While Bangkok’s coffee scene is defined by ubiquitous Starbucks outlets, cutesy start-ups and mobile street carts, there’s a far more sophisticated coffee culture brewing up in Chiang Mai. Known as the area with the highest density of coffee shops in Thailand, Nimmanhaemin Road is also Chiang Mai’s hippest destination. The main road and its small lanes are packed with cute restaurants, kitschy boutiques, famous nightclubs and, of course, lots and lots of cafes making it a great spot to spend the day exploring.
Sat right at the opening of Nimmanhaemin Soi 3 is Doppio Ristr8to (15/3 Nimmanhaemin Rd. front of Soi 3, 053-215-278. Open daily 8:08am-11:08pm), arguably the most happening coffee shop in town thanks to owner Arnon “Tong” Thitiprasert’s appearance on a popular Thai TV show that tracks down the kingdom’s cutest vendors. The crowds may be drawn in by the pretty face but the café’s customers return for the fine coffee blends and Tong’s dab hand at latte art. After six years in Sydney, where he won several coffee-making awards, this Trang-born barista decided to relocate to Chiang Mai to open Ristr8to in 2011. Ristretto means a short shot of espresso, but Tong ranked 6th at the last World Latte Art Championship, so you can’t really not order a hot latte. After selecting your coffee beans (we like the Ethiopian offering), grab a seat at the counter and watch as Tong skillfully pours milk over your steaming espresso shot to create beautiful patterns, talking enthusiastically all the while. We had a phoenix last time we were there and it came out beautifully.
Akha Ama (1/F, Mathan Apartment, 9/1 Hussadisawi Rd. Soi 3, 086-915-8600. Open Thu-Tue 8am-8pm) offers a somewhat different experience. Hidden away in the middle of nowhere, the small homey café uses fresh coffee beans produced by the Akha hill tribe community in Mae Suay, Chiang Rai. The story started back in 2010, when Lee Ayu Chuepa, who was educated in Chiang Rai, decided to open up a small café to expand the market for his village’s coffee products and raise local living standards. Aside from a three-day barista course, Lee hasn’t had any formal coffee schooling—rather he learned everything he knows from his mother. “I’ve lived with coffee since I was born,” he says. And this provides the explanation for the café’s name: “Ama” means mother in the Akha language. There are no fancy decorations or showy latte art here, but every single cup of coffee is made with loving attention to flavor with beans that have been certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe for three years running. That warm feeling? That’s the knowledge that the café’s profits are going straight back to the community.
Head back to the Nimmanhaemin area, where there’s a new kid on the block. Set in a 60s-style house with its own courtyard, like many other cafés in the neighborhood, what sets Librarista (Nimmanhaemin Soi 5, 053-895-678. Open daily 10am-9pm) apart is that it’s the first to couple a coffee shop with a proper library (not a bookstore). Guests who buy a cup of coffee are allowed to use the well-stocked library for two hours.If you find yourself out of town in Mae Rim then Sala Café (same entrance as Four Seasons Resort on Mae Rim-Samoeng Rd., Mae Rim, 053-860-996. Open daily 8am-6pm) is a cute option, set in a two-story wooden house complete with garden, surrounded by verdant hills.
Where to stay
A compound of traditional style rooms sitting underneath the shade of an ancient Tamarind Tree never fails to charm with its Lanna-inspired decor, and location next to Thapae walking street. Ratchadamnoen Rd., Phra Singha, 053-418-896/-9, www.tamarindvillage.com
Set on the banks of the Ping River, this edgy 11-room boutique hotel boasts boxy, minimalist structures with raw-cement surfaces. Local teak furniture adds warmth as does the forested riverbank location. 168 Patan Rd., Patan, Muang, 053-225-888. www.zensalaresort.com
137 Pillars House
Formerly the beautiful residence of the manager of the British East Borneo Company, the renovated teak house is now home to a library and restaurant surrounded by 30 spacious suites decked out in a British-colonial theme. 2 Na Wat Gate Road Soi 1, Wat Gate, 053-247-788, 081-553-4871. www.137pillarshouse.com
Make sure to check out our Things to do in Bangkok Guide. Also keep up to date with the latest events and festivals here and make sure you know all you need too when you touch down in Thailand with our Arrival Guides.