Chiang Mai may not be able to compete with Bangkok’s myriad wining and dining establishments, but what it lacks in options it makes up for in charm and accessibility. The town’s Nimmanhaemin neighbourhood – or Nimman for short – is the place to go for the latest trendy cafes, crafty boutiques, perfectly plated meals and speciality cocktails.
A longtime Chiang Mai University student haunt, the neighbourhood has flourished in recent years as the area of choice for hip travellers, digital nomads and snap-happy shutterbugs. Practically everywhere you look is picture-worthy, and you won’t be able to resist snapping a few photos yourself as you eat, drink and shop your way through the small sois (lanes). While there’s plenty more to explore, here are some of the best photo-friendly places to eat and drink in Nimmanhaemin.
Vibrant tones set the mood at Caravan Bar in Chiang Mai's cool district © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet
Where to grab coffee or a cocktail
Chiang Mai’s cafe scene boasts countless places brewing locally grown and roasted beans for elaborate caffeinated concoctions. At cafes in Nimman, taking photos is an expected part of the experience. While Ristr8to is one of the Nimmanhaemin stalwarts, branch out and head to The Baristro. This airy all-white cafe located on the bottom floor of The Barisotel is a dream come true for minimalists, and the coffee is solid too.
As the sun sets, switch to adult beverages at the rooftop bar of Hotel Yayee. Also called Hungry Heart Cafe, the leafy open-air bar overlooks Doi Suthep and the rest of the neighbourhood, offering inventive signature cocktails. For another rooftop option with a different view and vibe, Parallel Universe of Lunar 2 on the Hidden Moon has a rotating selection of domestic and international craft beers on tap as well as bottled microbrews. Disappointingly, it doesn’t really have food options and doesn't serve other types of alcohol, but the bar is a special spot for a beer before moving on to your next destination. Down the street, the vibrant colours and textures at Caravan Bar set the scene for a sultry evening with a full bar and style to spare.
Sundowners at the rooftop bar of Hotel Yayee in Nimmanhaemin neighbourhood © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet
The prettiest places to eat
Whether it’s snacking or full-on feasting, eating tops the list of things to do in Nimmanhaemin. From what’s left of the neighbourhood’s basic Thai food stalls to high-end Italian cuisine like that found at Italics restaurant, you can satisfy any craving while digging into dishes that often look too good to eat.
For breakfast, snag a seat at the small and quirky SS1254372 Cafe. Forget about trying to remember the exact name of the cafe, and get ready for a Western-style breakfast beautifully adorned with edible flowers and fresh garnishes. Most of the dishes are bread-based – think avocado on toast, French toast with tropical fruits or smoked-salmon bagels – but there are also a few nutrition-packed salad and rice options. After eating, check out the attached Gallery Seescape for a glimpse at Chiang Mai’s eclectic art offerings.
Walk through Seescape Gallery after your meal at quirky SS1254372 Cafe © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet
Around Nimmanhaemin, even simple bowls of noodle soup – a streetside staple throughout the country – are given extra care to be picture-perfect. At Anchan Noodle, rice noodles are coloured with butterfly pea blossoms, known as anchan in Thai, to create a distinct blue hue. You can also get a blue latte!
New on Chiang Mai’s dining scene, Somtum Der serves up Isăhn (northeast Thai) cuisine including different variations of sôm·đam (spicy green papaya salad), lâhp (minced meat and herbs), grilled meats and more, all eaten with sticky rice. The cheerful eatery is actually a Bangkok-based chain, with the Chiang Mai branch being Thailand’s first one outside the capital. While casual, the restaurant has received Michelin acclaim in Bangkok and New York, so you’re sure to experience a world of flavour. Located at the back of One Nimman, it’s close to several other attractive eating spots including the One Nimman food hall and Ginger Farm & Eatery.
Noodles coloured with butterfly pea flowers at Anchan Noodle © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet
Nimmanhaemin is also home to several restaurants specialising in northern Thai cuisine. Tong Tem Toh is delicious, but now often plagued with long wait lines unless you arrive right when they open at 7am. Can’t get a seat? Head to Kinlum Kindee instead to snack on northern Thai specialities such as sâi òo·a (herb-stuffed sausage), pork rinds dipped in nám prík nùm and rich gaang hang·lair (savoury pork belly curry).
When it’s time for dessert, dive into a towering bowl of bingsu (milky shaved ice topped with sweet treats) at Cheevit Cheeva, or make your way to the iconic I-Berry for a scoop of refreshing longan sorbet or ice cream made of black-bean sticky rice. Just keep in mind that both dessert cafes are highly popular with locals and tourists alike, so wait times can be long with limited seating.
The delicious matcha green tea bingsu at Cheevit Cheeva cafe © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet
Where to stock up on cool souvenirs
Aside from drinking and dining, Nimman is also known for its shopping. You’ll find boutiques sprinkled throughout the district, but the most convenient spot is the intersection of Th Huay Kaew and Th Nimmanhaemin where three shopping complexes – One Nimman, Think Park and Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center – take up opposite corners.
Stroll through One Nimman for artisanal and local brands, as well as cafes, restaurants and pop-up markets, or explore Think Park for affordable handmade crafts and souvenirs. Maya features a standard shopping mall experience complete with full floors of dining options, a cinema, banks, a fitness centre and rooftop bars.
Wherever you go in Nimman, make sure you have your camera or phone ready to capture the (ridiculously cute) moments.