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Chiang Rai

Eat and meet

Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai cuisine is predominantly Thai and the food here is both excellent and cheap.

The food court next to the Night Bazaar is a great place to go to choose from a whole raft of local dishes. The court has two sides where kitchen after kitchen has a menu on boards above the counter, most of which are in Thai and English. Like all food courts you can take one dish from one place and something else from another. Try some kebabs with a chicken rice and basil. It may blow you away (spicy) but for 50B all in, it's got to be worth a try. Regional dishes include roasted pig intestines and naturally most dishes come with sticky rice. At each end of the court are counters selling water, beer and soft drinks. Most nights, but especially Saturday, Thai music and dancing are performed on the very grand stage. It's all free and no one comes round asking for money . The food court is a great way to start the evening without hurting your wallet.

Almost every inch of footpath in Chiang Rai is covered with stalls and tables set up for food, and they all do good business. The more formal restaurants in town cover Thai, Italian, British and on the outskirts there is a Japanese spot too.

Chiang Rai's main street is Paholyothin, and this is where the major eating places are clustered, mostly in the section between the junction with Rattanakhat and then down for about 200m. On this strip is Pizza Express, Swensons and De Vinci Italian Restaurant. The Italian feel is instant,with a very smart Tuscan-style interior. Outside are tables for smokers. This and Ayes are the most formal of the restaurants in Chiang Rai. Ayes has an international menu, covering everything from English fish and chips to American steaks and burgers, with Thai favourites and other European dishes in between.

Coffee shops are new on the scene in Chiang Rai The largest is Doi Chang at the intersection of Paholyothin and Rattankhet Roads. It's hidden a little by trees and the Fat Free Bicycle shop next door (good for bike rentals). Inside its all wicker furniture, cool music, air-con and good coffee. They do snacks such as tuna melts and salads, and some light meals. The quality is excellent and service spot on.

Back in town and opposite the bus station is an equally good coffee house, The Bakery. The furniture is not as comfortable but the food is good. They do a range of lunches as well as breakfasts to order. Part of the thinking behind the Bakery is to provide jobs to the less fortunate, so some if not all the staff come from orphanages in the area, providing another good reason to eat here.

Bus stations are usually home to a motley collection of burger outlets and dirty-looking sandwich shops, but Chiang Rai is an exception, being home to some excellent snack and coffee shops just opposite. There's the excellent Bakery and along just a few stores is a vegetarian cafe. Behind the bus station is a food court, and next to that another good sit-down open-air eatery.

The Golden Arches are nowhere to be seen though some big multinationals are located at the highway supermarket mall -- KFC, Black Canyon and some Thai chains such as MK. In the town centre there is a Pizza Company and Swensons ice cream but that's about it.

Chiang Rai doesn't have the same night scene as Chiang Mai but it has its moments. A good night including good food and a few drinks can be found on a small section of Soi JedYod. At the centre is recently refurbished Coconut Bar, which is also under new management. The Coconut has good Western and Thai food, free internet and free pool. Three TVs show ESPN sport. Volunteers from the International Humanitarian Foundation (IHF) come here for a drink when they are on a break from the orphanage they help run.

Just down the street is Cats Bar, where the main attraction is the very good pool table and live music. The music can be a bit hit or miss but the pool is good and they also have sports channels on a huge screen. Close to the Wang Come Hotel but still on Jedyod is Elephant Bar, now looking a bit rundown and with a bit of an 80s feel to it. It has the worst pool table imaginable but there's a challenge! The diminutive Thai owner is La La, who works her socks off to keep Elephant going. The food is quite good, but the ambience a bit dingy and dark. Next to Elephant is Lam Yai, a pure drinking place with extendable licensing hours. Let's just say the right people are sorted out because some customers are still propping up the bar in the very early hours of the morning.

Ayes Restaurant Paholyothin Rd
Cat Bar Jedyod Rd
Coconut Bar and Restaurant Jedyod Rd (053) 752510 Open Mon-Sat, 08:00-late and Sun 10:00-late
De Vinci Italian Restaurant Paholyothin Rd
Doi Chaang Coffee House Rattannakhet Rd T: (053) 752 918 www.doichaangcoffee.com
Elephant Bar &Restaurant Jedyod Rd
Food Court Behind Bus Terminal 1 and next to the Night Bazaar
The Bakery Opposite Bus Terminal 1 http://www.baanchivitmai.com/en/ministries/thebakeryinchiengrai/

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