10 Ways to enjoy the Thai Northern capital like a local without breaking the bank
Compared to Bangkok, we can not only consider Chiang Mai cheap, but in many ways it’s also a superior destination: From the fab Chiang Mai International Airport 10 minutes from the city centre (direct flights ICN-CNX with Korean Air) to main-stream points of interest like Chiang Mai Zoo & Night Safari. None of this is news to you though dear reader, so we offer for your perusal, planning and penny-pinching purposes the 10 Mag guide to Chiang Mai on a budget.
Chiang Mai Cheap Hotel & Accommodation
If you’re staying for a week or more you can ask for a cheaper rate on your accommodation. If you stay for a month you can pay very little, or get a fantastic upgrade. Look for mountain views, a fridge, balcony, or rooftop. If the room you like has air-con ask for the fan only price in high season and don’t turn it on. A room with a kitchenette can save the cost of breakfast out every morning.
Chiang Mai Cheap Tour & Transport
If you can ride a bicycle, you can ride an automatic 125. From 100 baht a day, (forget the paintwork, test the brakes and tires) the motorbike pays for itself the first time you avoid a tuk-tuk journey. Red buses (Songteaws) are becoming more regulated now and provide cheap, yet painfully slow-at-times transport.
Chiang Mai Cheap Nightlife & Drinking
Beer costs money. Just thought we’d mention that as some people seem confused the morning after. Trendy places like Nimman Haemin and Zoe In Yellow charge a premium. Other places offer attractions of the human variety. We’ve heard that beer in these places costs up to 40% more than equivalent bars a few hundred metres away. You may indeed be handsome, but that ain’t why they’re smiling at ya cowboy.
Chiang Mai Cheap Eats
Laab Pa Tan
Quite simply my favorite cafe in CM, and 100% authentic. Laab sort of means salad and Pa Tan is the area. They’ve been open for 35 years for a reason, and the locals will be cock-a-hoop to see a foreigner so be prepared to clink glasses with a hearty ‘Chok Dee’.
Cheap Full Delicious
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Everything is out on display so there’s no need to trouble that old linguaphone mp3 that’s been ruining your playlists for the last 5 years; just point, receive, eat, smile for you are winning at life my friend, and it will cost you less than a couple of kimbap triangles.
Coffee Bus @ Meechok Plaza
Not a super-cheap place but certainly not expensive or overpriced, just a great workaday cafe with good coffee and lovely food. Meechok Plaza itself is good for a bargain or two and has a vibrant and funky market that’s well worth checking out on Monday nights.
Goong Pow Supan
Fried Prawn (Shrimp) from Supan, is the most expensive place on our list, but makes it because of pure value for money. The crustaceans live in a little swimming pool with a cute bridge until your decision to live like a royal calls for them to fry. Fresher than a brisk north-easterly wind, their sacrifice provides the Best. Prawns. Ever.
Chiang Mai Cheap Things to do
Huay Tung Thao
About 14km north of the old city sitting in the shadow of Doi Suthep lies Huay Tung Thao Reservoir. It’s 20 baht to enter and mainly consists of a body of water surrounded by a road and restaurants. Try the frog with holy basil, that goes really well with a bottle or two of Chang. But you rode your motorbike there so we would not recommend it. We have never done that.
This one-man lifetime art project is a truly unique and wondrous place. He’s about ten years into his massive wooden carvings of Ganesh and Guanyin, and superb glass etchings of Buddhist stories. There’s even a little cafe too. Go — your soul will thank you.
Don’t attempt it during your first day on the scooter, or the second. Actually don’t attempt this at all; it’s too dangerous and you will die. You don’t need to see the best views in the province do you? And you don’t need to sample pork-brain and garlic (neam), and BBQ’d buffalo at the Goodview. And you don’t need to cool off by the stream sucklin’ on a cold cold brewski afterwards, because life is about safety, not stories. Stay away.
Chiang Mai Free Temples
Wat Pha Lat (Wat Sakitaki)
Everyone visits Wat Doi Suthep, and so they should, it’s lovely. But the huge majority drive right past this little gem on the way. About half way along the windy road to the top there’s a little left hand turn down to this beautifully isolated scattering of buildings, shrines and statues and the site boasts some of the best views of the city.
Wat U Mong
What’s not to love about an 800 year old sleepy forest temple featuring a lake choc-full of catfish and giant turtles, a wildlife sanctuary, hundreds of trees with hand-written quotes of Buddhist wisdom (“Today is better than two tomorrows”, “I have not failed, I have just found 10 000 ways that don’t work.” etc etc)nailed to them, and a meditation centre? Great to visit here between 12-4 as it tends to be nice and cool.
Wat Ou Si Kham
A gorgeous little temple near Thapae Gate notable for its stunning collection of carved stone buddhas. Often called the Temple of the Jade Buddha, it’s a fine place to buy unique stone Buddhas, elephants and jewelry. The monks here often speak excellent English, and after they feel your spiritual needs have been met, may well wish to discuss with Englishmen where exactly is Eden Hazard’s best position.