36 Hours in Chiang Mai


You can hardly hurl a beret without hitting an art or design business on Nimmanhaemin Road’s side streets. Local artists have contributed to almost every space in Art Mai? Gallery Hotel, from the themed rooms to the restaurant’s recipes, but nowhere more so than the ground-floor art gallery (well curated, with artist biographies in English) and boutique (which sells drawings and canvases, along with artist-designed scarves and bags).

Southward, Gallery Seescape has rotating exhibitions and also showcases the work of its founder, Torlarp Larpjaroensook — including his dreamy abstract paintings and playful robot sculptures — while Jojo Kobe specializes in screen prints by artists like Kittisak Chaimoonta (notable for his surreal, dark humanoid figures) and Thaiwijit Puengkasemsomboon (a devotee of colorful abstraction). Farther south, a sculptural white unicorn announces Chiang Mai University Art Center, a Le Corbusier-inspired concrete-and-glass structure filled with airy white galleries, modernist Bauhaus lines, rotating contemporary art exhibitions — and puzzlingly few visitors.


How do you like your crab fat? If you answered, “As a warm brown gravy for a crispy crab meat won ton with pickled local cabbage, please,” then you will get along swimmingly with Blackitch Artisan Kitchen. Another hidden gem off Nimmanhaemin Road, the cult restaurant is not fancy (simple cement floor and tile tables), not romantic (bright lighting), not large (barely space for a dozen), not easy to reserve (you must book the day before you want to dine), not easy to find (one floor above street level and almost unmarked) and not abounding with choices (the nightly set menu, at 1,800 baht, is the only option). But the imaginative seafood-rich dishes are exceptional: roasted, basted catfish in a juice made from its own head and tail on a velvety sweet purée of lotus seed boiled in coconut oil; or perhaps a seaweed-wrapped mackerel nugget topped with salmon roe on a cube of smoked yuzu-marinated rice larded with river shrimp and pink petals. Whatever the chef’s whim, it will likely be precise, daring and exquisite.


Along nearby Nimmanhaemin Road you can travel the world in 80 beers — more, in fact — at Beer Lab. The convivial outdoor bar draws college kids, N.G.O. workers, expats and local young professionals with its menu of beers from the United States, Australia, Europe, Asia and beyond, including Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale from Japan (310 baht) and Chiang Mai’s own Tropical Wheat beer (220 baht). Or you can soar above the city at the open-air rooftop bar of the Hotel Yayee. Plants hang from the rafters and sometimes end up in your drink, too, thanks to botanically infused cocktails (260 baht) like Ananda’s Flyboy (juniper spirit, aloe vera, thyme and white grape).