On our first trip to Chiang Rai in northern Thailand a decade ago, it was almost about impossible to find the best coffee house as there simply weren’t any. With hardly any cafes or coffee houses in Chiang Rai, we’d have coffee in the small cafe in our hotel, too reluctant to trek around town trying to find something else. Ten years later and Chiang Rai has joined the coffee age. With coffee houses and cafes popping up all over the city, serving awesome lattes, cappuccinos and iced coffee drinks, we now have a different problem when we go to Chiang Rai – there’s so many, we don’t know which one to go to first.
BaanChivitMai Bakery – The first reason anyone would name BaanChivitMai Bakery one of the best coffee houses or cafes in Chiang Rai is because of its purpose. Built as a small business by a Swedish Christian organization to give jobs to young hilltribe women from a local orphanage they run, it already employs around 10 people, all of who seem to love working there.
The second reason BaanChivitMai Bakery is one of the best cafes in Chiang Rai is of course the perfect coffee and delicious cakes and cookies and, of course, it’s delightful atmosphere.
At BaanChivitMai Bakery, they serve a small menu of breakfast and lunch dishes which are excellent. But the cakes and cookies are the real reason for coming here. Baked by the girls who work at BaanChivitMai, some of whom learned how to make them on a course at a Swedish baking school, they’re simply superb. Eaten with a fresh hot cup of coffee, they really hit the spot.
BaanChivitMai, by the way, in Thai means “Home of New Life” and the young women working here certainly seem to have achieved that.
You’ll find BaanChivitMai Bakery opposite Chiang Rai’s bus station Terminal One.
Doi Chaang Coffee – Another of Chiang Rai’s best coffee houses, Doi Chaang is also connected to the Chiang Rai area’s hill tribes. It started out years ago as a collaboration between hilltribe families growing coffee beans and a Canadian company that helped them sell the beans for a fair price. Since then, they’ve branched out not only into larger coffee bean sales but with coffee houses all over Canada and two in Chiang Rai, as well as one on the road from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai.
Doi Chaang Coffee is the largest coffee house in Chiang Rai and is definitely a flagship of a thoroughly modern Starbucks-like venture. That being said, it still has a lovely atmosphere, friendly staff and as a large percentage of the money made goes back to the hilltribes to improve their lot in life, you can’t really complain.
Doi Chaang Coffee is comfortable (love those wicker chairs), they serve delicious sandwiches and cakes and, oh, did I mention they’re one of the most famous sellers of civet coffee in the world? Civet coffee, just in case you don’t know, is made from beans that are eaten by the Asian civet (looks a bit like a cat but isn’t) and pooped out. The beans are collected, processed and, voila, some of the world’s most expensive (and superb!) coffee.
The other great thing about Doi Chaang, other than their awesome cafe, is how open they are with information about their company. So open, in fact, you can download a 176 page book in PDF format from their website, which tells you everything you ever want to know about Doi Chaang.
The Doi Chaang Coffee house is on Rattanakhat Road, at the intersection with Pahonyothin.
Sweet Mae Salong – Not in the town of Chiang Rai itself, but an hour’s drive up in the hills (so, I’m cheating a little), Sweet Mae Salong is just about the most beautiful coffee house/cafe you’ve ever seen.
Located in the hills of Mae Salong, Sweet Mae Salong Coffee is owned by a husband and wife team who really know how to design, create and run a coffee house. Designed in rustic style and just about completely built out of wood, at the front it’s cute, but when you walk through the cafe to see the enormous wooden balcony beyond looking out over the most incredible mountain views – died and gone to heaven doesn’t even begin to explain.
Add on the superb cakes and pastries, all made by the owner, as well as a nice menu of Thai dishes, and this cafe is perfect. So order a latte and a slice of cheesecake, pull up a chair at a balcony table, breath in the fresh mountain air, look out over that stunning view and realize – life doesn’t get any better than this.
Sweet Mae Salong is at 41/3 Moo. 1 Mae Salong, Nok Mae Fah Luang, Chiang Rai – Call them for directions (they speak perfect English) as it’s a little tricky to find. Tel No. 081-8554000
Note: Doi Chaang Coffee, I’m convinced, is one of the best coffee companies in the world. They’re honest, they give lots of money back to the Akha people, and they’re completely transparent. Watch this video from Doi Chang Coffee – it’s lovely.