From backpacker bars around the Jedyod road and cheap eats at the night bazaar to more refined restaurants and eateries that help good causes, there is a lot of choice when eating out in Chiang Rai. If you have a couple of days in the city there are a plenty of restaurants and bars to try, with cuisine from all over. You might find that prices are a little more expensive than many other parts of Thailand, given that most if not all have sprung up in response to increased tourism rather than being hot spots for locals.
Northern Thai food is famed for being especially delicious, but is quite different from the usual Pad Thai and Green Curry dishes that most travellers associate with eating in Thailand. The most popular dish is Khao Soi Curry which is really good, and a common menu item in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. Served on soft egg noodles it’s a fairly mild soup like curry topped with crispy noodles and often including lime and pickled cabbage.
Northern thai sausage is also worth trying, and is a spicy pork sausage that includes flavours like ginger and lemongrass. Similar to neighbouring countries like Laos, you’ll find that there’s a huge variety of chilli and different dipping sauces, which are often enjoyed with sticky rice. Basically, the cuisine here is entirely different to much of the rest of the country and it’s well worth trying as many tasty new dishes as possible.
Starting with budget eateries, the most popular spot by far for backpackers to eat is at the night bazaar. There are several food stalls and a food court that has plenty of variety to choose from, whether you’re looking for Thai or Western dishes. Prices are low, most menus are in English and it’s a great spot for fresh and tasty food on a budget. Just out of town to the west is another place that’s worth dropping into, where you can eat a great and filling traditional thai meal for around USD5 - Chiang Rai Beach. This serves food that’s more local to northern Thailand so you can try some of the local specialities. Another budget restaurant that’s popular with travellers is Po Sai, which is another small and traditional eatery serving up the local cuisine.
If you’re happy to spend a little more, and if you want to take your money to an NGO or restaurant that is benefitting the local community there are also a number of great choices. Cabbages and Condoms is a famous example and serves good quality Thai food at mid range prices. Destiny is another popular spot, and they invest their profits into helping victims of human trafficking in South East Asia - so a great cause if you get the chance to visit. They serve the usual Thai dishes as well as several western options so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Finally Ban Chivit Mai bakery helps young people from hill tribe communities and is a restaurant as well as a bakery and coffee shop.
As well as restaurants there are many coffee shops to choose from, most of which serve decent coffee and often homemade cakes and snacks to accompany drinks. The Koffee Hub is popular, as is Nagnon Coffee and Cake, and Pangkhon.
For bars and drinks, best head to the Jedyod road area of Chiang Rai, where bars like Coconut Bar, Cats Bar, Rose Bar and Lamyai bar are all popular with travellers in the area. The area is a little grubby and some bars can be dodgy, so take a good look around before committing yourself to ordering a drink and it can be worth staying on the beaten track when drinking in Chiang Rai.