An out of town option
It’s true that you’ll need to hire or rent transport to get out there but we reckon the stunning setting, well-prepared and very reasonably priced classic Thai cuisine and a chance to splash about in the scenic lake afterwards make a trip to Chiang Mai’s Huay Tung Tao well worth it. Here are some of the dishes you may want to try when you’re up there.
Deep-fried tub-tim fish (a hybrid freshwater species), with garlic flakes and kaffir lime leaves, is ideal for those who find eating whole fish a hassle, since the flesh is filleted and cubed before being fried with garlic flakes and lime leaves then replaced over the fish ‘skeleton’. It’s served with fresh lime, fish sauce and chilli dip and going for 150-180 baht depending upon the size of fish and the eatery in question and is delicious.
Gaeng som or orange curry, with whole pla kapong (kapong can cover a variety of fresh or salt-water fish of the bass/perch type) is tangy, spicy and more stew than curry. It usually includes tamarind paste and carrots in the broth along with the regular herbs and spices and in this case a smattering of freshwater mimosa over the top. A slightly sweet and sour flavour and the Chiang Mai version isn’t generally too fiery, so it’s a great opportunity to try a dish well known to locals but not so well known to visitors. You won’t find this one in your average Tha Pae guesthouse.
Some of the fish dishes can obviously take a little while to prepare (particularly at weekends when Huay Tung Tao eateries can get very busy), so a great little appetiser to nibble on with a cold beer while you’re waiting is fried sun-dried pork or beef, (moo/neua det diaw). It’s a cheap snack at 40-50 baht per serving but here has the added flourish of a coating of sesame seeds.
Another more usual dish, which doesn’t take any time to cook but does require a lengthy preparation, is raw prawns with grated mango in chilli, tomato and lime sauce (pla kung in Thai). Some readers may have qualms about raw prawns and we’ll leave that up to you, but we’ve never had problems with them.
Bear in mind that a classic Huay Tung Tao dish, but one that we couldn’t get a photo of since they move too fast, are the live shrimp in chilli and lemon known as kung taen or dancing shrimp. Coming in a small pot with a lid on (!), these are consumed in huge quantities every weekend by locals and foreigners presumably seeking some novelty value…
The lakeside eateries cover nearly two whole sides of the lake and all have similar menus, roughly equivalent prices and near identical layouts. Wander around and see which restaurant view takes your fancy, which ones have available waterfront seating and which one doesn’t have a bunch of Thai teenagers with a guitar and bottle of Saeng Som at an adjacent table. English menus are available but they probably only cover the more common dishes since, though expats and even occasional tourists bring their custom, the vast majority of customers are locals.
Huay Tung Tao is open daily from morning to sunset and is situated at the foot of Doi Suthep off the Mae Rim/Canal Road. (There’s a signposted turning a kilometre or so past the 700 Year Stadium.) Entrance fee is 20 baht per person and a tuk tuk or songthaew up there should be 400-500 baht return. Tuk tuks on site can be hard to find so it’s best to negotiate a pickup time with your driver. Bon appetit!
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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