My first trip to Thailand was in April 2018, when I went out for two weeks; one week of work in Bangkok, followed by 10 days of sight-seeing. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, having learnt to love the tropics on previous visits to China (2015) and Vietnam (2017), it will forever be remembered (by me at least) as the Trip With The Bad Back.
I’d hurt my back at that year’s London Coffee Festival. I’d missed the last day of the festival (Sunday, 15th April), instead flying to Bangkok, arriving the following Monday, before going into a four day meeting, none of which gave my back a chance to properly recover. It didn’t help that I also had pretty bad jet lag for the first few days.
Immediately after the meeting, on the Friday evening, I took the sleeper train to Chiang Mai, where I spent a week exploring the town and it’s amazing speciality coffee scene. I really hadn’t expected to find such a wonderful, vibrant, homegrown scene. Originally I’d planned to spend a few days in Chiang Mai, then travel around, but as my back slowly got worse, I really didn’t fancy the long bus rides that would have entailed.
It was also incredibly hot and humid (April is the hottest month in Thailand). It was regularly over 35⁰C, while the temperature rarely fell below 25⁰C at nights, plus the air pollution was terrible: apparently Chiang Mai has these amazing mountains just to the west of the city. In the week I was there, I never once saw them!
As result, I spent my time shuttling around between coffee shops and other air-conditioned places, generally taking things easy, particularly after a tuk-tuk ride back from Wiang Kum Kam (the historic settlement and archaeological site along the Ping River). This, I think, finally did for my back. Before then, I’d been coping, but after that, I couldn’t sit down without being in agony, a condition with lasted two months!
I returned to Bangkok on the sleeper and spent a weekend exploring the city’s speciality coffee scene, which was just as vibrant as Chiang Mai’s, but a lot more spread out! Then I flew home, very glad that I was travelling in business class so that I could lie down for most of the flight!
The flights to and from Bangkok are covered in the Travel Spots below, along with my train journey to/from Chiang Mai, while you can read about the Coffee Spots I visited during my week in Chiang Mai , plus those I got to during weekend in Bangkok.
Header Image: the view from my hotel window in Bangkok, looking east across the Chao Phraya River.
You can read about the trip in the following Travel Spot posts.
Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to Bangkok
My travel schedule for the first four months of the year has been pretty hectic, verging on the brutal, although it was partly self-inflicted. This kicked off with two month-long visits to the USA, starting with a trip to Miami and Phoenix and followed by another that saw me travel from New England to Arizona by train.
Since then it’s calmed down a bit, so I thought that before I jet off on my next adventure (a week today I should have just arrived in Japan) I really ought to finish writing up the previous one. This saw me spend three days at the London Coffee Festival, head home on the Saturday evening and then turn around on Sunday to fly out to Thailand for the first time.
This instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot covers my flight over with British Airways. I then spent a week in Bangkok, before catching the sleeper up to Chiang Mai, where I spent another week exploring the awesome speciality coffee scene there. I returned to Bangkok, again on the sleeper, spent three days in the capital, then flew back, again with British Airways, which forms the fourth and final part of this Travel Spot.Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: The Chiang Mai Sleeper, Special Express #13
Welcome to the latest instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, which is, I appreciate, posted somewhat out of order, since I’ve not finished telling you about my previous American adventures. However, I’m sitting on the Chiang Mai sleeper as I write this, not long after dawn, and we’ve just begun our ascent into the mountains, so I thought this was the perfect time to publish this.
I flew into Bangkok on Monday morning (having left Heathrow on Sunday afternoon) and spent the rest of the week in western hotels, cocooned in meeting rooms and air-conditioning, rarely being let out for long enough to see anything of the city, although I will have a weekend there when I get back from Chiang Mai. What I can tell you, from the odd times I ventured out, is that it was hot (~35⁰C most days) and incredibly humid, with the river, which I was staying by, providing a welcome breeze.
After five days of this, I escaped and made my way to Hua Lamphong station in the centre of Bangkok to catch the Chiang Mai sleeper, 13 hours on a train (the “special express” no less) to the heart of Thailand’s mountain country to the north.Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: The Chiang Mai Sleeper, Special Express #10
Last week I took the sleeper from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, a journey I related in the previous instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot. I had no firm plans for Chiang Mai, but a variety of circumstances (the poor air quality, the high temperature/humidity and, above all, my bad back, which has been getting steadily worse as the week’s gone on) conspired to convince me to stay in Chiang Mai itself for the whole week, where I spent my time exploring the local coffee scene, which, it turns out, is excellent.
My plan had always been to return to Bangkok for the weekend before flying home on Monday, but I’d left the how/when open in case I decided to venture further afield when in Chiang Mai. With that ruled out, it was a simple question of how to get back. I briefly considered flying, but at twice the price of the sleeper, plus the hassle of getting to/from the airport, and the need to pay for an extra night in Bangkok, the balance was conclusively tipped in favour of the sleeper. Once that was decided, all I needed to do was work out which of the three available trains to take…Continue reading...
Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying from Bangkok (With a Bad Back)
If you’ve been following the latest series on Brian’s Travel Spot, you’ll know that I spent the last two weeks of April in Thailand, departing on the Sunday of the London Coffee Festival. The first instalment of this Travel Spot covered my flight over with British Airways. I spent a week in Bangkok, before catching the sleeper to Chiang Mai, where I spent another week exploring its awesome speciality coffee scene. I returned on the sleeper to spend three days in Bangkok, with the two train trips forming the second and third instalments (written and published while I was out in Thailand). Meanwhile, today’s Travel Spot, the fourth and final instalment in the series, covers my return flight on Tuesday 1st May.
What I’ve underplayed in all the posts so far is the state of my back. When I flew out, my back was cranky, but basically okay. It got worse during my time in Bangkok, but was still basically okay. However, while I was in Chiang Mai, it got really bad, forcing me to take the sleeper back. By the time I was due to fly home, I could hardly sit down, leaving me dreading the 13 hour flight…Continue reading...
You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited on this trip in Chiang Mai and Bangkok (listed alphabetically for each city).
You can read about all the Coffee Spots I visited during my week in Chiang Mai (listed alphabetically).
Akha Ama Coffee La Fattoria
Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, has a reputation as a foodie heaven. What I hadn’t realised, until I got here, was that it is a speciality coffee heaven too, with a strong emphasis on Thai-grown coffee and with the third-wave philosophy of farm-to-cup put into practice. Without even trying, I had a list of more than 10 places to try, although top of pretty much everyone’s list is Akha Ama Coffee.
A social enterprise, with direct relationships with Thai coffee farmers, Akha Ama has been going since 2010. There are three branches so far, two coffee shops in Chiang Mai itself and a new roastery/coffee shop, Akha Ama Living Factory, about 20km north of the city. The focus of today’s Coffee Spot, Akha Ama Coffee La Fattoria, is the second of the two coffee shops and the one you are most likely to come across since it’s right in the centre of the old city.
Serving a variety of Thai coffee, mostly as blends, but with some single-origins, there’s a choice of both hot and cold/iced coffee on espresso and pour-over. There’s also a decent range of beans which you can buy. If you’re hungry, there’s a limited cake selection.Continue reading...
Cottontree Coffee Roasters
What turned out to be one of my favourite spots during my recent trip to Chiang Mai was also one of the hardest to find, although it was well worth the effort. Cottontree Coffee Roasters epitomises much that is good about Chiang Mai’s (and, indeed, Thailand’s) growing speciality coffee scene. It’s relatively new, having been set up in 2015, catering to a local crowd, offering both Thai-grown and imported coffee, but with the light roasts beloved of the third wave. The name “Cottontree” by the way, is a play on the names of the owners, a lovely young couple, Fai (Cotton) and Ton (Tree).
The coffee shop, which doubles as the roastery, is perhaps the most beautiful of those I saw in Chiang Mai, which is saying something given how many beautiful coffee shops I found. With its high ceilings, and clean, uncluttered lines, it’s worth seeking out on aesthetic grounds alone. Cottontree roasts both Thai single-estate coffees and seasonal imports (currently Ethiopian and Kenyan single-origins). There are two options on espresso (one for espressos/ Americanos, the other for milk-based drinks) and two more on pour-over via V60, Chemex or Syphon. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of freshly-baked cakes and pastries.Continue reading...
Graph Café is a lovely little coffee shop in the heart of old Chiang Mai which just happened to be at the other end of the lane from the guest house where I spent the second half of my week in the city. Coincidence? I think you can probably work that out for yourselves…
Part of a small chain, which consists of a brunch spot (Graph Table) on the next street over, a high-end coffee shop (Graph One Nimman) in the new One Nimman shopping mall, and a coffee shop/roastery (Gateway) on the main road into Chiang Mai, this is the original, a tiny spot serving some excellent Thai coffee, with a seasonal blend on espresso and a surprising range of single-origins on pour-over, all roasted at Gateway. There’s not much seating, with space for 10 inside (if everyone shares) and a few more sitting on the step out front.Continue reading...
I’ve made (and will continue to make) much about Chiang Mai’s speciality coffee scene and its championing of Thai-grown coffee. However, it would be wrong to give the impression that this is all there is. There are also plenty of internationally-inspired places roasting/serving coffee from around the world. And where better to start than with Chiang Mai pioneer, Ristr8to, which boasts amongst its many achievements current world latte art champion, Arnon Thitiprasert, as head barista?
Ristr8to is a roaster and chain of four coffee shops, two Ristr8tos and two sister shops, under the name Doppio. The subject of today’s Coffee Spot is Ristr8to Lab, the second Ristr8to and, as well as a coffee shop in its own right, home to Ristr8to’s 6kg Giesen roaster. Serving a bewildering array of espresso-based drinks using its Black Hand blend and a different single-origin every month through no fewer than six filter preparation methods, it’s a real treat for coffee lovers.
However, you don’t have to be a coffee geek to appreciate Ristr8to. It’s a lovely spot with seating outside on the terrace or in the air-conditioned interior, plus there’s table service and a dedication to hospitality that I’ve come to expect in Thailand.Continue reading...
Meanwhile, here are the Coffee Spots I visited during my weekend in Bangkok (listed alphabetically).
Gallery Drip Coffee
When it comes to speciality coffee in Bangkok, one of the pioneers, and one of the few I’d heard about before I reached the city, was Gallery Drip Coffee, recommended by the ever-reliable Simon from Fancy a Cuppa? and featured in his excellent book, Crossing Paths, Crossing Borders. Located inside the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre, Gallery Drip Coffee only serves pour-over coffee (the clue is in the name), a style directly inspired by Japanese coffee culture.
It occupies a weirdly-shaped space inside the atrium of the Centre, with a long counter facing the door, which is where most of the action takes place. There are multiple single-origins on offer, seven while I was there, three of which were from Thailand and the rest from around the world, all roasted in-house. These are made using the V60, while there is also a house-blend of Thai coffee which is made using the Melitta filter and served with steamed milk to provide a latte substitute for those who like their coffee milky. Finally, if you want something sweet to go with your coffee, there’s a wide selection of cheesecakes and their ilk in a cooler cabinet at the end of the counter.Continue reading...
Lan Din Coffee
I spent the first five days of my time in Thailand trapped in hotels with bad coffee and no chance to explore the coffee scene, before heading off to Chiang Mai for a week. However, I’d allowed myself three days on my return to Bangkok to explore the speciality coffee scene before flying back to the UK. After the joys of Chiang Mai, with its abundance of excellent coffee shops, I discovered that Bangkok also has an excellent speciality coffee scene, albeit one that is a little more spread out and takes a little more finding.
I’d already heard about Lan Din Coffee when the owner, Nico, got in touch on social media with some recommendations. Conveniently located around the corner from my new hotel in the Sathorn district (I wonder how that happened?) I made a beeline for Lan Din as soon as I got off the sleeper from Chiang Mai on Saturday morning. A delightful spot, it serves a primarily espresso-based menu using a blend of coffee from (ironically) Chiang Mai, although there is a secret pour-over option if you ask nicely, as well as a range of cakes and pastries, freshly baked behind the counter every day.Continue reading...
Rocket is a small chain of upmarket all-day brunch spots in Bangkok, serving some excellent coffee from the local Phil Coffee Co. This branch, Rocket S.12, is in the Silom district, east of the river, an interesting area of modern skyscrapers, interspersed with older, colonial-style buildings, where major, traffic-filled arteries, are interwoven with quiet, narrow lanes, all cut through by the concrete pillars of the elevated railway, making it a relatively easy destination to get to. I am, by the way, indebted to Lan Din Coffee for the heads-up about Rocket.
Rocket occupies a square space with a very modern/Nordic feel to it, all light woods and with a tiled floor. It shares the building with the restaurant next door (there is an open, connecting doorway at the back) but the two are separate businesses. There’s a very western-themed all-day brunch menu, backed up by a house-blend and decaf on espresso, plus five single-origins on pour-over, using a mixture of home-grown Thai coffee and various familiar origins from around the world. It’s also one of the few coffee shops that I came across in Thailand that takes credit cards, useful if it’s your last day and you’re short on cash!Continue reading...
Size S Coffee + Bakery
I wasn’t in Bangkok for long at the end of April, plus I was limited by a bad back, all of which meant I didn’t get around as much as I’d have liked. However, I was very impressed with what little I did see of Bangkok’s diffuse and diverse speciality coffee scene, including Size S Coffee + Bakery, a chance discovery at the end of the same road as my hotel. Despite that, I needed a tip off from to Lan Din Coffee, having already walked past Size S without noticing it!
Size S Coffee + Bakery does what the name suggests, although it’s also a roastery as well as a coffee shop and bakery, all of which comes in an unfeasibly small package. That said, it acts like it’s a big coffee shop, with a blend and single-origin on espresso and up to five single-origin filters, all roasted at the back of the shop (which is also where all the cakes are baked). There’s also a small breakfast and lunch menu if you’re hungry.Continue reading...