really know what it is but you absolutely love, or fresh fish that’s plentiful here. Prawns, sea bass, and much more served on a large plate will leave you craving for more!

durian restaurants in chiang mai thailand
Good luck finding Durian in the restaurants in Chiang Mai Thailand!

Is there anything I don’t enjoy eating in Chiang Mai but the locals love?

Yeah, there’s the fruit called Durian that I could never learn to enjoy eating in Chiang Mai. The Thais just love it, but it has such a bad scent that when I tried it, I had to breathe through my mouth. Apart from the scent, it has the texture of a pudding and a very rich taste.

Another thing I didn’t have the courage to try, but which I know is very good (healthy) to eat are… fried insects. I guess it’s just a matter of getting used to seeing them on a plate and thinking yum instead of eek.

Perhaps I could have both Durian and insects for lunch in Chiang Mai every day. But that would mean not breathing through my nose and keeping my eyes shut while eating in Chiang Mai!

What food in Chiang Mai Thailand do I consider a must-have?

One of the best things to eat in Chiang Mai is what we call Suki. It’s a soup that you prepare on the dining table in a pot with hot coals beneath. You pick the ingredients (chicken, beef, liver, fish, etc.), add them to the pot, and take them out when they are done. Usually, the meats go in first because they take longer to cook. Then, you can add the vegetables. And in a matter of minutes, your soup is ready!

This meal will be served with two separate bowls, both containing Thai chili pepper paste. One of them is green, while the other is red. You may either dip your meat or fish in the paste or add a teaspoonful to your broth.

The green paste is salty, it helps me sweat a little, and it gives me a craving for a cold glass of water as I’m enjoying my soup. I don’t touch the red paste, and I wouldn’t recommend that you try it unless you’re used to eating it or you’re from a culture that enjoys really spicy foods.

Th cost for eating in Chiang Mai like this for 4 people is around $5.50 USD. This includes taxes, tips, plus bottled water kept in a bucket of ice.

kanom krok restaurants in chiang mai thailand
Eating in Chiang Mai: Kanom Krok is easier to find at street food stalls than in restaurants in Chiang Mai Thailand
Photo by NuCastiel from Bangkok, Thailand, CC BY 2.0

Remember I said earlier in this Chiang Mai food guide that the Thais have a reputation for making any food taste good? Well, that’s true. It’s because of their sauces. I don’t know what ingredients they put in those sauces, but I do know that I wasn’t a rice eater, and now I’m scratching at the bottom of any bowl of food that’s served to me. Standard white rice served in a rice cooker mixed with fried vegetables and meat plus a special sauce is absolutely delicious!

Wondering what I prefer now between a fast-food restaurant in North America and eating in Chiang Mai from a street food stall? My answer here will be a street vendor serving their delicious food in Chiang Mai Thailand! Because after eating in Chiang Mai, I feel full. And the food in Chiang Mai is fantastic, the fruits are delicious, and I feel better. It doesn’t hurt that the cost of food in Chiang Mai Thailand is low, either!

About the author

george tremblay guest post writer on the travel bunny blog

A healthier and happier George who chose retirement in Thailand, spends less money, and enjoys Khop Khun Khrap, thanks you for reading this article!

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