Due to COVID-19, I’ve been an online student for a while — eight months to be exact. Since I had no physical school to attend, Chiang Mai city quickly became my campus and coffee shops my classroom. While not many of us can afford to spend our studying lives skipping from one fancy café to another, when we can, we do like to explore. Thankfully Chiang Mai’s coffee culture can be very affordable. As we all know, Chiang Mai’s cafes run the gamut from cheap and cheerful street-side carts to virtual works of art, most of which have a unique aesthetic and selling point which gives us so many choices and moods.
As I have wandered from one café to another over the past year, I have decided to make my own list of great student-friendly cafes, judging them on their wifi, food, atmosphere, and most importantly, the size of their tables.
I still have so many places to explore, so this is by no means a definitive list, but here are some cafes which are perfect classrooms-for-a-day.
1) Osso Coffee and Space by Graph Cafe
5 Soi 11 Nimmanhaemin Road
Open daily: 10am – 10pm
Located on the second floor of Lowline Ramen and Roll, with a tiny sign reading ‘Osso’, the cafe and space has a hidden vibe to it. You also have to trek up metal stairs with no railings, which deters the less agile and why students (in spite of schlepping backpacks) make up a good number of the customers. Depending on who is there, the space can be eerily quiet or full of young chatter. With large tables dotted across the space, each seating two to eight, it is best to go early to reserve one. If you are a fan of American indie or folk music, the cafe has their playlist rolling from the time they open to when they close.
2) Pai Yan Yai Coffee
Between sois 13 and 15 Nimmanhaemin Road
Open daily 8am-8pm
Hidden next to sushi Umai and among other trendy shops in Nimman, Pai Yan Yai has a unique charm. It has a large menu and a cozy atmosphere perfect for any student looking for great wifi, affordable food, and a great space for studying. The lower floor is for talking and chitchating and the second floor is designated for quiet studying. Anyone who likes a bit of both will find it at Pai Yan Yai.
Chiang Mai-Lamphun Old Road, next to Duke’s on Ping River
Open daily: 10am-6pm
Ploy is both a cafe and a concept store. The space is great if you want to spend a relaxing day downtown. There is also a garden for open-air studying (if the pollution or weather doesn’t get too bad). There are comfy chairs and large circular tables. Overall, Ploy has a great and quiet atmosphere.
4) Chaaym Pastry and Cafe
363 Moo 5 T. Thasala
Open daily: 11am-6pm
Closed Sundays and Mondays
Chaaym is a little bakery and kitchenware shop that offers food and drinks. Their baked goods are a must-try with every small bite packed with great flavours. Pick anything – the pistachio cake, macarons, or flourless matcha cake, they are all worth it. They also serve savoury food like French fries and spaghetti. Plus, Chaaym has huge tables and outlets all over the shop so it is a perfect place to spend your afternoons or get your work done.
5) The Localist
Chang Moi Kao Road
Open daily 10am-6.30pm
If you like contemporary design and chocolate, then say no more – head to The Localist. A hostel, a cafe and a co-working space, The Localist is also partners with Siamaya Chocolate, producing a super creative menu to indulge in. There is a study room above the chocolate shop with one large table for you to snag if you want the extra space, but scattered around the shop are many single tables as well. They offer other activities too such as live music and workshops. Parking may be hard, but the space is definitely worth checking out.
6) The Moon Cafe and Eatery
Huay Kaew Road
Open daily: 7.30am-5pm
Earth Hotel’s Moon Café (you see what they did there?) serves a wide array of food from breakfasts to dinners running the gamut from sandwiches to healthy smoothie bowls. Try their freshly baked desserts or their breads. It is always bustling with café-hoppers as well as students so the atmosphere is perfect if you are looking for a place to chill for the afternoon, grab a snack, or revise your notes. A fun place for a change of ambiance.
7) Nat Wat Home Café
Tuesdays to Sundays 7.30am-4.30pm
NatWat Home Cafe serves great quality Western food with lots of delicious comfort food. You can just pop in for a coffee, a bite of baked goods or dig into a large meal. Located near Chiang Mai International School and right across from The Embassy House condominium, by around 2:30pm on school days it will be filled to the brim with fresh-out-of-the-classroom students who will make sure you don’t study alone. Table sizes are huge enough to fit all your work materials and leave enough space for a plate of yummy food.
[Ed: Who knew that table size was such a thing!? It has been too long since my student days…]