Chiang Mai on the Cheap

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Chiang Mai is a city in Northern Thailand that has recently gained momentum as being a hotspot destination for tourist due to its unique culture, sights, and attractions. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Chiang Mai was voted in 2012 to be one of Tripadvisor's 25 Best Destinations in the World to visit.

I have always wanted to visit Chiang Mai, my friends have told me that I would like it. Coming from a quiet town in Laos to the bustling big city of Chiang Mai (for some reason I thought it would also be very small and quaint) was a bit of a culture shock. However, this quickly subsided as I explored the little shops within the Old City- the creativity of the shops and of the people is impressive. In fact, Chiang Mai has applied for status from UNESCO as a Creative City. I found everyone to be extremely friendly and sweet in Chiang Mai.
Although getting here can be expensive, the city itself is very reasonable and definitely very cheap to travel around. Here are some of the things that I did while I was here.

Getting Around

Chiang Mai on the Cheap

Getting from the airport to the Old City costs 120 Baht ($4), however, getting back to the airport is negotiable, only $2.75 (80 Baht) from the Old City. It is very close, if you are inclined, you could even walk there (though walking in 30 degree C weather with a heavy backpack probably isn't the best idea).

Once you're in the Old City everything is walkable, it will take you about 20 minutes to walk from one end to another, but flagging down a Tuk Tuk is fine too, 20 Baht for places within the city ($0.67).

Related: Top 10 Tips For Avoiding Travel Trauma & Saving Money

Things to Do

Go Temple Touring

There are around 300 Wats (temples) in Chiang Mai. Most of them are free entry, provided that you dress appropriately. One day, I spent walking around the Old City, visiting the temples.

We hired a private red bus/car (song thiew) to take us to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep for about $16 for a return trip (it's a 30 min drive outside of the Old City)- so about $8 per person. Admission with the cable car up to the Wat was $1.75. It is a beautiful temple that was founded in 1383 with impressive views of Chiang Mai. If you take an organized tour, it will cost you around $20 per person.

Chiang Mai on the Cheap1

Learn Some New Cooking Skills

For $30 I spent 6 hours making 7 different dishes. It was probably the best $30 I have spent in a while and certainly the best meals I have had so far in Thailand (and amazingly enough, I made them!!- with guidance of course). Definitely a must-do if you are in Chiang Mai.

Get a Massage

For around $6.75 you can get a foot massage for 1 hour or a Thai massage for an hour (if you have never had a Thai massage before you are in for a surprise!). There are many massage shops around town and the prices are all comparable.

Where to Eat

There are lots of options to eat in Chiang Mai. A typical “American breakfast” can range anywhere from 90 to 120 Baht ($3-4).

One of my favourite places to eat at was the food cart area on the corner of the Old City. There I had grilled pork on a skewer for 16 cents, pad thai for $1, kao soi for $1 (an egg noodle chicken curry soup), mango sticky rice for $1, and Chang beer for $1.16.

Related: Travel on the Cheap- Exotic doesn’t Always Mean Expensive

Where to Stay

There are loads of places to stay in Chiang Mai and most are reasonable, especially in the Old City. I stayed in a place that only cost $6 per night for a female dorm with a private bathroom. Although it did not include breakfast, what more could you ask for, for $6 a night I suppose? It was called Green Tulip Guest House and it seems to be quite a popular backpacker haunt. There are more expensive places to stay, like hotels such as Le Meridien, but those are located outside of the Old City and the area over there was definitely very catered towards the foreigner crowd.

Related: Travel on the Cheap- Backpacking and Hostels

On most days I was here, I spent under $15 per day including my stay and my food for the day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).

Of course, you can spend more if you go to the night markets in town (there are 3!), go to an elephant sanctuary, visit remote hill tribes, or even spoon with tigers!

Readers, have you been to Chiang Mai?

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Young is a writer and former owner of Young and Thrifty and the main "twitter' behind Young and Thrifty's twitter account. She lives in Vancouver, BC and enjoys long walks on the beach, spending time with her anxious dog, and finding good deals. If you like what you read, consider signing up for email updates.

2 Comments

  1. Daisy on March 26, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    I am a huge fan of these travel guides! This is yet another place that I’d love to visit but haven’t made it to yet. We’d considered perhaps going to Thailand as part of our honeymoon but we wouldn’t have enough time to do it justice and be able to see everything else we want to see, so it will have to be another trip.



  2. Young on March 27, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    @Daisy- Thailand is huge and so vast! I only spent about 9 days in Thailand and in two cities haha…



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