A Guide to the Best Cafes in Chiang Rai
Everyone told me I had to visit Chiang Mai when I made my way through Thailand. No one mentioned Chiang Rai, further northern in a mountainous province bearing the same name.
Cafes in Chiang Mai came highly recommended- but recommendations were harder to come by in Chiang Rai.
Perhaps because it’s less travelled (in comparison to Chiang Mai), or a result of the existing establishments being newer to the city. Whatever the reason, I ventured to Chiang Rai with a few cafes to check out, but wasn’t expecting much.
Happily, this was an instance where I couldn’t have been more surprised in the best way.
Sure, the cafe scene doesn’t quite rival that of Chiang Mai, but I was glad to find no shortage of great coffee, lovely cold brew, or tropical smoothies. And, in some instances I preferred the atmosphere of Chiang Rai cafes to those in Chiang Mai.
If you’re visiting Chiang Rai and in need of a caffeine pick-up up or cool treat, these were my favourite five cafes.
After visiting the blue temple, I decided to walk ~8 minutes to this cafe, which from Google maps looked like it was on the river, but I wasn’t expecting much. It had good reviews, but the photos on Google weren’t great.
Walking to the cafe, I passed palm tree plantations, cicadas hummed in the trees lining the path to the river. Along the way, I decided even if the cafe was a bust, the walk there was lovely enough to be worth it.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived to a beautiful, quaint cafe decorated in white wood, lanterns strung across trees, plenty of plants and colourful, punchy umbrellas.
It was perfect.
I ordered an iced mocha and vegetable omelet, excited for brunch with a river view.
When my food arrived, another surprise- in addition to my omelet, I received toast, tropical fruit salad, rolls and jam and a few cooked veggie sides.
Everything was delicious. Manoram was a bit more upmarket than I was expecting though, and the prices matched that.
Manoram may be a bit out of the way from the city centre, but is definitely worth a pop over if you’re visiting the blue temple. Even if you’re on a budget, it’s a beautiful cafe worthy of a visit- chances are you’ll find something on the menu.
Melt in Your Mouth
The only recommendation anyone who’d visited Chiang Rai had to offer me for food was interestingly Melt in your Mouth, another riverside restaurant. Far enough from city centre to be a hot, muggy walk (or ~10-15 minute Grab ride). In other words, not convenient to visit.
But, so worth it.
I arrived at Melt just as the sun had started to set and couldn’t believe how beautiful the view from the expansive river-front porch was. The inside of the cafe is beautiful too- comfy chairs situated around low tables, it’s the stuff afternoon tea or evening dessert dreams are made of.
The menu is interesting as well, expansive and covering a range of cuisines, it’s also a touch innovative.
To start, I ordered a cold brew and coconut water. Sounds like separate drinks, right?
Not at Melt.
Here, they combine the two for a layered hydrating coffee refreshment. Normally I’m a cold brew purist, but I even surprised myself by how much I liked it- the sweetness of the coconut water was offset by the bitterness/acidity of the cold brew. I don’t think it’s something I’d order first thing in the morning, but for a mid-afternoon drink, it was great.
After spotting a power outlet, I decided to commit to staying for sunset and ordered a pizza for dinner.
It may be a bit out of the way from the centre of the city, but that also means fewer people, which only makes a serene sunset here more appealing.
Passing by whilst wandering, I wasn’t in the mood for coffee but was pretty warm and saw they did cheap smoothies (50 baht).
So, I ordered a mango passionfruit with yoghurt one. In turn, I received a huge smoothie that was fresh, flavourful, smooth and creamy. It was awesome- the best I’d had in Chiang Rai.
This particular smoothie was so good, I returned to Nangnon twice to try two other different flavour creations (strawberry pineapple and mango pineapple coconut).
On my third visit, I tried their brunch. The menu is short but with just the right amount of options.
The egg and cheese croissant with a side salad I had was delicious. And, reasonably affordable for a place I’d classify as upmarket.
If the ace smoothies and great eats don’t have you convinced, visit for the relaxing wood decor with pots of lavender on every table. From inside, you can watch street traffic flow by.
The Roast Coffee
If you doubted my ability to find cold brew in Northern Thailand, think again.
Surfacing in my searches as one of the only cafes with good brew, I came here in search of anything iced and was over the moon to discover cold brew being served in large cups and with a ton of crushed ice.
If you’re from the States, this revelation may not seem like a big deal to you, but after living in the UK for over two and a half years, I’m grateful when my cold brew is anything bigger than a thimble and comes with more than one cube of ice.
In all seriousness, the brews here are phenom. Definitely the best coffee in Chiang Rai, from what I tried.
Technically more of a food recommendation, I’m including it here because the smoothies at Smiling Moon were also good and just as cheap as Nangnon.
Plus, their pad Thai and pineapple fried rice are killer. And, it’s all affordable- there’s a reason backpackers frequent Smiling Moon.
The best part? Its city centre, super easy to get to from just about where in the downtown area.
Two other recommendations: Half Cafe and studio for its latte and Connect Cafe for its strong wifi. These didn’t make the ‘top five’, but they’re still noteworthy, especially if you’re staying near them.
Discovering a city’s best cafes is one of my favourite things to do when experiencing a new city. What things do you always look for in a city, regardless of where you are?
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