Just an hour north of Chiang Mai is the community of Chiang Dao, a gateway to trekking in the mountains and a hub for elephant camps. Chiang Dao is where the rice field meet the jungle and home to a weekly market full of ethnic charm. Villagers from miles around head for Chiang Dao every Tuesday to shop for essentials and trade their home grown harvests.
The market stretches for a kilometre through the main street. Most vendors are selling fabrics or fried food, like deep fried bananas or spicy fish cakes (todd man pla). My favourite patch is a shady corner where charming old ladies sell rare forest foods from deeper in the hills. Tree ferns and wild greens are easy to find, but keep a close eye out for wasp larvae, river crabs, edible orchids and crunchy fried grasshoppers.
In the cooler months, the roads leading into Chiang Dao are thick with roadside stalls selling Khao Lam, sticky rice stuffed into bamboo sections. Red beans and mushrooms with wild herbs are used to add flavour to the rice, and the bamboo pieces are roasted over hot coals so the contents inside steam themselves to completion.
Most tourists to Chiang Dao get as far as the elephant camps and then head home to Chiang Mai, but some head deeper into the hills and spend a few nights in bamboo guesthouses. It's much cooler after dark than down in Chiang Mai, and you need to rug up a little. Mist often fills the valleys in the first light, until the sun comes out to brighten the jungle.
As a guest of some hill tribes or a day visit from Chiang Mai the charms of Chiang Dao are worth your time. You'll need a break from the temples and fancy night market eats of Chiang Mai anyway.
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