Chill in Chiang Mai

Who: Celine Goh, 41, general manager of piano retailer Steinway Gallery Singapore. The Singaporean, a professional pianist, will be chairing the Singapore Steinway Youth Piano competition 2014, which starts next month.

Favourite city: Chiang Mai

Why: I lived in Bangkok from 2004 to 2007, studying Thai at Chulalongkorn University, and would make frequent trips to Chiang Mai. I've been there more than six times. It's a very cultural place, and the weather is nice and cool. It's a good way to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and get close to nature, but with all the conveniences you would need from a city.

Best time to visit

I recommend visiting during the winter season of November to January, because I really like the weather then. It's usually about 12 to 15 deg C in the city, but temperatures can get as low as 3 deg C in the mountains. I would avoid the rainy season, which is between August and October.

Best place to stay

If you are looking to immerse yourself in the old-world charm of Chiang Mai, stay at Rachamankha (Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai, tel: +66-53-904-111). It's situated right in the city's old town, which is full of temples and historical sites.

It's a boutique hotel with only about 25 suites, and it has really nice architecture in the style of the area's Lanna heritage. The hotel is also next to Wat Phra Singh, a famous temple in the city. Rooms start from 6,633 baht (S$257) a night.

For something on the hipper side of town, stay at Kantary Hills (44 Nimmanhaemin Road, Chiang Mai, tel: +66-53-222-111). Nimmanhaemin Road is filled with trendy bars, coffee joints, shops as well as great street food.

Rooms start from 3,600 baht a night.

I also love the Sukantara Cascade Resort (12/2 M.8, T.Maeram, A.Mae Rim, Chiang Mai, tel: +66-81-881-6570). It's a beautiful place where you can be close to nature. When you walk in, you immediately see a waterfall and stream in the middle of the resort, with peacocks walking around. It's a haven where the only sounds you hear are from nature.

Rooms start from 4,300 baht a night.

Favourite restaurant

A friend took me to Huen Huay Kaew Restaurant (31/2 Moo 2, Huey Kaew Road, Suthep, Chiang Mai, tel: +66-53-892-698, open daily from 11am to 11pm), which serves great northern Thai food. It is in a unique wooden house at the foot of the Doi Suthep mountain, and overlooks mountains and a waterfall. It is a very lovely place to have a meal.

The food is also fantastic. I highly recommend the nam prik ong, a spicy dipping sauce made with minced pork that you eat with vegetables, sticky rice or fried pork rinds, as well as the chicken with cashews, peppers, onions and chillies.

A meal there cost us about $10 a person.

Best way to get around

In Chiang Mai, there are no taxis. There are only tuk tuks and songtaew, which are like pick-up trucks that people can hop on and off. Tuk tuks would cost you

40 baht to 200 baht, depending on where you are going and how well you can bargain.

But I would suggest renting a car, so you have the comfort of driving yourself around. Chiang Mai is nothing like Bangkok, so you don't have to worry. It's very easy to navigate and drive around. I've never got lost there. It costs between 1,200 baht and 1,500 baht a day to rent a car such as a Toyota Vios or a Honda Jazz.

Best place to shop

There are many night markets but most of them cater to tourists. I found one where you won't see a single farang (Thai for foreigner). It's a student market, also called the "front gate market" because it's on Huay Gaew Road, right across from the front gate of Chiang Mai University.

It opens at about 6 or 7pm daily and sells clothes, shoes and accessories till late. There are also a few cafes and street food stands from which you can grab a snack.

The prices at this market are very good. There's no need to bargain because you know you are getting the same price as the locals. I got a dress there for 400 baht, and I found the same dress in Singapore's Haji Lane being sold for $60.

Best spot for live music

The Monkey Club (7 Nimmanhaemin 9 Road, Suthep, Muang, Chiang Mai, tel: +66-53-226-9978, open daily from 6pm to 1am) is a trendy club along Nimmanhaemin Road which is very popular with young local Thais. The crowd there is usually young and very well-dressed. You can have dinner at the alfresco area, where a band plays chill music. When you are ready to dance, head inside, where another band plays contemporary pop and rock music.

Favourite street food

Sai Kok, a spicy sausage made with lots of chilli, garlic, salt, lemongrass and other condiments. It is sold on the streets everywhere and costs just a few baht. It's very shiok.

Best day trip out of the city

Drive to Mon Jam to pick strawberries. It's a 40-minute drive from the centre of Chiang Mai and, during the cooler months, the weather is perfect for picking strawberries.

Not many foreigners know about this, so you see mostly Thai tourists. As you go up the mountain, you will see signs for strawberry picking. Eventually, you will come across a tent where you can either buy strawberries that have been picked or you can get a basket and head into the huge strawberry orchard.

You put the fruit you pick in the basket, and you weigh them and pay later. The strawberries are really sweet and delicious. If you want to bring them back to Singapore, you should probably pick the slightly green ones so they will ripen just in time.

At the top of the mountain, there is a cafe with a beautiful view. It overlooks other mountains and you can see clouds floating by. It serves a variety of herbal teas, juices, wines and beers, costing about 80 baht to 100 baht each, inside a bamboo tent.

jennanid@sph.com.sg


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