Christmas in Chiang Mai

Festivities in the north

What we say: 4 stars

I like Christmas in Chiang Mai — most decent nearby getaways from here are either booked out ages ahead and/or charge ridiculous festive season supplements. There’s a crisp edge to the weather in Chiang Mai too which, without climbing Mount Fansipan, is about a festive season a feel as you’ll find in most of Southeast Asia (if you’re from the northern hemisphere). If you go up to Inthanon you may even find some ice and for once in the year wear those Christmas socks that your aunt in Chipping Norton saw fit to send.

Xmas deco in the Chiang Mai shops

Christmas decorations lend some sparkle to the Chiang Mai shops.

It’s also busy tourist-wise in Chiang Mai, so bar owners and restaurateurs will be in good moods and staff from Tha Pae to Loi Kroh, as well as a few of the locals, will be wearing the obligatory floppy red hats.

Floppy red hats came out early in our house this year

See, you put on a floppy red hat and you want to smile.

Thais, at least in Chiang Mai with its large number of expats and visitors, do Christmas very well. Of course it’s a completely commercial exercise as it is anywhere, but Thais are always up for a paaarty, be it Thai, Chinese or Western New Year, Halloween, Royals’ birthdays, Christmas or anything else. Thai good humour is infectious; even the grumpiest tourists ought to have smiles on their faces.

On and around Christmas Day wander around the Tha Pae/Loi Kroh/night bazaar area and it should be fun. Every bar or resto worth their salt will be hosting festive dos of one sort or another: les French will be bistro ‘opping to find the best deal on foie gras, Americans will be stuffing groundhogs or whatever it is they eat at Christmas, Aussies will have all probably left for the beach, Brits will be calculating the big screen TV size versus cost of Sangsom bucket ratio in order to work out where to watch the Boxing Day big game, and Scandinavians will be trying to explain to anyone sober enough to listen why their Christmas is a day earlier than that of most other people.

 to a shortage of reindeer in Chiang Mai the local Santa employs elephants instead

Due to a shortage of reindeer in Chiang Mai, the local Santa employs elephants instead.

For your festive feast, though turkey green curry’s not really an option you should otherwise have plenty of choice among all the expat-run establishments in town. For a Christmas dinner US-style check out the popular Duke’s which now has two locations, at the night market and riverside and which always gets excellent reviews. The English-style Red Lion Pub on Loi Kroh is offering a tempting looking three-course special for 590 baht while if French is more your thing try the good value Marco’s — also on Loi Kroh — or the tasty Terrasse, again on the same street, where chef Jean-Jacques says he’ll have lots of festive specials on the menu.

Give your guesthouse room a bit of festive cheer with these Xmas bawbles from Central Shopping Mall

Give your guesthouse room a bit of festive cheer with these baubles from Central.

If you’re in recovery mode on Boxing Day, consider heading up to Huay Tung Tao for some fresh air and relative peace and lake-side quiet? The Thai food’s great or it’s perfectly okay to BYO picnic. (You can take your own booze and buy their food or take your own food and buy their drinks — they won’t mind and one way or another they’re getting business.) We’re sure you could borrow some plates and cutlery from your friendly guesthouse, swing by Kasem to pick up some bread, cakes, cheese and cold cuts, and off you go!

Oh and if you do want to catch the Boxing Day games you could do worse than try the friendly Number 1 Pub, (Loi Kroh Soi 1), and remember early kick-offs will be 20:00 Thai time.

Reckon we’ll be recovering at home, so bring on The Great Escape, set up the Cluedo and open the port and Stilton!

Last updated: 12th October, 2013

About the author:
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
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