Monday, June 29, 2015

Chiang Mai Cafe Catalog: Nimman Edition

As Nimman is located near Chiang Mai University, the café scene is dominated by college students. I thought I would be fight expats and digital nomads for counter space, but it’s the college students that can pack an entire shop, and remaining sitting at one table for more than 4 hours. Learn they ways, and you can avoid them. They are late risers, and don’t usually hit up the coffee shops until after 2:00 or 3:00 pm. But after 8:00 pm, they come in droves. If a café is open 24 hours (as many in Nimman are) they will be overflowing with people from 10:00 pm until 2:00 am. If you go in the morning, around 8:00 or even 9:00 am, you will have the place to yourself.

I only included 20 cafes on my list, though there are easily 20 more I didn't visit. I ultimately decided that I would rather re-visit my favorite places instead of try to visit every single one. 

 1. CAMP
       Creative Art and Meeting Place has its home on the fifth floor of the MAYA mall. Taking up nearly half of the floor space, this sprawling compound is open 24 hours and is free of charge. Spend 50baht at the café and you are given an access code of 2 hours of wifi. 

2.     Happy Hut
Chain shop with a few location on Nimman. Closes at 10:00 pm.

3.     Tom Tom’s
National chain with a two-story shop just opposite MAYA mall. Open 24 hours. More expensive than other shops.

4.     Dolcetto
Tiny shop with room for 4-6 people. Popula r with expats, as it’s on the main drag, but not college students. No wifi. Supposedly closes at 10:00, but I'm seen them shut their doors at 8:00.

5.     Local Cafe
Spacious and arty café at the edge of the Think Park. Unusual drinks, such as the “Plum Ice,” which are ice cubes made from plum juice. Food menu is pricey but gourmet. Closes at 10:00.

6.     Libarista
A beautiful and atmospheric café, however I only visited it once due to the lack of comfortable tables and chairs. Now conducive for working, but worth a visit for the lush gardens. Closes at 8:00.

7.     Marble Arch
The “Marble Arch Coffee” is by far the best drink on Nimman. This cafes is spacious and comfortable, with the fastest wifi I’ve found in Nimman. However, they are inconsistent. Supposedly open from 10:00 am-8:00pm, but sometimes closes at whim.

8.     Coffeevilla
A quaint shop in underneath an even quainter guesthouse. Wifi is sometimes working, sometimes, not. They usually play Japanese music, which is a welcome relief from the acoustic remakes of the top 40 hits you will hear in all the other cafes. Open until 10:00, and consistent about it.

9.     Wake Up
Open 24 hours with reliable wifi, this place is a favorite among college students. The top floor feel claustrophobic, so I go early to sit in one fo their swing-set seats.

10. Kafe Roubaix
Prefered by expats but not college students (I don’t know why), this place has reliable wifi and good coffee. Open until 7:00.

11. 9th Street Café
A personal favorite of mine for the ambiance. I guess I'm drawn to the dim lightening and wooden interior.

12. Impresso Café
A lovely outdoor terrace. Unique latte offerings and delicious curry dishes.

13. Ristretto
Easily the most popular café on Nimman. You will find this place recommended in all of the travel guides for Chiang Mai. I didn’t care for it much because of the limited seating, crowds, and strong coffee. Despite loving cafes, I'm not really a coffee aficionado.

14. Rustic and Blue
Superb tea and food, with a gourmet quality that would not be out of place in Portland. Unfortunately, the place has gourmet prices, which prevent me from coming here more often.

15. Roastiyom Café
A local chain with comfortable seating and decent wifi.

16. The Coffee Bar
A quaint place with a youthful, eclectic atmosphere. Wifi is spotty. Ok for a short visit. 

17. Wawee
I'm lukewarm about this place. Wifi and drinks are decent, but I don't love the brown interior, reminds me of a the 1960s.

18. Chuen Juice Bar
Across the street from 9th in Chuen Juice Bar, which serves smoothies. I went twice and the first time the wifi was fine but the second time it wasn’t working. Other than that, the seats are comfortable and good for working.

19. ChanMueng Café
A trendy café with a large front yard. Coffee menu was limited but satisfying. I enjoyed the ambiance for its white walls and mustache crew.

20. Baking Mania Café
Part of the Artel NImman, one of Chiang Mai’s photogenic art hotels, complete with a slide from the second to first floor. This café is located in their lobby with retro furniture and plenty of natural lighting. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Idle Hours: Chiang Mai

The author of this post, being idle
The life portrayed on this blog is an edited version of my finest moments, the most poignant or exciting things I saw, felt, tasted, experienced. It is by no means an accurate image of my day to day life. Art does not always have to imitate reality, but I want to take a moment to discuss reality, specifically the reality of travel.

I am now exactly halfway through my trip through SE Asia. Having spent two months wandering through Indonesia, Malaysia, Borneo, Thailand, and Myanmar, I still have two months in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia left. Recently a friend of mine, who is also a writer, contacted me to ask about my trip. He is considering taking a year off to travel as well. I am by no means an expert of this topic, but I shared with him what I have learned thus far.

Just because you're not working 40 hours a week (for example), does not mean you have 40 more hours of creative productivity each week. At least in my case, I can be lazy as hell when given the chance. I can give my morning up to sleep, wake up at noon, visit the same cafes and restaurants I know will be good, and never venture further than five minutes from where I live. I can even spend all day without even leaving the room. Can, and did.

Unless you are really into doing touristy shit, unless you have a giant bucket list of things to do,  your day to day life aboard will likely not be that exciting.  There will be many idle hours. I'm not saying you’ll be bored. Just because you’re not doing anything doesn’t mean you’re bored, but what I am saying is that not everything you do will be interesting, photogenic, or Facebook-worthy. Long term travelers know this. They don’t look for things to do, they look for places to be.

Before I left, I had this inflated image of myself as an "adventurer" or an "explorer." After two months on the road I can definitely say that the only "adventure" I've been having is an internal one. The only "discoveries" I am making are about myself. I don’t buy into the concept of “finding oneself” through travel. I didn’t I come here to find myself. I came here to lose myself. I was so teathered to a system, a structure, an identity, a job, and a label. How do I look without these things? Can I still love myself without them? If I can cast them aside, all of them, and still love myself and my life, then nothing scares me. Then I should not be afraid of losing anything ever again.

In my response I complained to my fellow writer-friend about  the idle hours I face here in Asia. My lack of productivity, my fear of wasting time, my days of indecision and purposelessness. He responded beautifully, the only way a fellow writer and adventurer would:

“You are an artist,” he said. “Your whole existence is art. There are no lost moments.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Café Profile: Artisan, Chiang Mai

I almost don’t want to write about this café because it is one of the few quiet places left in the bustling Nimman neighborhood of Chiang Mai. I want to keep this little gem for myself, so that I can continue to be the only one there in the afternoons. But alas, I am a generous soul and I must share this great place with the world.

In addition to being charming, atmospheric, and quaint, Artisan has fast wifi, delicious drinks, and the best almond-croissant I’ve ever had.

Good luck finding it in one of the back alleys by the YMCA. I found it by accident while walking back from another place. 

Reference the Google coordinates for exact location: 18.799553,98.977561

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Cafe Catalog of the Bay Area

In ten days in San Francisco, I managed to visit ten great cafes all over the Bay area. I've ranked them here in order of my favorites - the ones with the best coffee and best writing atmosphere. A big thank you to my San Fran friends, who saved me much time and trouble researching, and took me to these wonderful places.

1. Reveille, Castro District  
The is my favorite cafe in San Francisco. It's small. It's crowded. It's popular. It's delicious. I have the fondest memories sitting at their bar counter and nothing seems to compare with those. 

2. Hearth, Castro District  
The best place to work in the Castro. Posh atmosphere, great lattes, wifi, and abundant seating. What more could you want?

3. Local Cafe, Berkeley 
My favorite place in Berkeley. This cafe is hip, but not pretentious, and makes a fantastic vanilla latte with homemade syrup. 

4. Four Barrels, Mission District  
This hipster place is the spot to see and be seen. Abundant indoor and outdoor seating, awesome espresso, and a drip station make it rank high on my list.

5. Thoroughbread, Duboce Triangle
A fantastic bakery with indoor and outdoor seating. I had an amazing cookie and scone in their lovely outdoor patio and wish to revisit it someday. 

6. Arbor Cafe, Oakland
A very hip and trendy place in Oakland. The huge space is often packed with an even huger crowd. This place would have been number one if it wasn't for the attitude it gives off. A bit too pretentious, but still a great place to work. 

7. Ritual, Mission District  
Another digital nomad attraction in the Mission. This place is brand new, spacious, and stark. 

8. Borderlands Cafe, Misson District
Abundant seating in a a bookstore/cafe atmosphere. 

9. Bernie's Cafe, Noe Valley
A fine option for writing and hanging out in Noe Valley.

10. Arizmendi, Misson District
Arizmendi is one of the best bakeries in the city. It is always busy, especially during lunch, so this is not a place to bring a laptop. However, the amazing pastries and pizza up its ranking on the list. 

11. Marin Coffee Roasters, San Enselmo
This was a wonderfully spacious cafe with a fantastic vanilla latte and pastries. It's on the lower end of the list because it is way outside of San Francisco (we stopped on the way to Point Reyes). 

12. Philz Coffee, Castro District
Philz has some great coffee, but it is a small place and always crowded, so it ranks low on the list for now having seating or a working atmosphere. Still a great place to chill outside or grab a cup to go. 

Touchdown Tokyo

Every time I fly to Japan, I have this routine of changing clothes in one of the large, accessible stalls in the arrivals lobby. I would do ...