Chiang Mai is a gem of a city found in Northern Thailand. Luxurious restaurants rub shoulders with street food stalls, making this lively city an ideal one for travelers on every type of budget. For those of you backpackers who do find yourselves filled with wanderlust but cursed with an empty wallet, do not fret. We at Mad Monkey are here with helpful tips on how you can save money while traveling in Chiang Mai. Here, a complete guide on things to do in Chiang Mai on a budget!
Pre-Trip Visa Expenses to Make Note of
Visitors to Thailand from the U.S. and about 40 other countries are permitted 30 days to stay in the Kingdom for free. If you want more time to explore, then there are a few other visas you can get that will cost you a bit more. You must have a passport that is valid for at least six months, a round-trip air ticket, and at least ฿10,000 (about $312) in order to enter the country with the visa on arrival. You can pay more for a 90-day visa, as well, which must be done before entering the country.
Stay in Hostels Instead of Hotels
It may sound like a given, but staying in a hostel as opposed to a hotel will save you loads of baht during your stay in Chiang Mai. Dormitory rooms with anywhere from four to 16 beds can be booked for a few bucks a night. There are also plenty of hostels to choose from, as well, with everything from party hostels to artistic ones to lay your head to rest. Mad Monkey Chiang Mai is officially open this year! In addition to being an affordable hostel, we are also a socially responsible one, so you can feel great (and save some money) by staying with us.
Get Around via Bicycle
Strap on that helmet and take to the streets of Chiang Mai in style via bicycle. Many travelers will risk renting a motorbike without the proper license to get where it is they need to go, and quickly. With that being said, many of the top coffee shops, temples, shopping malls, and more are within a cycle ride away from one another. Why spend ฿200 or more on a motorbike when a bicycle only costs ฿50? You can also get in a good workout (and tan) whilst cycling around this incredible city. For more information about how to get around town, check out our transportation guide to Chiang Mai.
Take Advantage of all the Free Things to do in Chiang Mai
Going on the best day trips from Chiang Mai also means you will likely be chiseling out a good portion of baht from your wallet. While we do encourage you to see and do all it is that you can afford, there are plenty of free things to do in Chiang Mai. Check out our list below to see exactly what it is you can do without spending too much baht:
- Lounge by the 800-year-old moat
- Photograph the Old City
- Check out all the free temples within walking distance of one another
- Partake in a monk chat (yes, you read that correctly)
- Visit an art gallery
- Go to one of the green spaces found around town
- Browse the Chiang Mai Tribal Museum
- Meander a night market
- Dance at Zoe in Yellow
Stay away from Tourist Hot Spots
As cliche as it sounds, try to stay off the tourist-ridden path as much as possible and you will surely save a few baht. Do your research to find the most unique of attractions in the city. The fewer tourists there are, the less pricey it will likely be. Avoid sanctuaries (though they are incredible) and meander down a back and winding soi (street) and possibly discover something magical … you never know! Forget booking expensive tours that drag you and a large group of your fellow tourists from attraction to attraction and find a different and cheaper alternative way to get to these places, or simply avoid them altogether. There are plenty of things to do in Chiang Mai that are affordable if you search hard enough!
Eat Street Food or at Budget-Friendly Restaurants
Don’t beeline towards the top rated TripAdvisor restaurant in town. Instead, meander about until you see loads of locals and pull up a chair. This is likely where you will save money and indulge in delicious food. Street food stalls in Chiang Mai are plentiful, and most are hygienic. More importantly, they are delicious (by most people’s standards). There are also loads of budget-friendly restaurants in Chiang Mai that are serving up delicious meals for as little as a $1. Indulge, save some money, eat, and be happy! For a list of budget-friendly restaurants in Chiang Mai, be sure to check this article.
Visit During the Low Season
The months of November to February are considered to be the high season. If you are really low on cash, then maybe it is best to avoid visiting during these months. It is then that the most tourists visit, and popular excursions, as well as accommodation options, will raise their prices knowing they are about to be greeted with a whole lot of visitors. During the low season (March to June), the same places that were upping their prices are dropping them and likely giving out discounts left and right (we’re being dramatic, but you get the point). Save a few hundred baht here and there just by coming during a different month. Bear in mind, the low season is when it is the hottest time to visit. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Take Advantage of the Songthaews
You will likely see a songthaew within minutes of arriving in Chiang Mai. Songthaews, meaning two benches, are the bright red trucks that drive circles around the Old City picking up locals and tourists alike. There is a flat fee of ฿30 (about $0.90) to go just about anywhere. If you request a destination that is a bit further, you are not likely to pay any more than about ฿100 (about $3.10), which is still relatively cheap by most people’s standards. Barter if you are given a high price. Also, be sure to agree on a price before hopping in the back of these red trucks, or you may be charged a different price than you had originally thought.
Shop at the Markets Instead of the Malls
Since the late 1990s, Chiang Mai began to boom tremendously in the number of luxury malls and hotels being built. With that being said, it is best to steer clear of these shiny venues and instead head to one of the many markets sprinkled around the city. Meander down the Sunday Walking Street and finger the Thai silk that lays lovingly on display. Admire the handmade wooden carvings that double as lights, with friendly vendors to boot at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Watch as locals examine and pry the freshest of produce at one of the wet markets around town. Feel free to purchase any one of the cheap items found at these markets or instead simply appreciate their aesthetic and “window shop,” per say. Either way, you will be saving money! Of all the things to do in Chiang Mai, visiting a market is a must, as well.
Know how to Barter
Knowing how to barter when shopping at markets will certainly help you get the item you want … and for less. We have included some phrases that will help you get the Thai souvenirs you want for the price you want. You’re welcome!
|Can you speak English?||Kun pood paasaa anggrit dai mai?|
|I want this one.||Ao annii.|
|Very expensive!||Paang mak!|
|Can you lower the price?||Lod noi dai mai?|
|Thank you!||Khop kun!|
Skip the Rooftop Bars
We all love a good view with a cocktail in tow, but this is not necessarily the cheapest way in which to get your buzz on. Instead, skip sipping on that alcoholic beverage from several floors above the city and instead grab a few drinks at the local mom and pop shop or the nearest 7/11. Booze is cheap and in abundance, and you will be able to get your buzz on without spending too much baht, as well!
More Information About Things to do in Chiang Mai on a Budget
Did you love this article on budget-traveling through Chiang Mai? Do you want even more information on how to save some baht while traveling this Lanna-style city? Then be sure to check out these awesome articles that we have rounded up, just for you! Now get to planning (and saving), and we’ll see you in Chiang Mai!
- Budget Guide to Chiang Mai Thailand – What To See and Do! for Travelling King
- A Guide to Visiting in Chiang Mai on a Budget for Chiang Mai Best
- How much does it cost to travel to Chiang Mai? for Budget Your Trip