Dine under the stars
Lake Rama 9, 5km north of Chiang Mai on Route 107
Lake Rama IX is so close to Chiang Mai that it’s one of our favourite end-of-day getaways to catch the sunset over the mountains and mark the end of another day of exploring and travel writing with a beer.
Since there is no beach lounging to be had around Chiang Mai, Thais have instead established an impressive lake culture, and they flock to nearby bodies of water like Lake Rama IX for boozy, breezy afternoons of swimming and exceptional eating.
Huay Tung Tao is a more popular spot — think of Lake Rama IX as its lesser-known younger brother. And if Huay Tung Tao is Majestic Prince William, Lake Rama IX is a more rebellious, party-crazy Prince Harry. It’s also a 15-minute drive from Nimmanhemin Road, making it easier to get to — it’s also open later and free to get in (it’s 20 baht to go to HTT).
Unlike Huay Tung Tao, the restaurants on Lake Rama IX are raised on platforms, which bars easy access to swimming, but instead it secures you quite a view of the mountains and Chiang Mai’s Tribal Museum. If you’re lucky, your visit could also coincide with one of the times the local cavalry takes its horses for a dip, or with some of your restaurant staff jumping into the lake to catch your dinner.
Dining varies from venue to venue, but we recommend Mit Mai Tree, the fourth restaurant to your right as you enter the lake (look for the sign in the picture below). Unlike its neighbours, Mit Mai Tree offers patrons the options of sitting out in the open right by the lake, providing an unparalleled view of the stars. Service is uncharacteristically fast, and even though the English is limited, some broken Thai and an informal game of charades will have both you and your server laughing nervously in mutual understanding.
The pla namtok at Mit Mai Tree is one of those dishes you remember for life. With no English menu available, we highly recommend you gift yourself this “waterfall fish,” which consists of chunks of deep fried fish accompanied with chillies, red onions and herbs such as mint. It’s the perfect amount of crunchy and spicy, and the mint does a lovely job of rounding out the complexity of flavours. Other attractive possibilities include pad pak boon fai deng, morning glory with oyster sauce and garlic, tom yum, spicy lemongrass soup, as well as other northern Thai specialties including all of our favourites from Huay Tung Tao. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, we dare you to close your eyes and point at the menu for an evening of true culinary exploration.
Regardless of what you choose to order, soak up in the feeling that you’ve travelled to some distant wilderness, when in fact, a mere 15 minutes away, Chiang Mai continues to whirl and the songthaews continue to swerve while you sit, basking in the sunset, company and even possibly in the runaway sounds of nearby karaoke.
To get here, take Route 107, and five kilometres north of the old city, turn right when you see a sign for the Chiang Mai Tribal Museum. When you reach the lake, turn right, and the fourth venue will be Mit Mai Tree. If directing a songthaew, ask to be taken to Suang Luang Rama 9.
By Claudia Sosa
Last updated on 10th October, 2013.