Chiang Mai is the third largest city in Thailand, and a lovely representation of the northern Thai culture. Chiang Mai was one of my very favourite parts of the country; it has the fun of a big city, without the intimidating air that Bangkok has. We stayed in the Old Quarter, and didn’t really venture out of it, with no regrets. Here’s a breakdown of what your stay in Chiang Mai may cost you, provided you are budget travelling:
Accommodation: Hostels here range anywhere from 5-20$ for something reasonable (or maybe with lizards in your vents – but they’re harmless). Ian and I are able to share private rooms since the cost for each of us comes out to about the same as if we each payed for a hostel bed. We stayed at Tommy Huts, which cost 13$ per night, or 6.50$ each. This got us a private hut with air conditioning, at Thai style bathroom with shower, and a bed. Pretty good deal!
Food: Food, like everywhere in Thailand, is typically very cheap here. Street food with cost anywhere from 20-60 baht on average (.80 – 2.40$CAD), and restaurant food can range from 25 – 100 baht (1 – 4$ CAD). Keep in mind this is on average – there are, of course, restaurants with more expensive options.
Transportation: Unlike Bangkok, Chiang Mai’s tourist transportation is almost exclusively tuk tuks, and no taxis. It’s customary to haggle with your taxi driver – a 30 minute drive can easily be 125-200 baht, or 5-8 CAD dollars. If you don’t want to take a tuk tuk, the Lyft app is also a great option; Ian and I used it many times, and it will always give you local prices (I hate haggling).
What to Do
Explore the Local Vegan Scene
Chiang Mai is home to oh so many amazing vegan restaurants – definitely try a few! We personally stopped at Vegan Heaven, where I tried my very first Tom Yum soup (It turned out to be my favourite of the whole trip!). I also had a lovely iced mocha, while Ian had an iced Thai tea. The prices here were a little higher (we had three main courses, and two drinks – I think it came to about 550 baht, or 22CAD$), but it’s reasonable considering the amazing quality of the food.
Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
The world is starting to wake up to the injustice of animal tourism – Chiang Mai is the hub for ethical elephant tourism. In exchange for a fee, these sanctuaries will take you up to their sites and allow you to interact with their elephant, essentially volunteering – there is feeding, bathing, and generally just chilling out with elephants. Make sure you do your research on which one you pick, however – ensure it’s a sanctuary with strictly no riding. Be careful, as some will pose as ethical ones for certain tourists and as riding companies for others, depending on their request. We personally went with Elephant Nature Park, and it was an amazing experience – this cost about 100$ per person. All of their elephants have been rescued from cruel llives, and are now being rehabilitated. Their provided lunch was also a vegan buffet!! Best day ever.
Visit the Night Market
The Chiang Mai night market was one of my favourite sights of our entire trip. To start, let me be clear which one I am talking about, because there are two in very close range of each other. There is a market right outside the old quarter walls called the ‘night bazaar’. We visited this one first, and while it was nice, it was overpriced and tiny compared to the night market.
The next one we visited was in the Old Quarter walls, and it was called the ‘Night Market’. This one was very close walking distance to our hotel (literally around the corner). This is the one that blew me away – for blocks and blocks, the streets are filled with stands selling either unique handmade merchandise, or every knockoff item you can imagine. You can find just about anything here. There are also hundreds of street food stands (Ian tried bugs, lol – I had just one and decided I couldn’t do it). We had bubble tea as well, which was delicious. There are also local musicians playing, and a sense of wonder in the air – even though we just walked around, had some street food, and bought a couple things, it’s one of my very favourite memories in Thailand.
From what I saw, Chiang Mai was one of the cheapest places in Thailand for massages and other spa services (manicures, pedicures, etc). There are massage parlours everywhere, and, on average, a Thai massage will cost about 200 baht (8$CAD). If you don’t look at reviews beforehand (lots of places don’t even have any, or an online listing), it’s kind of a Russian roulette of whether you’ll get a quality massage or not. We visited two places in Chiang Mai – one of them was quite good, and even gave us tea afterwards to round out the relaxation experience. The other one was not as good; the masseuses were clearly not very skilled, and one of them arrived half an hour after Ian’s had already started (they also only went for 45 minutes). Don’t let this stop you, though – with a little research, you’ll have a great experience.