Backpackers, expats and digital nomads flock to Northern Thailand’s most famous city, Chiang Mai. Almost five million foreigners visit each year; many extend their trip. You can find history, culture and some of the most budget-friendly rental in thailand along with unbelievably cheap food, drinks and entertainment. Anyone on a budget loves visiting this part of Thailand and you will too.
Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s most inexpensive cities, and backpackers can comfortably live on less than $30 per day. Everything from food, drinks, entertainment and accommodation are very affordable. Let’s take a look at the expected costs for each.
Accommodation in a hostel often starts around $6 per night whereas a private room may cost between $10 and $15. The cheaper places may or may not have air conditioning, which could be a deal breaker in the hot season when temperatures average around 36°C. Hotels and rooms, like other destinations around the world, are more expensive the closer you get to the city centre.
When you arrived in Thailand for the first time, you may think Bangkok’s food is cheap. A decent meal often costs less than $5 in a local restaurant. Well, if you’re planning to visit Chiang Mai, the costs are even lower. Meals cost a few dollars for a plate of rice with various sides, noodles or tom yam. Prices of street food are even lower.
Getting around is also affordable. Locals use the songthaew, which costs less than a dollar for a ride. Most of the attractions are in a small area. You should easily be able to go sightseeing on foot. Taxis and tuk-tuks are readily available too. Alternatively, rent a bicycle or motorbike for a few days.
How to Save Money
If you’re really on a shoestring and want to know a few ways to cut the daily cost by a few more dollars, check out the following suggestions. Chiang Mai is cheap, but it can also be costly if you’re not careful with your money.
First, CouchSurfing is popular in the city. Local hosts are almost always helpful, friendly and welcoming to foreign tourists. If you’re planning to spend a few days, try to rely on this type of accommodation. Not only will you cut your costs significantly, but there’s the added advantage of having a local source of information. The people who live here know the best places to get the cheapest food. They know the shops that overcharge tourists too. If you decide to use CouchSurfing, you may not be paying in cash, but you should give them your time.
Second, remember that in Thailand, prices generally aren’t fixed outside the malls and convenience stores. When you’re at a market or buying souvenirs, vendors often hike prices because you’re a tourist. Learn how to bargain and always be willing to walk away if it’s not what you want to pay. Even better, ask your CouchSurfing host to buy it for you to get the local price.
You’ll probably meet quite a few foreigners who have decided to spend longer in Chiang Mai. And when you’re there, you’ll understand why. Most won’t be staying in hostels or guesthouses. Instead, they’ll find a short-term rental. If you’re travelling with a group or meet new friends along the way, it may be easier to find a place to share the rent and bills. Electricity, water and Internet are all super cheap here.
Cheap Things to Do in Chiang Mai
There are lots of things to do in Chiang Mai to keep tourists entertained from visiting the Elephant Nature Park to joining river cruises and ziplining. Some activities are more expensive than others. Frugal tourists will spend most of their time exploring the free attractions including the temples, strolling around the old town, enjoying the ambience and hiking to Chiang Mai’s waterfalls.
If you plan to spend more than a few days, it may be a good idea to rent a motorbike. Automatic bikes should cost no more than $15 per day with a full tank of fuel coming to hardly anything. The motorcycle gives you the flexibility to drive into the countryside and enjoy the natural beauty and have your very own adventure. You can stop by at the villages to the waves and smiles of the children or pull up by the side of the road for a quick selfie against a backdrop of incredible scenery.
Taking a Tour
Various tours are available from cycling, trekking, safaris and everything else in between. Sometimes it makes more sense to join a tour, especially if you’re in a group and have excellent negotiating skills. A lucky backpacker may find the deal of a lifetime by turning up at the travel agency and booking a last-minute tour to fill empty seats.
This works well if you’re flexible. But, you’re probably not going to get lucky every time. Instead, check out what tours are on offer and then see if you can do it yourself independently. Either drive, get a shared taxi or use public transport. You’ll probably find it costs a fraction of the advertised price and you have much more flexibility.
Paradise for Budget Travellers
If you’re looking for a cheap travel destination, look no further than Chiang Mai. Expect to spend around $30 to $40 each day or even less if you’re more flexible and have fantastic bargaining skills. Northern Thailand is a great place to visit and spend an extended period of time. There’s a reason why so many foreigners want to stay here long term!