Chiang Mai

Join Big Gay Ice Cream’s Bryan Petroff as he discovers Thailand’s ancient, Northern city of Chiang Mai, from heartwarming grassroots projects, to stunning natural wonders. He creates two Chiang Mai-inspired deserts for you to try at home!

Chiang Mai

My friend Andy’s wedding was in Chiang Mai, technically just north of the city in Mae Rim, about a 15 minute drive. Chiang Mai was much smaller than I was expecting. It may be one of of the biggest cities in the country, but it’s only about 1/10th the size of Bangkok. When I wasn’t involved in wedding related stuff I did a lot of venturing out on my own. My first night in Chiang Mai, I went to Nimmanhaemin, a trendy but relatively relaxed, treelined neighborhood. Its small streets are jam-packed with restaurants, bars and boutiques. I had drinks on the roof of Hotel YaYee, which had great views of the mountains & the more residential parts of the city. It’s a great sunset viewing spot.

Dinner itself was at Kinlum Kindee, a small restaurant along a crowded stretch of the neighborhood. The standout dish there was grilled field crab innards. Left in the shell, you scooped them up with sticky rice like a dip. The flavor was incredibly rich & intense, very much like sea urchin in taste & texture.

Outside of Chiang Mai there was plenty for me to do. I skipped the sketchy tiger encounters and cobra shows, instead going to the Siam Insect Zoo. It was small, but packed in a lot. I saw thousands of insects, including tarantulas, glow in the dark scorpions, foot-long walking sticks and a walk-through butterfly encounter (and got to hold most of them). The staff was friendly and knowledgeable, taking pride in their little zoo & the animals. Who knew I’d be perfectly comfortable holding a scorpion the size of my palm, but it happened! I also brought home some local raw honey from their gift shop.

High on my bucket list was, of course, elephants. After doing a lot of research on ethically appropriate locations, I ended up staying three days at Chai Lai Orchid, located along a river deep in a mountain forest near Doi Inthanon – Thailand’s highest mountain – west of Chiang Mai. Chai Lai Orchid is run by Daughters Rising, an anti-trafficking organization committed to providing housing, education and employment to marginalized women, as well as the protection of elephants. I spent three days there and loved it. The bungalows were “rustic chic” with mosquito nets over the beds and showers and toilets in a separate building, but that didn’t matter at all when you got to walk around the grounds with the elephants and giving them a pampered scrub down in the river. They also offer a number of activities including cooking classes, river rides and various hikes.

I did an all day hike to a secluded thousand-year old wat. The temple was like a beautifully carved jewel in the middle of nowhere. On the way back my guide (who insisted his name was Jackie Chan) took me over the mountain ridges to two large waterfalls, all the while pointing out which holes were tarantula holes and which were cobra holes (eek!). He also gave me a survival lesson on much of the flora we encountered: which was poisonous, which was good for digestion, which cured headaches, etc. We stopped for lunch at one of the waterfalls. He made a small fire to steam rice packed into bamboo, made bowls out of bamboo leaves, and carved chopsticks and a cup from bamboo. It was an amazing day.

I also spent an afternoon at Doi Inthanon National Park. Up at the top of the mountain the temperature dropped by about 30F, which made for a great, cool respite from the heat. Up there I checked out the two large temples, had another lunch by another waterfall, this time at a roadside restaurant specializing in grilled salt-crushed whole fish (divine!). The road to the park was lined with blossoming cherry trees and at the roadside market I discovered my favorite Thai snack: intensely flavored dried strawberries.

Some days I hired a car to get me around everywhere. But on others I used Grab, the local ride-sharing service. Uber & Lyft aren’t in Thailand, so instead you’ll need to use Grab. I had never even heard of it until I got there. It worked great. I never had a problem with any of my drivers. One thing to note though: when you start out with Grab you can only use cash, so be sure you have what the fare will be (you know in advance) instead of assuming the driver will be able to break your large bills. It’s not until after you reach a certain number of rides (or something, I was never quite clear on it) that you can start prepaying your rides with a credit card.

Because Chiang Mai was the first stop on my trip I thought it would be a good first stop to inspire our first batch of recipes, and since starting off the day with an iced coffee or ice tea is such a ubiquitous thing to do, I thought let’s start with those: Big Gay Ice Cream’s take on Thai Iced Coffee Ice Cream & Thai Iced Tea Ice Milk. These recipes, like all the others we’ll be posting, are easy to do at home & ideal for the summer. So, let’s eat a spoonful, close our eyes & (virtually) take a trip to Thailand. 

Hugs, Bryan xo

This week’s Big Gay Ice Cream recipes are inspired by Bryan’s trip to Chiang Mai

Thai Iced Tea Ice Milk

  • 1/4c Thai tea mix
  • 2c boiling water
  • 1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk

    Makes 3/4 quart 
  • Add tea mix to small lidded saucepan 
  • Pour water over the tea, stir & cover w lid
  • Steep one hour 
  • Strain tea through a fine sieve into bowl; do not force tea through the sieve (note: you can also use a French press)
  • Slowly pour condensed milk into bowl whisking continuously 
  • Cover & refrigerate overnight 
  • Churn according to manufacturer’s directions (whisking again right before pouring into machine)
  • Transfer to a freezable container & freeze 4 hours before serving

Thai Iced Coffee Ice Cream

  • 1/4c ground black coffee or espresso powder
  • 2c heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp ground cardamom 
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract 
  • 1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk 

    Makes 3/4 quart
  • Mix coffee grounds/espresso powder & cream in a saucepan over medium heat 
  • Bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover & steep 30 minutes, stirring often 
  • Strain coffee mixture through a fine sieve into bowl; do not force mixture through the sieve
  • Stir in cardamom, vanilla extract & almond extract 
  • Slowly pour in condensed milk whisking continuously 
  • Cover & refrigerate overnight 
  • Churn according to manufacturer’s directions (whisking again until the mixture is uniform in consistency right before pouring into machine)
  • Transfer to a freezable container & freeze 4 hours before serving

More of Bryan and Doug’s Thailand adventure

Join Bryan as he discovers Thailand’s ancient, Northern city of Chiang Mai, from heartwarming grassroots projects to stunning natural wonders. He also shares two wonderful recipes inspired by the city.

Read more >

Bryan goes in search some sun, sand and paradise on Thailand’s infamous southern island, Phuket.

This story will be posted on August 3rd 2020.

Bryan heads to Bangkok and its grand outdoor market at Chatuchak to discover retail-therapy, Thai style.

This story will be posted on August 10th 2020.

Bryan heads to the Golden Triangle to meet its gentle giants.

This story will be posted on August 17th 2020.


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