Revisiting Mrs. Pa, the Best Smoothie Cart in Chiang Mai

It is 4pm and Mrs. Pa is setting up her smoothie cart at Chiang Mai gate. The light is beginning to change and the starlings are in the trees, waiting to swoop in wide circles around the moat at dusk. Mrs. Pa sets up here daily after a morning visit to the markets to buy from her preferred fruit vendors. Muang Noi Market for most of the fresh produce, Samoeng for strawberries. She makes her own sugar water, claiming that the stuff you can buy is just not good enough for the loving care she requires. There are many reasons that Mrs. Pa is the best smoothie cart in Chiang Mai, but care and attention are certainly two of them.

The best smoothie cart in Chiang Mai: Mrs. Pa's Fruit Shake Cart at Chiang Mai Gate
Pre-evening rush at Mrs. Pa’s smoothie cart

When I came to live in Chiang Mai in 2011, friends and I would sit for hours at her stall, watching her work and listening to her unselfconscious laugh echoing like a bell. I pitched my then-editor at CNN Travel asking if could write about her, wanting to learn more about her life and story. He agreed, and in 2011 I wrote a piece about her smoothie cart for CNNGo (now CNN Travel). To write it, I shadowed her for several days, joining her at the morning market and learning more about her life. We talked about her former job in an office, before a friend gifted her the smoothie cart she now uses daily. I watched many of the same customers come back every night, drawn in by that infectious laugh and her bright smile.

By the time I left in 2011, I thought I would be back the next year. But I ended up finding a home in Saigon and spending my winters eating there instead. Late last fall I returned to Chiang Mai and surprised her at the stall after several years away. She was mid smoothie-blending when she looked up and saw me, yelled my name and ran over with a fierce and wondrous hug. It was a lovely reunion.

Reunited with Mrs. Pa in Chiang Mai
Reunited and it feels so good! Not picture: mango and strawberry smoothie that I gulped down after this hug.

You never really know the impact of your words on someone’s business. Though this site is far smaller than a Lonely Planet or another guide, CNN’s is not. And I wondered, might I have done her a disservice by writing about her and her story? So I asked to meet with her again, with the help of a lovely Thai woman named Nam, to follow up with a few questions about her business.

Interview with Mrs. Pa, mid-smoothie

Chiang Mai Gate has the best smoothie stall in all of the city.
The view of the moat from Chiang Mai gate just outside the old city

How has your business changed since 2011?

I have many more customers now, many who have read the article you wrote. At the beginning, many brought me the article on their phones and showed it to me, asking if I am the same person. Some tourists arrive at the airport and come here directly, they say!

I have a bigger cart now — I was able to invest in one since sales were higher. And I am also able to get better quality fruit and use them in my smoothies.

I am really happy to be busy. I have been able to put my kids through school because of how busy the stall has been, and I have tried to save what I can to eventually be able to buy a house.

The business has also changed because of how many Chinese tourists have come over here to Thailand. I have learned some Mandarin by asking them the words for the fruit, and can communicate with them a bit when they order. It makes a big difference.

Mrs. Pa making smoothies at Chiang Mai gate
Mid-creation.

How are Chinese tourists different from us falang (white foreigner) tourists?

They care more about the price than if the smoothie is tasty. You come and ask me for the best combinations, and what fruits are good today or not. Often they immediately come and ask how much.

(As if to illustrate a group of Chinese tourists comes up to ask about the price, then asks what to drink. Mrs Pa looks at me with a knowing smile. After their smoothies have been delivered, I herd them all behind the cart and take a big group photo. “This happens all the time”, Mrs. Pa says head thrown back and laughing.)

Do you miss the office environment you used to work in?

With a grimace, “No!”

How do you know what is best to mix together?

I have bought books on Ayurvedic medicine and food combinations, studied the way that fruits go together. If people ask for a combination I think will be bad I will tell them. I will make it for them if they insist but I will tell them first! I choose what is in season and won’t buy fruit that day if the quality isn’t what I want.

Do you want to expand your cart into a franchise?

No, I am very happy with this one cart. I can work for myself. If I am sick, I can close the cart for the night and know that it is only me who is affected (along with my customers, unfortunately!) I like the flexibility and being a solo business.

Favourite smoothie?

Mixed fruit!

mrs pa smoothie at chiang mai gate
Strango, strawberry and mango smoothie, from Mrs. Pa

Chiang Mai Gate night food market

While interviewing Mrs. Pa I also wanted to use the opportunity to ask about the set up for the night food market itself. How do they decide which cart goes where? Who pays for electricity? How much is the rent for the space? Where are the carts stored at night?

Chiang Mai Gate street food market
Chiang Mai Gate street food market before the sunset.

If, like me, you are curious about all of these things, the answers were:

  • The carts are stored in an alleyway not far from Chiang Mai gate, and the vendors either wheel them into the gate area themselves, or pay someone to do it for them.
  • The electricity is run from cart to cart, with a small reader on a tree at the edge of the moat. Each cart pays for the electricity it uses.
  • There is no access to running water for the food carts.
  • Each street stall pays a fee for garbage every day, but no fixed rent for the space. That said, to get a space in the first place, you have to petition the local authorities and, per Mrs. Pa, “the list is closed now.” So what you see is what you get!
  • The actual location of the carts is dictated by that list. This was in contrast to my expectation of these street carts duking it out for the best spot in the market but alas, it’s far more simple than a turf war!

A happy entrepreneur

mrs. pa making fruit shakes in chiang mai
Smoothies with a smile

I’ve been back to Mrs. Pa’s repeatedly during the last few weeks, and have had a chance to bring some new friends to her stall as well. Her memory is impeccable for the old ones too; when I showed up one night she exclaimed “Jod-eeeeee” and pointed at my friend Kevin, who I used to smoothie with in 2011. Not only does she remember the fruits you like to eat, but she also keeps track of who you drank them with, years down the line.

When I ask customers why they come back, many cite her warmth and smiles. Of course her smoothies are absolutely delicious, and she knows the combinations to make them even better. A pinch of salt to bring out the sweetness of the strawberries, some ginger if you have fever, and other loving touches that make her stall special. But her personality is a good part of what makes the experience so wonderful.

“People like that I’m happy,” she tells me before turning back to blend a new combination of fruit, “because I am doing what I want to do. Just like you.”

Where to find Mrs. Pa: At Chiang Mai (south) gate, just across from the 7-11. She has a red and white cart with Mrs. Pa’s Fruit Shake written on the outside. Open 4pm-10pm daily except Sunday. Smoothies 25 baht.

-Jodi

43 thoughts on “Revisiting Mrs. Pa, the Best Smoothie Cart in Chiang Mai”

  1. Great story. It’s nice to see a follow-up to a travel story–far more interesting, in fact, than I’d have expected the original story to be. (Sorry–just a guess since I missed the original.)

  2. It’s crazy how much do I like stories about locals in general and this one is no exception. After reading such an inspiring interview, there’s no way I would ever skip Mrs. Pa’s Smoothie Cart if I was, by any chance, in Chiang Mai right now.

  3. Lovely story. My travel partner is usually my husband, Mr. Excitement, and he mostly insists on going to someplace we haven’t been before. The problem with that is missing happy reunions, like yours with Mrs. Pa. One question. When we visited Thailand, we were warned by a travel doc friend not to drink tap water. Since Mrs. Pa has so many tourists among her patrons, where does she obtain the water for her special sugar water?

  4. Love this – it’s really inspiring to see someone so happy in their ‘nontraditional’ path, particularly a female entrepreneur! Kudos to Mrs. Pa!

  5. Shannon O'Donnell

    Aw, it is so wonderful to see that her business has thrived in the years since I left. I last hugged that lady in 2012 and was sad to say goodbye. While her smoothies are delicious, it’s certainly that genuine warmth, caring, and friendliness that has made her the best spot to hang out. I love the followup, thanks for letting me (us) see how she is doing years after her CNN profile!

  6. I totally love this story Jodi! Seeing the wonderful positive effects you’ve had on each other’s lives like that just made my day. Both of you doing what you love respectively. There are so many people I’ve met on my travels that I’d love to see again and know they are doing well. Tell them the positive impact they’ve had on my life. Thank you for sharing this.

  7. I love this so much. The power of listening – and telling a story – changes lives. Thank you for sharing hers – twice! We’re doubly lucky.

  8. I love this story. The personal element makes it real and authentic. I wrote something a bit similar about a woman I met in Budapest, Hungary. The short time I spent with her still lingers in memory several years later as one of the most touching moments in my life. You inspire me to write more about the people I meet while travelling.

  9. Waw! I just found your blog through bloglovin. I recently moved to CM so I couldn’t resist having a look. This story is the best!! I’m definitely going to try out one of her smoothies this week :-)

  10. Loved reading about Mrs Pa, thank you for bringing us her story. We were there last year and although we drank smoothies from one or 2 of the carts i do not remember if hers was one of them. I was surprised about how nostalgic i got about Chiang Mai but i really liked that place.

    If you are interested in another local who might be a great person to interview, it would be a gentleman who runs a cafe named Funky Dog, tucked away in a street within the old city walls, in the northeast quarter (if memory serves). His coconut milk iced coffee was awesome but not as cool as his attitude and personality. :)
    Have fun in Chiang Mai, we’ll have to get back there before too long. Cheers.
    -PJ

  11. I wish I had read this post earlier as I was in Chiang Mai just a month ago :( I will visit again and hopefully get a chance to go to this stall. Thanks so much for sharing, it’s always a pleasure to read your work :)

  12. Oh, what a sweetheart! The people behind places like a smoothie cart are truly what make them amazing. I’m so glad that your article helped Mrs. Pa so much. She’s on my list for my first trip to Chiang Mai.

  13. So cool you’ve helped her grow her business! The pictures show so much joy.

    Maybe in 2016 I will finally visit CM for a week. Was in Malaysia, Taiwan, and Angkor Wat this year!

    Sam

  14. It is unreal how your photos instantly make me wish I was in that soupy heat slurping down one of these smoothies!

  15. Great to see she can be a solo-preneur and finance her children to go through school from it. Just goes to show what a bit of support (from others) can do for a small business… Wonderful.

  16. I love Mrs Pa & her smoothies! I’ve been living in CM 1 year now. I didn’t realize she was “famous.” I actually started going to the lady behind her, though, because Mrs Pa always has 10 Chinese people waiting for her (& she’s too often out of papaya). I can’t get a smoothie in time to eat it with my kao ka moo from the guy next to her. It’s great you did this for her!

  17. I used to live in CM (I’ve spent the last two Christmases there and this is my first one away) and I loved Mrs Pa. I think it’s great that your article has helped her expand, and I still remember my delicious smoothies (very heavily pineapple) fondly! This has made me wish I could go back this Christmas and eat some of the delicious and cheap street food by the gate!

  18. A great post talking about a kind-hearted woman. It’s also nice to see that you have brought the kind human on a public platform through your post and now many will know about the smoothie cart lady-Mrs.Pa. I’m sure anyone visiting Chiang Mai will surely plan to visit this lady.

  19. Hi Jodi: Great article. I’ll be visiting South East Asia over the course of a month and I’m in charge of planning our group’s food and activities. Is Ms. Pa’s cart located in the Chiang Mai gate market? I’m having a hard time finding her location. Thanks for you help and safe travels.

      1. Thanks for replying Jodi! Again great article. Are you currently in that states? I’ll be in Chiang Mai in a couple of weeks and would be happy to relay any message or package of any kind to her from you. Just send me and email and let me know. Have a good weekend!

        David

  20. It was awesome to finally Miss Pa after reading so much about her. She really was one of the nicest ladies I met in Thailand and her smoothies were amazing. The first day there I was so caught up in the moment I left my gopro on her cart. She saw me across the street a few minutes later and ran over to give it back to me. I could never repay her for kindness. I think my favorite smoothie was the mango passion fruit. Me and my friends went there all three days we were there. It is must hit spot in Chiang Mai. I look forward to seeing her again.

  21. Wow! Just finished reading the article and I could just gulp one of Mrs. Pa’s smoothies down right now.

    Fortunately, I’m right here in Chiang Mai :D Can’t really get to the south gate tonight in time for a heavenly lime-mango-passionfruit, however, but tomorrow I am SO there!

    Great work on these awesome articles on this fantastic lady.
    I’ve been in Chiang Mai for two weeks now and you can tell that many family-run restaurants, food stalls or small shops would probably provide some very inspiring life stories to read about, and I think that’s what really breathes life into most special places, as I’m finding Chiang Mai to be.

    Speaking of which, I’ll be leaving right now to have (a late) dinner at Aroy Dee, my favourite thai food place in these parts. It’s by the moat, between the east gate and the northeast corner.

  22. Can confirm, as of Dec 2016 Mrs. Pa is still there. Just remember, she will always serve locals first. Happy hunting!

  23. Thanks to this article, when first visiting the only thing I’ve heard about Chiang Mai was Mrs. Pa’s cart. Going to Chiang Mai gates was sight-seeing ;)

  24. Mathieu Lavigne

    In chiang mai right now. Just went there. Wow. Thank you for your text, made us try her mango/lytchi and mango/passionfruit smoothies. Delicious and so cheap!

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