The Best Cheap Eats In Chiang Mai

Thailand's second-largest city is a paradise for food lovers

Situated among green hills and expansive, mist-covered forests, Chiang Mai is the epicenter of northern Thailand and home to some of the region's best food. Unlike Bangkok to the south, Chiang Mai moves at a more relaxed pace and allows hungry visitors to focus on the dishes the city is most well known for. Here are the best cheap eats in Chiang Mai.

① Sai Oua 

The Prathu Market, located on the southern border of the old city, provides night visitors with a seemingly endless array of food, from soups and papaya salads to grilled satay of every variety. However, a morning visit offers a true taste of northern Thailand in the form of the herbaceous sai oua. This specialty sausage, made with lemongrass and curry paste, is served with sticky rice and fiery nam prik num, a local fermented green chile dip made with roasted peppers and fish sauce. This is the best dollar breakfast around—just the excuse you need to get up before the heat and humidity take over. 

② Khao Soi

Khao soi, the famous northern Thai curry noodle soup, is beloved by locals; asking anyone where to get the best can spark some serious debates. One of the most popular spots is Khao Soi Lam Duan, which Anthony Bourdain introduced much of the world to on Parts Unknown. Khao Soi Lam Duan cranks out hundreds of delicious bowls each day at only 30 baht (or $0.83 cents) a pop; each comes with beef, pork or chicken. If you're looking for a lunch spot closer to the old city, Khao Soi Khun Yai at the northern gate is equally delicious. The staff of two prepare each bowl to order, and they'll leave you feeling light and satisfied without doing any damage to your wallet.

③ Khao Kha Muu

Khao kha muu, or stewed pork leg, is one of Thailand's most famous dishes. It can be sampled throughout the country; in Chiang Mai, you'll find the best by asking around for the "Cowboy Hat Lady." She stews her khao kha muu for hours in a sweet broth made from cinnamon, star anise and five-spice powder before serving it with pickled mustard greens, sliced egg and hot chile. There are two sizes, small and large, but at 45 baht (or $1.25) for a large, you can afford to supersize your portion of what might be your best meal in town.

④ Gai Yang

On the west side of the old city stands SP Chicken, purveyor of gai yang (grilled chicken) so good it inspired Andy Ricker to start his own Thai grilled chicken stand in Portland all those years ago. A beautiful whole rotisserie chicken with multiple dipping sauces will set you back 140 baht (about $4); it's the perfect dish to share with a friend over a few bottles of Chang or Singha.

Max Bonem is a writer, eater and traveler. If you need him, he's probably off eating noodles somewhere. You can follow him on Instagram at @bonematlarge.