Emerald hued with jade green hillsides, surging brown rivers, and motorbikes—alive is perhaps the only way I can describe Thailand. I travel alone—which has both drawbacks and benefits. I get to go where I want, when I want—totally without negotiation. But, truth be told, complete freedom has its costs, and loneliness, at least for me, is one. But then I found Cat’ n’ A Cup Cat Café, in the city of Chiang Rai of all places.
Thailand is actually quite expansive, and contrary to popular belief, the country is anything but culturally monolithic. Never colonized by Europeans, the Kingdom of Thailand has welcomed successive waves of peoples from what we now know as China, Burma, and Laos over millennia. The northern part of the country, interestingly enough, historically has more in common with Burma than with the southern part of the country. And the province of Chiang Rai, Chiang Rai, is a city and a province and was only incorporated into the Kingdom of Thailand in 1910.
People born and raised in northern Thailand often speak Lanna (northern Thai), a language closely related to Laotian that many Thai speakers from other parts of the country have trouble understanding. And due to the Burmese influence, Lanna is even written with a different script. However, nearly everyone studies central Thai, which has been tapped as the common standard at school.
Where is Chang Rai?
Chiang Rai lies in the far north of the country, in the foothills of the Khun Tan mountain range and on the banks of the Mae Kok River—an offshoot of the mighty Mekong. The Mekong is a river that flows from its source in the Tibetan highlands and serves as a natural border between Laos and Thailand. The Mekong eventually makes its way through Vietnam, where it finally joins the South China Sea. The city itself is about 40 miles from both Burma and Laos.
Chiang Rai is the northernmost place one can reasonably call a city in Thailand. With a population of around 69,888 people, the laid-back hub has just about the same number of residents as Greenville, South Carolina. The city itself serves as the capital of Chiang Rai province and is a regional hub where you can get some seriously delicious Japanese, Indian and, of course, Thai food.
Most people don’t come to Chiang Rai for the atmosphere or the food, to be honest, but rather because it’s a well-known jumping-off point for travelers interested in trekking through northern Thailand’s jungles. It also has two famous modern temples, Wat Rong Suea Ten and Wat Rong Khun — the Blue and White Temples, respectively, but neither sits within the central part of the city. There’s also a museum with tons of information about various nearby Hill Tribes. Hill Tribes are indigenous communities that live largely unconnected from other groups in Thai society and maintain their own distinct cultural traditions.
Taking a side trip to Cat ‘n’ A Cup Cat Café
And all that’s just great, but even when surrounded by delicious food, beautiful temples, and stunning culture, sometimes traveling just gets lonely. Cue Cat ‘n’ A Cup Cat Café, with its 20 or so adorable well cared for kitties that are, if you’re nice and they like you, willing to give you a bit of cuddle.
Walk in, order your coffee or tea and take a seat. The café has gorgeous dark wooden furniture, and it has tables with chairs for those who don’t enjoy floor seating and tables designed for you to sit on the ground, if that’s yourstyle. Sit back, relax and watch the kitties look out the huge windows at the mopeds, motorcycles, yellow and red taxis, and trucks roaring by.
Or not, because it’ll probably only take a few seconds before one of these friendly cats comes by, jumps on your lap, and starts purring and kneading away like a champ. If you’re not having any luck in the cat contact department, the café sells healthy cat treats you can use to get things going in the right direction.
Air conditioning, soothing music, and a sweet atmosphere are all hallmarks of the café. Kids and babies are welcome, as long as they don’t pester the cats, which pretty much didn’t happen the entire time I was there, even though there was a cute toddler zipping around.
Snackers, like me, on the other hand, can be a problem for reasons obvious to anyone who has ever loved a cat. I ordered a slice of lemon cake which I never finished and eventually had to have taken away to keep the peace between myself and a very persistent (and adorable) kitty. These cats like human food, and apparently, they love french fries. Just ask the table of uniformed school girls who were sitting next to me who went to the most adorably creative lengths to enjoy their snacks while at the same time preventing naughty-kitty food stealing. The cafe has a strict no human food for cats policy.
The café has tons of cat-friendly perches and a giant sisal scratching post for the cats to enjoy. And there’s even an open run hanging from the ceiling, where one beautiful long-haired boy spent a few hours napping while I was there. Cats-only benches and cozy enclosed baskets are also available for the four-footers.
I couldn’t find information about the individual cats at the café, and my guess is that neither will you. So you’ve just got to do this experience the old-fashioned way, with good old interaction and observation. I suspect there are a few close to purebreds in the bunch, including Bengal, Siamese, Persian, and Scottish Fold-adjacent kitties. The “Bengal” big boy ignored everyone and spent the entire time either eyeing a blue bucket collecting water (it’s monsoon season here, and everything is leaky and wet) or attempting to dip his paw into the bucket. The “Persian” kitty found a warm, welcoming lap and basically stayed there for long time. You get the drift.
Moms and dads with children, school kids, travelers, and people hanging out with their laptops share the space. Although, for the most part, the electronics appeared to be mostly for show, as everyone I saw was doing precisely what cats cause us to do—make jackasses out of ourselves in vain attempts to get some cat love. We’re talking about grown people scooting around on the floor while speaking some strange universal cat lover language that usually involves lots of bizarre noises and phrases like, “Oh yes, you are a good boy, aren’t you. Yes, you are. You’re the most beautiful kitty I’ve ever seen. Would you like a cat kiss or maybe just a treat.”
And that’s ok because the thing about cats is they inspire kindness. Some connections simply transcend language. Maybe it was the magic of the monsoon, or maybe there’s just something special about the thick humid northern Thai summer air, but yeah, I needed a bit of cat love, and I found it.
In a Nutshell
|Where:||Cat ‘n’ A Cup Cat Cafe|
|Address:||596/7 Phaholyothin Road, Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand|
|Phone:||+66 88 251 3706|
|Getting there:||Fly to Bangkok, make your way to Chiang Mai, take a bus from there to Chiang Rai and then go explore the city—trust me, you’ll find what you’re looking for.|