Updated August 31st, 2018.
You always hear about the trekking, the night markets, the cooking courses and the street stalls of Chiang Mai, but take a second look and you’ll see SO MUCH MORE in this Northern Thai city!
Want to get away from the crowd at the Sunday Walking Street or blaring reggae hip-hop hop beats of Zoe in Yellow?
Along with doing something a little different, the best part about the activities below is they are all FREE (or at least very close to it) saving you more money to spend on the nightly Chang Beer…
1. Have a “Look-See” at the Ladyboy Cabaret
Head to Ansuarn Market (part of the Night Bazaar on Changklan Road) for nightly cabaret shows featuring lots of, um, ladies in sequins and short skirts. The show starts around 10 p.m. toward the back of the open-air market space.
Cost: Here’s the catch, it’s free to get in, but drinks are more expensive than your average bar.
2. Chat with a Monk
Several temples around town offer regular ‘Monk Chats’ encouraging foreigners to sit down with a practising monk and talk about…whatever they want.
The program gives monks an opportunity to practice their English and learn more about different people and countries, while travellers can get answers to any questions they may have on Buddhism, what they see in the Thai temples and Thai culture.
Interested? Try going to Wat Chedi Luang in the very centre of the Old City or Wat Suan Dok on the west side of town on Suthep Road. Cost: Free.
3. Laze Around at the Lake
When it’s hot outside on a lazy Sunday, the locals don’t hang around a guest house pool. Instead, they go to Huay Tung Tao, a small lake just outside of town at the base of Doi Suthep.
Spend the day lounging in a lakeside cabana at one of the many little restaurants. To get there head north on Canal Road from Huay Kaew road. After about ten minutes you’ll see signs on your left (in English) for where to turn.
Getting there: The easiest way to get out there is via motorbike so you have control over when to go and when to leave, but you could get a group of people together and rent a red songthaew (shared taxi truck) to take you and pick you up at a certain time. Cost: 20 baht to get into the park.
4. Take in a Documentary
The Documentary Arts Asia organization offers documentary screenings every Thursday night at their gallery off of Wualai Road starting at 7 p.m. Mingle with expats, artists and locals while enjoying a free flick.
Cost: Entrance and popcorn by donation – beer and wine, 80 baht.
5. Climb Up a Waterfall
You’ve probably swum in several South East Asian waterfalls already on your trip, but have you climbed one? Bua Tong Waterfall, or the ‘Sticky Waterfall’, is unlike any waterfall you’ve ever seen.
The high levels of calcium carbonate in the water give the rocks traction, and while they look slippery, you can actually walk up them with no problem.
There is grassy park area at the top of the fall to sit, eat and drink. You can access the fall from the top, but it’s better to take the stairs down to the bottom then climb up – the view of the treetops and mountains is much more rewarding when you work for it a little!
The waterfall is about an hour outside Chiang Mai on highway 1001 heading toward Phrao, inside the Mae Taeng National Forest Reserve.
Cost: Free to get in, but you’ll need to figure out transportation. Depending on the number of people going, you could rent a songthaew for the day, or even an air-conditioned minivan (check at travel shops).
6. Try a Meditation Retreat
There are many meditation retreats offered throughout Thailand that require you to stay for at least ten days. If you don’t have that much time on your hands, consider visiting Wat Umong on the edge of the west side of town near Doi Suthep.
With a minimum stay of three days, the temple’s meditation centre allows students to stay as little or as long as they like, giving you greater flexibility for planning the rest of your trip.
Cost: Free (including private room and food) although donations are expected and appreciated.
7. Sing at Open Mic Night
…or you can just listen. Along with a rotating art exhibition, Sangdee Gallery holds an open mic night every Thursday starting at 8:30 p.m. The gallery is located in the Nimmanhaemin neighbourhood on Sirimankhalajarn Soi 5.
8. See a Silver Temple
Chiang Mai has more than its fair share of Buddhist temples and you’ll often hear the sentiment that ‘Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all…’. Not so!
To see something completely different, head to Wat Srisuphan off Wualai Road. The silver ubosot (shrine) is anything but ordinary, completely wrapped with intricate coverings hand-made by local artists. Cost: Free.
9. Go Cliff Jumping at the Canyon
About 20 minutes from the city of Chiang Mai on the way to Hang Dong, you’ll find an excellent location for swimming, cliff jumping and general schoolboy tomfoolery.
Known by expats as ‘the canyon’ or ‘the quarry’ it’s a hidden gem that is popular at weekends… but never overcrowded. On the doorstep of the beautiful ‘Obkhan National Park’, it’s a gorgeous day out and a place that not many backpackers know about so…. shhhhhh!
10. Enjoy the Jazz
Northgate Jazz Co-Op has live music nightly, with popular jam sessions on Tuesday evenings. Fittingly located at the north gate of the Old City, the bar is a short walk from the main backpacker area and draws an interesting mix of expats, Thais and travellers.
Cost: Free…plus your booze.
About the writer: Alana Morgan is a twenty-something traveller trying to figure out life one place at a time. Originally from Seattle, she’s been living, teaching, writing and travelling in Thailand and Southeast Asia for the past five years. Check out more of her stories, photos and experiences of what it’s like to be a young expat in Asia on her blog ‘The Paper Planes’.
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