There are plenty of cheap things to do in Chiang Mai, thanks to the fact that the cost of living there remains very low. Even so, if you’re travelling on an extremely tight budget, it’s helpful to know about the fun things to see and do around town for little money or, ideally, none at all. For that reason, we’ve compiled this list of the budget-friendly activities around Chiang Mai.
Naturally, the big one is the city’s hundreds of temples. Once a capital of Buddhism, there are approximately 300 religious sites around the city, many of which are still active. With the exception of the really popular ones, these are free to visit and walk around, though you need to be respectful in how you dress and behave. If temples aren’t your thing, you’ll find plenty more ideas for Chiang Mai on a budget below.
Walk around Chiang Mai Old CityChiang Mai Old City
Chiang Mai Old City is practically a living museum. Its narrow streets are lined with beautiful temples, old shophouses and historical buildings, all surrounded by the crumbling ancient walls and the moat. It’s quite a small, compact place, so take a walk around and just enjoy the city’s relaxed atmosphere and interesting scenery. Check out some of the city's finest temples, including Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Phan Tao, all of which are within a short walk of each other. Read More...
Doi SuthepChiang Mai Old City
Doi Suthep is one of the most important temples in Chiang Mai and also one of the most visited places in Thailand so it’s not to be missed. Tickets are free for Thai citizens and only 30 Baht for foreigners so it fits perfectly in any itinerary of cheap things to do in Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep takes around an hour to visit. Starting by climbing over 300 steps to the temple, circling the stupa three times for good luck and then resting on the balconies offering great views over the city. Take a shared red car (songtaew) up the mountain for 60 Baht (ask your hotel to help you finding the correct songtaew), or if you like walking then you could walk or hike up the mountain for free. Read More...
- Opening Hours: sunrise – sunset
- Location: Doi Pui Mountain, starting at the end of Huay Kaew Road
Night marketsChiang Mai Old City
Chiang Mai is famous for the Sunday Night Walking Street Market, in which the main road within the old city closes and street stalls selling handmade gifts, home items, clothes and many other unique gifts are set up. The Sunday night market is the biggest night market in Asia, covering over 3 km, and every Sunday evening thousands of people (Thai’s and travelers alike) walk the small alley between the stalls looking for bargains. The Sunday night market is a great place to see some of Thailand’s unique hand made goods, and fun can be had even without buying anything. If you aren’t in Chiang Mai on a Sunday then don’t despair – there is a similar Saturday night walking street market as well as the daily Night Bazaar. Read More...
Chat with a monkWua Lai Road
Many of the temples around Chiang Mai hold regular daily or weekly 'monk chat' sessions. These give you an opportunity to talk to a Buddhist monk about pretty much anything and gives the monks an opportunity to practise their English. The sessions are free, though donations are very welcome. Among the better places to try this is Wat Sri Suphan - the Silver Temple. Not only are the surroundings especially beautiful but, being hidden down a side alley just south of the Old City, it is not as busy as the chats at the more famous temples. Read More...
- Opening Hours: 17:30 - 19:00 for individual chats. 19:00 - 21:00 for group chats and meditation
- Address: 100 Wua Lai Road (next to the Wua Lai Saturday Walking Street Market)
North Gate Street Food MarketChiang Mai Old City
Street food in Thailand tastes amazing, and Chiang Mai is known as the best place in Thailand to eat delicious food for pennies. You can find street stalls all over the city, with the North and South gates of the old city both having nightly markets full of street food, fresh fruit and snacks. Most street stalls only offer a few different dishes, but this will be the type of food they specialize in. If there is no English menu then you can try the age old technique of looking at what the other customers are eating and pointing. Read More...
- Opening Hours: varies but usually from sunset until midnight
- Location: All over the city in the evenings, with daily markets at North (Chang Puak) gate and South (Chiang Mai) gates.
Warowot and Flower MarketChiang Mai Old City
Warowot Market is a busy and popular market selling clothes, fabrics, souvenirs, snacks and jewellery at wholesale prices. The market is interesting to walk around even if you don’t plan to buy anything, and on the ground floor you can try Sai Eua – Local Chiang Mai sausage. Behind Warowot Market, and close to the river, is the beautiful flower market. Open daily from 10:00 – 18:00 the flower market sells the freshest flowers from all over the North of Thailand. Just walking through the market is an interesting experience as there are many flowers you will see that are native to Thailand only, and the market smells of fresh flowers. Read More...
- Opening Hours: daily 10:00- 18:00
- Location: Chiang Moi Road
Cliff-Jumping at Chiang Mai’s Grand CanyonHang Dong District
Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon is about 40 minutes south of the city and one of Chiang Mai’s hidden gems. An old limestone quarry, the area has been flooded over the years and is now a popular swimming and diving spot. The canyon is no longer Chiang Mai’s best kept secret and there is now a 50 Baht entrance fee that goes towards improving safety in the area. The best way to get there is by renting a motorbike as there is no public transport to that area. Driving south along Canal Road, look out for signs suggesting a right turn to the canyon after about 20 minutes. Read More...
- Opening Hours: daily sunrise – sunset
- Location: Hang Dong District, Chiang Mai province
Built back in 2014, Think Park is a cool collection of individual shops selling clothes, soaps, handmade goods and unique woodworks. This is the best place to shop for gifts or to walk around and experience some of the best quality handmade items in Chiang Mai. If you feel like splurging on a dessert then head to Local café which offers some amazing sweets and cakes, or you can sit outside the café and admire the 3 metre tall cat with a handbag statue. In the evenings there are a few bars offering free live music.
- Location: Nimmanhaemin Road and Huay Kaew Road intersection
Walk up the Sticky WaterfallMae Taeng District
Bua Thong Waterfall is a small and beautiful, multi-tiered waterfall made of limestone and mineral deposits. It has been nicknamed ‘the Sticky Waterfall’ because the limestone creates enough friction to stop you from slipping, so making it very easy to climb up the waterfall (with the help of ropes). The limestone is slightly rough but it isn’t painful to step on, and forms an interesting bubbly pattern. The waterfall is free to get it to, though it is quite a long distance north of the city. Read More...
- Location: Highway 1001, Mae Taeng district
Listen to Live MusicChiang Mai Old City
Chiang Mai has two great bars for live music – The North Gate Jazz Bar and Boys Blues Bar. Both places offer free entry and for the cost of a beer you can listen to some of the best musicians in the city. North Gate Jazz bar has an open mic every Tuesday and world famous Jazz musicians have been known to turn up and play while on their holidays. Boys Blues bar also regularly has visiting blues singers and is conveniently located above the Night Bazaar so a visit to the Boys Blues bar can be combined with an evening of shopping.
- Opening Hours: 18:00 -00:00
- Location: North Gate Jazz Bar is on Sripoom Road, opposite the North Gate of the old city, Boys Blues Bar is located on Chan Klan Road