Forest wandering – not all who wander are lost

Live vicariously through Nalinna Li, who takes us on a visual adventure to explore the lesser known beauty of Chiang Mai.

Forest Bake: 8/ NHA Wat Kaet 1 Alley, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50000, Thailand

Scrolling through Nalinna Li’s beautifully curated Instagram feed (@Nalinnali) can inspire a serious case of wanderlust. As they say, every photo has its own story and the 31-year-old of Thai, Chinese and Scottish descent certainly has many stories to tell.

Born and bred in Chiang Mai, Nalinna was heavily influenced by the elements of nature she was surrounded in, which shaped her unique sense of style. The self-proclaimed ‘Forest Wanderer’ studied in the UK in her formative years, in a place which is akin to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School. It was there where she grew a love for intricate designs and vintage styles. She eventually pursued her degree in Fashion Design & Textiles in Singapore, but found her calling in styling and baking.

These days, one is more likely to find Nalinna hanging out at Forest Bake, her quaint and Instagram-worthy home bake café, preoccupied with food photography and styling.

From fashion to baking, that’s a huge jump isn’t it? What inspired you to set up Forest Bake?

My mum and aunt love baking. My mum’s family is Scottish, they bake with the traditional Scottish recipes handed down from generation to generation. Seeing the cakes and pastries that they baked inspired me to try out food styling. To be honest, I’m actually more into food styling and photography than baking. My mum and aunt are the head bakers, while I do styling and photography. I enjoy bringing concepts to life, adding the finishing touches and seeing everything gel together as one.

Be one with nature and have an idyllic afternoon at Forest Bake over some decadent rustic bakes. As seen on Nalinna: Almond Flower Buckle Bag

The place is lovely! It looks true to its name. What do you serve in your café?

We serve mainly homemade, rustic bakes in small quantities. We have cinnamon rolls, canelé, sweet breads, sticky buns, all kinds of brioche and even fruit tarts. Even though we follow the Scottish recipe passed down from my grandfather’s family, we evolve it by using local Chiang Mai ingredients so that it’s more acceptable for local tastes. Everything is handmade, so we only serve a small quantity each day, once we run out, that’s it for the day.

What are you up to nowadays?

We’re also starting a Bangkok branch of Forest Bake: Cabin in Capital soon, so now I divide my time between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. At the moment I’m concentrating on our Bangkok expansion, with a concept that focuses more on delivery to cater to the fast-paced lifestyle there.

Your feeds are very aesthetically pleasing, what’s your secret to working a beautiful feed?

I concentrate on the mood, tone and story behind every photo. I like my photos to be a bit dark with elements of nature to exude a sense of mystery. All my photos have a consistent tone and a story behind them. I’m very selective when it comes to my photos and if something doesn’t fit, I simply take it out.

What do you want people to know about Chiang Mai?

People may think that Chiang Mai is the picturesque countryside, or less ‘happening’ sibling of Bangkok. Yes, maybe it’s not as glitzy as the capital, but I can assure you that there’s actually a lot more to Chiang Mai than mountains and temples. Especially in recent years, the art scene has been thriving and I think of Chiang Mai today as an art city not just rich in historical stories, but that also tells modern tales through contemporary art.

In the past, most young people born in Chiang Mai would move to Bangkok in their teens but I think this changed in recent years. More youngsters, like me, are returning back to Chiang Mai, opening up small businesses or reinventing the old ways of their fathers and introducing new ways to doing traditional things here. The entrepreneurial spirit has also helped to develop the arts scene further, so we’ve seen a lot more hipster cafes, street art and the cultural scene is also slowly developing. That’s something I love about Chiang Mai which I really want to share with the world.

Top tips for visiting Chiang Mai from Nalinna

1. Visit Chiang Mai’s hipster cafes for a taste of new meets old.
2. Don’t just be a tourist, explore like a local and you might even stumble upon galleries at some random street.
3. The best time to visit would be from November to February to enjoy the cooler temperatures.
4. Hop on and off anywhere, anytime with Chiang Mai’s signature red truck taxi called the Songthaew for 20 baht.

Chiang Mai recommendations

Not feeling lucky in love? Change your luck with some love offerings at Wat Lok Moli temple! As seen on Nalinna: Beige Metal Trim Mules

1. Wat Lok Moli temple

One of the oldest Lanna/Burmese temples in Chiang Mai situated at the north side of the north moat that surrounds the old city. The temple is aligned along a north-south axis whereas most Buddhist temples are orientated towards the east where the sun rises. If you’re looking for love, try visiting the temple for love offerings too!

Address: Wat Lok Moli, Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200

Explore Chiang Mai’s handmade crafts at the Warorot Market, or satisfy the foodie in you with their dinosaur version of you tiao. As seen on Nalinna: White Lace Up Flats

2. Warorot market

One of the most well-known markets in Chiang Mai, Warorot Market is located at the heart of the city. The market is subdivided into a few sections specialising in different trades: flower market, wet market, Chinese market, fashion market and many more. If you’re looking for hidden gems, explore some of the more obscure alleys where you can find traditional handicraft stores that sell buttons, tribal bags and beads. Another must-visit in the market would be the famous you tiao stall, which serves piping hot you tiao that takes various shapes in the form of elephants, dinosaurs and more. They are sold with soy milk, and you can even dip it into condensed milk to eat!

Address: Warorot Market (Kad Luang), 90 Wichayanon Rd, Tambon Chang Moi, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50300

Have an authentic taste of Chiang Mai at this famous 50-year-old beef noodle stall and end your meal on a sweet note with a cup of Thai iced milk tea. As seen on Nalinna: Champagne Sparkling Flats

3. Chang Moi Cafe (the original branch)

This famous beef noodle store has been operating for more than 50 years in Chiang Mai, and the menu and interior have been retained throughout the years. For those who can’t consume beef, you’ll be glad to know they serve pork dishes as well. Try their special pairing sauce, which gives their soup a unique taste after mixing. Then wash it all down with a refreshing cup of traditional Thai Milk Tea. Don’t forget to take an #OOTD to channel some nostalgia in your photos!

Address: Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai

A symbolic landmark for Chiang Mai, the Tha Phae Gate has since evolved into a busy tourism hub with plenty of eats and accommodation.

4. Tha Phae Gate

Tha Pae Gate is one of the most famous landmarks in Chiang Mai and is part of the crumbling city wall which once acted as a fortress of the ‘Old City’, and still acts as a geographical boundary today. The gate area is an epicentre for tourism in Chiang Mai, boasting more hotels, bars, restaurants, cafes, massage parlours and shops than anywhere else in the city.

Address: Tha Phae Gate, Moon Mueang Road, Soi Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200

Follow Nalinna on Instagram @Nalinnali to check out more of her creative works!

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