The Northern Thai city of Chiang Mai once served as the centre of the Lanna kingdom. The sprawling city might be large, but its central core encircled by a square kilometre-long moat and remnants of the old city walls feels surprisingly laid back. It’s a popular stop along the Thailand backpacker circuit with travellers coming to amble through the night markets, sample Northern Thai cuisine and use it as a jumping off point for adventures in the lush green surrounding mountains. If you tire of the crowded Thai islands, Chiang Mai makes for a refreshing change of pace. Here’s out tips of making the making the most of the city on a budget.
Dive into Chiang Mai’s foodie scene. If you’ve come from Bangkok or the islands, you’ll find the food in Chiang Mai quite different. It’s less coconut-based and heavily relies of herbs to bring flavour to the dishes. Like the rest of Thailand, you’ll find street food on almost every street corner, but not all is made equal. To truly get to know Northern Thai cuisine, try joining one of the inexpensive daily foodie tours which will introduce you to street eats and secret foodie joints that only locals know. Afterwards, you’ll have an insider knowledge you can use to find the best foodie spots on your own.
Rent a bicycle. Chiang Mai’s core is relatively small, but to truly get to know the city, you’ll need to spread your wings a little further. While you’re in the city, consider hiring a bicycle which costs around 50 baht (US $1.5) a day. You’ll get a unique perspective from the back of the saddle and can hop from one site to the next.
Rent a car in Chiang Mai. It’s unthinkable to visit the Northern capital without spending a least of few days out in the achingly beautiful countryside. Though most things might be cheap, booking a driver for the day to head out of town isn’t. If you’re travelling in a group, you might want to consider a car rental Chiang Mai which gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace and works out considerably cheaper than the alternatives. Be sure to drive along the old winding mountain roads to the beautiful town of Pai.
Hit the night markets. If you fancy a little retail therapy, you could hit the Sunday Night Market which intersects the center of Chiang Mai running all the way along Rachadamnoen Road. It’s easily found by following the crowds of locals and foreigners who are making a beeline for a little bargain hunting. It’s lined with everything from creative handcrafted souvenirs to clothing vendors where you can pick up a steel.
Go temple hopping. If you’re a fan of exquisite Thai temples, you’ve come to the right place! Those busy Lannas built more than 200 across the city, each one different from the next. You can hardly turn a corner without catching a glimpse of the intricate structures rising from their temple grounds. A few stand outs include Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Umong, and the almost entirely metal Wat Sri Suphan.
Hike up Doi Inthanon. If you’re feeling energetic, you can drive out the city in your Chiang Mai car rental and take a hike up the winding tropical trails of Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain. Along the way, you’ll pass incredibly beautiful forests, cross bridges, cool off in towering waterfalls, and admire intricate pagodas before reaching the summit where you’ll enjoy panoramic views over the Northern Thai mountains. The best thing? It won’t cost you a cent!