Wednesday, 11 May 2016

chiang mai: free bird cafe, khun nai mae, and catmosphere

If you're only here for the cat pictures, feel free to scroll down.

What do you do in Chiang Mai? Go on a temple-hopping spree? Visit an elephant sanctuary? Do a Thai cooking class? Watch a Thai boxing match? There are so many things a tourist can do here, and despite spending a number of days here, we did none of those things (and I'm kind of thinking, we should go back and do them!). Aside from the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng Festival, a large chunk of our time in Chiang Mai was spent wandering around, eating and drinking. Checking out shopping malls and night markets. Watching a movie at the cinema once or twice. Basically, we just chilled out, most of the time.

And Chiang Mai is such a great place for chilling out. There are so many cafes and restaurants here that beckon to you, tempting you to walk in, and to linger.

Free Bird Cafe is such a place. With a gentle and relaxed atmosphere, this Burmese-influenced eatery is a gorgeous not-for-profit venture, in which the proceeds go towards the assistance of Burmese refugees and the hill tribe people in Thailand.

The offerings here are enticing and wholesome. Of course, the prices are on the high side, but hey, you're nourishing your body and supporting a good cause when you dine here, so it's a two-for-one. Coming in at 80 baht each, the smoothies are lush and exciting: the Muay Thai smoothie is a stimulating mix of pineapple, lime, basil and chilli, while Kate's First Aid proffers refreshing comfort with an exquisite blend of pineapple, lemongrass, yoghurt and lime.

Smoothies at Free Bird Cafe - Muay Thai (left) and Kate's First Aid (right).

We also had a Burmese-style ginger-pumpkin curry set (with rice, soup, and sliced raw vegetables) for 130 baht, as well as a choice of three salads for 140 baht. The food was fantastically fresh. If I was a character in a video game, my health meter would be off the charts after consuming this.

Lunch/brunch at Free Bird Cafe - Burmese Shan salads, curry and rice.

Another time, when we were looking for a place to eat after purchasing bus tickets, we stumbled upon a restaurant called Khun Nai Mae Kitchen at the Star Avenue Lifestyle Mall, close to the Chiang Mai bus station. Being somewhat outside the central part of Chiang Mai, Khun Nai Mae doesn't seem to see many foreigners (we were the only non-locals there at the time), despite the attractive decor.

We were inside the restaurant as soon as it opened, and we started off with some thirst-quenching drinks. I can't say for sure if I remember this correctly, but I'm almost certain that the green drink is bai bua bok, a rejuvenating herbal juice made from Asiatic pennywort, while the red drink is probably nam kra jieb - delightfully tart roselle juice.

Iced beverages at Khun Nai Mae - I think the green one is pennywort, and the red is roselle.

As I drafted this post, I looked online for English reviews of Khun Nai Mae, to no avail, other than a write-up from the bilingual Compass magazine. I checked out the Thai reviews via Google Translate, and at this point I find out that, apparently, Khun Nai Mae means "Your Mother's Noodles". I am wary about trusting Google Translate, but it sounds plausible. Anyway, it seems that they make the rice vermicelli fresh daily at this restaurant. How lovely! I wish I knew this when we were there, I think I would have appreciated our meal even more, knowing the care that went into it.

We were impressed with our lunch at Khun Nai Mae, in any case. There were curries, and served alongside those were delicate bundles of rice vermicelli, some in a classic white, others slightly tinted with soft, pretty hues. Then there were vegetables such as beansprouts, cabbage, bitter melon, snake beans, and pickled mustard greens.

All that food, and our drinks, came to a total of 200 baht. Not bad at all!

Lunch at Khun Nai Mae - vermicelli, curry, and assorted vegetables.

And of course, while we wandered our way through Chiang Mai, we also made sure we set aside an afternoon for Catmosphere, which claims to be the world's first global space cat cafe franchise (there is a branch in Sydney as well). It looked pretty snazzy. It was busy, but we were lucky and didn't have to wait too long for a table to open up. Then, we just had to use hand sanitizer and put on slippers - all provided by the cafe - and we were ready to embark on our cat-patting journey here.

The space-themed Catmosphere cat cafe in Chiang Mai.

We could choose to either pay an entry fee, or purchase food and/or drinks from the menu, and we opted for the latter. I had a kiwi soda for 75 baht and a blueberry cheesecake for 115 baht. Simon had a coffee for 85 baht and a brownie for 95 baht. The presentation for Simon's brownie included a cat face drawn with chocolate sauce!

Brownie at Chiang Mai's Catmosphere cat cafe.

When we visited, quite a few of the cats were taking an afternoon nap.

Sleepy kitty.

These two were just too adorable.

More sleeping kittens! Curled up together, too cute!

Others were awake and alert.

Darth - a black cat with a perpetually funny face.

It's reasonably comfortable in here, and the space theme is fun to look at.

 Apollo the ginger cat admires the space-themed decor at Catmosphere cat cafe, Chiang Mai.

When this one woke up, we couldn't help but notice the colour of the eyes - one yellow, one blue. So striking!

Luna, an odd-eyed cat - a white cat with heterochromia.

The main downside that I observed here is that many of the cats at Catmosphere seem to be fed up with the human attention that they receive - perhaps they were having a particularly bad day when we visited, but most of them were not keen to interact with the guests, so this is definitely an aspect where I hope to see improvements. Keep the cats happy, and the rest will follow, right? This sweet ginger kitten is an exception, though - full of youthful optimism and gloriously playful, and we got to enjoy a bit of quality time with him, so all was not lost!

Boba, a sweet and playful ginger kitten.

So there you have it. The restaurant and cafe culture in Chiang Mai is really quite substantial, enough to keep us sufficiently entertained most days. And then there are those night markets... but that's a subject for the next post!


  1. You had me at cats!

  2. Oooohhhhh I'm such a sucker for kitty pics! I'm totally a Darth fan :)

  3. Gosh, those smoothies! The flavours sound heavenly :)

    1. They were so nice! I should recreate them at home someday!


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