Chiang Mai has a great vibe. There are all the usual street vendors, peddling the same old tat as you find in every tourist filled area of Thailand but there is also a more contemporary undercurrent pushing though at root level, which reminds me a lot of Saigon. Times are changing, there is a more Westernised approach and influence seeping through, raising the bar. Seeing this influence play out within smaller communities is refreshing. There is a wealth of street art within the main hub of Chiang Mai, along with contemporary artist collectives and small-scale music venues, marking a departure from the usual ‘party vibe’ scene, usually associated with SE Asia tourist destinations. These little known venues are offering an alternative to the stereotype, and slowly changing the social boundaries of Chiang Mai.
Images from in and around Chiang Mai, old quarter
The street art and large scale murals can be found everywhere! However, they are also easily overlooked as they do not interfere with the harmonious temple culture that is so prevalent here. Head for the picturesque back lanes and connecting streets to find these gems. There is little to no political undertone to the pieces, which instead focus on a mixture of Western influenced character illustration, and contemporary expression of more traditional SE Asian iconography. Incorporating traditional ethnic minorities, story telling and wildlife to establish these as unique pieces.
Traditional temple/Contemporary murals
Just outside the main central square of Chiang Mai, to the East, along Tha Phae Road, I came across a really interesting art space; Dibdee – A book binders, a contemporary shop and an outside, industrial looking exhibition space. This place was the first real multi-use art space I’d come across and was a welcome relief from the usual tourist shops. The pricing and layout was clearly aimed at westerners, as was the positively hipster-esque vibe. It felt distinctly western in approach BUT the Asian influence was still there, making for a nice fusion.
Contemporary Art social spaces
There are many art spaces to be found in and around Chiang Mai. These are constantly changing, engaging and promoting new contemporaries. Even if you don’t happen on a fixed site studio/gallery, there is plenty great quality street art to take in, along with the traditional murals and depictions found in the 300+ temples in and around the city!
In amongst the throngs of people, flocking to the famous night market, you can find artists and unique art works, although it is difficult as there is a good deal more generic tat than there is genuine art… but it is there if you have the stamina to face the crowds! The atmosphere continues into the music scene, where the local Jazz bar at the North Gate hosts live sessions nightly, attracting artists of all disciplines as well as tourists alike. This place is a must see if you visit Chiang Mai as the overall atmosphere sums up Chiang Mai- chilled, vibrant, eclectic and social.
Jazz bar, temples and delicious food at the North Gate
The food in Chiang Mai was fantastic and I never tired of searching out new places to eat. Amongst my favourite were the various stalls that sprung up in the evening along the North Gate. Simple dishes with rich flavours, definitely worth a visit… especially for the mango sticky rice! Sublimely addictive!!