Get ready to enter the health food capital of Thailand. Famed for its laid back, yogi vibe, it’s no surprise to find an abundance of health food cafes in this charming medieval city. Chiang Mai allowed us to come down from our Bangkok induced MSG high and enjoy Thai food that was made without excessive salt, sugar or chemical ridden vegetables. If you’ve tired of Asian food already then you can find some home comforts in a city with an abundance of huge veggie burgers and pasta dishes. We’ve also scoped out the best and cheapest gym in town so that you don’t have to do the same 2 hour search for it that we did…
Where to eat?
Despite being named The Breakfast Club, we never actually made it here for breakfast – you can blame laziness and 7/11 £1 protein shakes. We went to Blue Diamond for lunch and really enjoyed having the opportunity to try some local specialities without the MSG and the meat. We were feeling extremely greedy on the day we ate here and ordered the pineapple fried brown rice, khao soi and a Thai omelette stuffed with sautéed veg. When you have finished with your food I would recommend visiting their connected health food shop and picking up some healthy goodies. We tried their delicious banana bread and bought some of their oat biscuits to take with us on our trek the next day.
Cheap prices and an extensive menu make Blue Diamond a must visit to indulge in great local specialities without worrying about the source of ingredients or a potential tummy bug. We can’t speak for the breakfast options, but for lunch and dinner this is a place to go for good Thai food rather than western comforts.
Cat House is a small restaurant that offers a range of dishes that vary from thai classics such as Massaman curry and their signature dish where India meets Mexico meets Thailand and is presented on your plate as a dhal burrito. Make sure that you arrive hungry as the dishes here are not small. After a few jet lagged days in Bangkok, where breakfast was regularly skipped and dinner traded in for Chang beer, these portions were very much appreciated. There is a focus on quality and sustainable ingredients (cricket protein bars anyone?); the curries are served with brown rice and a good salad, vegetables are easily identifiable in your meal and no msg is used.
If you’re hungry and looking for comfort food, then this is the place for you. The menu is slightly limited but there are enough options to allow you to go back more than once. Cat House is certainly more geared towards lunch and dinner so we’d recommend giving it a miss for breakfast. Unfortunately (for my cat loving boyfriend), despite the name, there are no cats in the house.
Until you spend some time in South East Asia, it’s hard to believe how hard it is to get hold of a bowl of fresh vegetables. Actually, scratch that: it’s hard to imagine how hard it is to get hold of vegetables full stop. When you go for dinner, you’ll likely be presented with half a spinach leaf floating in your soup or a stem of morning glory swimming in a cocktail of oyster sauce, soy sauce and fish sauce. Toto, you’re not in Kansas anymore! Seeing a side dish of steamed vegetables when we ate at this Japanese inspired restaurant probably made us far too happy but after a week of seeing very limited vegetables, our eyes lit up when the dish of seasonal pumpkin, aubergine and other goodies was presented to us. Their veggie burger was a taste sensation and as a bonus, it came with a free lemongrass tea!
Go here once and order the steamed vegetables and a veggie burger. The menu is fairly limited and so we didn’t make an effort to return but I would still recommend it for its use of fresh produce and the laid back vibe. Beware however that you may end up sitting next to a woman who is ‘trying to find herself and some clarity’ in this pretty vegan restaurant, but I guess that’s just Chiang Mai for you!
We stayed in the hostel above this coffeeshop for five nights but only discovered the brilliant breakfast offer on our final day. Don’t you hate it when that happens? For less than £2 you can get yourself a locally roasted artisan coffee and a huge bowl of yogurt topped with muesli and fresh seasonal fruit.
Great for a quick breakfast at a super cheap price.
After reading brilliant reviews of this cafe that serves up Western breakfasts for expats who are after a taste of home, we were excited to try some good old breakfast comfort food. Eggs and avo come at me! We arrived, placed our orders and waited for our food to arrive. I think it is fair to say that few cafes have disappointed me to quite the same degree. My eggs and spinach on toast arrived and it’s hard to find an adjective more fitting to describe it than soggy. The spinach (which was actually morning glory) clearly hadn’t been drained before being put on my toast and so I was left with wet bread and a puddle of green juice around the edges of my plate. My boyfriend made a better choice than me and went for the French toast with bacon and maple syrup which although not extraordinary, was better than mine.
Personally, I would avoid this pricey and overrated breakfast joint. Local Thai people don’t eat here and I can now understand why. If you do want to check it out then avoid the spinach and order the French toast.
The Salad Concept
Time flies when you’re having fun and eating your body weight in food and so disappointingly, we never got to check this great little place out. We had a look at the menu and I have to say that it looked amazing. Get there and put together your dream salad or order the quinoa stuffed omelette roll. Warning: I will be extremely jealous.
If you’ve checked out our general post about healthy eating in Thailand, you’ll be able to see that we relied heavily on quick and easy breakfasts from 7/11. Grab a Meijji protein shake if you are looking for a protein supplement and some ready boiled eggs with a loaf of wholemeal bread (to keep in your hostel/hotel fridge) for an easy to assemble breakfast bap. Cheap and simple!
Where to gym?
We tried two different gyms in Chiang Mai, both located in the Kad Suan Kaew shopping centre, just a couple of minutes out of the old town square.
Harris Fitness Centre
Travelling on a budget, this gym left a big dent in our daily spending allowance. It is a relatively small centre with only a couple of small rooms and a strong focus on cardio machines. The gym is in good condition and has air conditioning but is very expensive for a single session. We’re talking nearly £10 per person per session, and for that price you may well just decide to go outside for a run.
- Clean and tidy
- Air conditioning
- Well equipped for cardio
- Less intimidating environment
- Extremely overpriced
- Difficult to find
- Not great for free weights
This gym is located on the second floor of the shopping centre (you may have to walk around for a while making bicep curl motions at locals until they point you in the right direction!). This is a cheap and cheerful gym. Do not expect air con, well organised weights or the latest equipment but if you are after a simple free weights session or only use mats for bodyweight training (bbg girls, that’s you!), this gym is everything you need. Bring some hand sanitiser and some will-power to push through your workout in 30 degree heat and you’ll get a great session for only £1. You can even grab a protein shake which will bring your workout cost to the grand total of £1.80. Try and go in the morning and not only will the gym be less busy, you won’t have to contend with the midday heat.
- Good weights equipment (although don’t expect numbers on the weight plates!)
- Protein shakes available
- Very friendly staff
- Pictures of half naked stacked guys and girls on every wall – perhaps some people find this motivational?
- Did we mention the price?!
- No air con
- A bit grubby
- A little intimidating. If you don’t like walking into the male dominated weights area back home, this might not be the gym for you.
- Pictures of half naked stacked guys and girls on every wall. We’re slightly confused about this still!
What to do?
Book yourself onto a 2 day 1 night trek into the incredible Chiang Mai countryside. You’ll definitely get a sweat on doing this and you’ll get to see some beautiful views as a result. I wore my fitness tracker and managed to burn 1200 calories over 2 days of walking (you only do 2-3 hours each day). Regrettably, the majority of these tours include elephant riding although you can pay for more expensive tours that refuse to partake in this cruel activity. Although we have always been strongly opposed to elephant camps and riding, having now seen first hand how barbaric the elephant camps in Chiang Mai are, we urge you to spend the extra money on a tour without riding, or as a minimum refuse to ride these magnificent but abused animals. Have a Google and it will be easy to understand why these camps should be avoided. Elephant camps aside, we really enjoyed the trek and recommend that you take the time to see the real Chiang Mai countryside.
In a country where food is a national pastime, if you want to truly experience Thai culture then there is no better way than by taking a cooking class. We would really recommend checking out Thai Farm Cooking School who grow all of their food organically and allow you to walk around their garden and pick the food that you will be cooking with later. We were able to select our favourite Thai dishes and left with very full bellies! We were given a recipe book at the end of the day and will be looking to make healthier versions of these delicious recipes once we have access to a kitchen again.
We didn’t have the chance to fit this in to our time in Chiang Mai, but have heard that there are some great yoga and meditation centres in the city. This is your chance to relax after the hustle and bustle of Bangkok.
Where to stay?
Between us we have stayed in two locations in Chiang Mai. We really recommend staying in the Old Quarter square to fully take advantage of the atmosphere and intimate size of the city. The only other location worth considering is near the night market if you want to be closer to some lively bars and markets. With that said, almost everything is within walking distance or a short (and cheap!) taxi ride away.
Arak Bed, Bar and Hostel
Located on the outer square of the city, Arak provides a great base for exploring. We booked a private double room which, although was quite small and windowless, was really tastefully decorated and immaculately clean (a real rarity in this part of the world!). The atmosphere of the hostel was really pleasant, and see above for how impressed we were with breakfast! The only downsides are that it can be a little noisy due to the proximity to the main road, and if you’re looking to meet lots of people and party this might not be the place for you.
Also located on the outer square, Callum stayed here with a couple of friends back in 2015.
The hostel is really clean, offers a pretty decent selection of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner and has a cool chill out area with TVs and air con. We turned the rooftop into a bar during our stay stocking up with dodgy Thai rum (or whisky/vodka/whatever it really is!) and made the most of the warm SE Asian evenings before hitting the clubs. If you’re after a good quality hostel with some good opportunities to meet new people while keeping within your budget, this is a pretty good option.