Free things to do in Chiang Mai was written by travel blogger Anna Faustino of Adventures in You
When exploring a city, one of the first things I do is check what free things I can do. I don’t know if that’s the inner cheapskate in me coming out but I’m a big believer that exploring a new destination doesn’t always have to break the bank. Here are my top picks for free things to do in Chiang Mai collected over several months of exploring the city.
Witness the morning alms
When we were wandering around trying to find a place stay in Chiang Mai, we stumbled upon a string of orange-robed monks walking in a line collecting their morning offerings. It was a beautiful experience as the locals seem to have a deep regard for them. Living in a bubble, monks rely on the goodness of people for their survival as they’re not allowed to carry money. Every morning, they walk around city collecting food donations from the locals.
Hike Up the Monk’s Trail
Wat Phra That, located on the top of Doi Suthep mountain, is one of Chiang Mai’s most famous temples. While there are many paid auto tours going up there, if you’re feeling fit and active, you can opt to hike up instead. Not only are you surrounded by beautiful lush scenery, you’re getting great exercise as the trails can get pretty steep. The aptly named the Monk’s Trail is the one used by the monks who live up Doi Suthep to go up and down the mountain. They go down the mountain each morning to collect alms. You’ll see Wat Pha Lat, another temple, on the way up the mountain. It’s a pretty cool place to explore. The walk up can take you around two to three hours. Remember to bring water with you as well as some mosquito repellant. Too tired to walk down? You can take the Songtheaw (red truck) for a minimal fee ($1.50)
Visit the Sticky Waterfalls
While there’s a cost to get there the Sticky Waterfalls, about an hour from the city via motorbike ($7 to hire one for the day) doesn’t charge an entrance fee. What makes this place unique is that unlike most waterfalls which are slippery, you can climb up directly onto the cascading water. The rock beneath the falls is made up of limestone deposits giving your feet a firm grip.
Chat with a monk
For an interesting and unique experience, one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai is to head on over to one of the many temples and chat with a monk. Wat Srisuphan and my personal favorite, Wat Chedi Luang offer opportunities to talk to the monks about anything under the sun; part of the program is to help them improve their English. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. While there’s a monk chat daily from 9am-6pm, more monks participate on Saturdays and Sundays.
Listen to jazz
One of the best places to hang out in Chiang Mai is the North Gate Jazz Co-op. There is no entrance or cover fee so you can literally just hang out and listen to music all night and not spend any money. The place has live music, with a mix of both foreigners and locals jamming. The atmosphere is great and often attracts a wide variety of people. They serve beer, wine and local spirits, but no food so make sure your stomach is full when you go.
Relax in at Suan Buak Park
Finding great parks to hang out in Asia is a rare commodity so you can imagine my surprise when we found this little hidden gem tucked in the southwest corner of the city. Suan Buak Park is a charming place where you can lay a towel and spend your afternoon reading. There is a small pond where you can feed the fish or nearby pigeons. A lot of the locals often come here during the mornings or afternoons to exercise so expect it to get busy by nightfall.
Walk through markets
While window shopping might be a foreign concept close to torture for some, walking through the markets (regardless of whether or not you can resist the urge to buy anything or not) is a great way to explore a place. Chiang Mai is full of many awesome markets including the Night Bazzar, Warorot Handicrafts Market, and my personal favorite, the Sunday Walking Street. Explore the various hand made goods and take in all the exciting scents and sounds.
Explore Chiang Mai’s famous moat
Once upon the time, Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. To protect the area, the king built a moat around the old town, creating a fortress. Nowadays, the only remaining parts of the moat are the four gates which were used to enter the old city. Walking around the moat and getting lost in the many alleys and side streets is a real treat. Just make sure you avoid doing it in the middle of the day, it gets boiling hot.
Hopefully this list gives you some inspiration for free things to do in Chiang Mai, especially if you’re traveling on a tight budget. Whatever you decide to do, just go and explore Chiang Mai with an open mind. Northern Thailand is a place of culture, nature, and really friendly locals. Make the most of it!
What are your favorite free things to do in Chiang Mai?
After her year long stint traveling around the world, Anna Faustino found that her love for exploring new places was insatiable. Since then, she has founded two companies, Adventure in You, an adventure travel blog and Get Stoked, an app that’s just about to launch in Southeast Asia. Driven by epic adventure stories and good food, she is on a mission to go, eat, and write about as many places as she can.
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