12 of the most effective free issues to do in Chiang Mai

Many experiences in Chiang Mai are perfect for the funds traveler – grazing on road meals, having fun with stress-free conventional Thai massages, sipping pink iced tea, renting a scooter to buzz out to waterfalls and sizzling springs – however everybody is aware of that the most effective issues in life are free. And Chiang Mai has experiences by the bucketload that price completely nothing in any respect.

Begin with the town’s myriad historical wat (Buddhist monasteries), most of which could be visited any day of the week with out paying an entry payment. Then there are Chiang Mai’s mesmerizing markets, the place you possibly can immerse your self in native tradition for nothing (if you happen to can resist the urge to splash out on drool-inducing road meals and extremely suave handicrafts).

And that’s only the start – cultural encounters are a recurring theme when exploring Chiang Mai totally free. Listed below are the highest issues to do within the northern Thai capital with out spending a baht. 

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1. Marvel at Chiang Mai’s finest monasteries

Greater than 100 historical monasteries dot the streets of Chiang Mai’s historic middle, and most could be visited totally free, although donations are appreciated (and Thai guests normally make a contribution). Begin with the large hitters – Wat Phan Tao is an astonishing fantasy of towering teak pillars that might not look misplaced as a Sport of Thrones location, whereas revered Wat Phra Singh is lavishly adorned in and out and Wat Srisuphan gleams with the work of native silversmiths.

The one monasteries the place you’ll have to pay an entry payment are Wat Chedi Luang, with its towering ruined stupa supported by stucco elephants, mirror-mosaic adorned Wat Bupparam, Wat Suan Dok with its floor-to-ceiling Buddha picture, and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the town’s most spectacular shrine. And people entry charges are modest – usually lower than 40B, across the value of a plate of fried rice.

Planning Tip: Don’t overlook the town’s outlying monasteries. Past the historic middle, Wat Chet Yot is roofed with stucco depictions of devas (angelic Buddhist spirits), whereas Wat Umong Maha Therachan sits over a maze of brick passageways, constructed within the 14th century to include the wanderings of the “mad monk” Therachan.

Be taught extra concerning the lived expertise of Buddhist monks throughout a scheduled chat session at a temple © Hugh Sitton / Getty Photographs

2. Chat with a Buddhist monk

There’s nothing stunning about free dialog, however Chiang Mai’s organized Monk Chat periods are each free and fascinatingly insightful. At monasteries resembling Wat Suan Dok and Wat Srisuphan, chatty monks with good English language abilities sit down at designated tables at mounted occasions and watch for vacationers to tug up a chair to allow them to share tales of their journey into the sangha (brotherhood) and the day-to-day expertise of being a Buddhist monk. There’s additionally a monk chat session at Wat Chedi Luang, however you’ll must pay the entry payment to hitch the periods.

Planning Tip: Most monk chat periods happen on weekdays and a few embody follow-on meditation periods. Monk chat at Wat Suan Dok takes place each weekday afternoon, and the monastery additionally gives common meditation retreats

3. Take a Strolling Road wander

Chiang Mai’s Strolling Road markets are a metropolis establishment – and an ideal free expertise if you happen to can resist the urge to purchase as you browse. It’s going to be laborious, as these brilliantly bustling weekend markets are full of distributors promoting amazingly ingenious crafts and a few of the metropolis’s most delectable road meals with road performers available to entertain the throng. On Saturday, the motion takes over Thanon Wualai, working southwest from Pratu Chiang Mai on the southern entrance to the previous metropolis; on Sunday, the enjoyable strikes to Thanon Ratchadamnoen.

Planning Tip: Chiang Mai’s native markets are each bit as enjoyable because the boisterous bazaars laid on for vacationers. Dive into the mercantile bustle of Talat Warorot and the adjoining Talat Ton Lam Yai flower market, and problem your self to establish the fantastic produce on sale within the Talat Muang Mai wholesale fruit market.

4. Discover the ruins of Chiang Mai’s first metropolis

For all its historic grandeur, the town of Chiang Mai was truly the plan B location for the Lanna capital. The stays of the primary royal metropolis, Wiang Kum Kam, poke out from between the timber and homes in a sleepy suburb south of recent Chiang Mai. This assortment of timeworn brick stupas and monasteries served because the Lanna capital for 10 years from 1286 – there are organized excursions obtainable for a payment, however you possibly can wander on foot from temple to stupa totally free. 

Planning Tip: Begin your explorations at Wat Chedi Liam, whose spire incorporates dozens of niches for Buddha statues, an architectural nod to India’s well-known Mahabodhi Temple.

A large crowd of people gather at the North Jazz Co-Op bar to hear live music. The crowds spill from the inside of the bar onto the pavement outside.
Catch some stay music at North Gate Jazz Co-Op © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet

5. Take heed to stay music over a chilly Chang beer

Chiang Mai has an ideal stay music scene and there’s hardly ever a canopy cost, although you’ll have to order a drink to pay attention in. Located on the north facet of the previous metropolis close to the moat, North Gate Jazz Co-Op hosts an fascinating assortment of musicians nightly, beginning at round 8:30pm. This isn’t a type of purist jazz golf equipment; musicians cowl all the pieces from jazz and blues to funk and rock. Chances are high you’ll be standing on the sidewalk to hearken to the music because it will get busy! 

Different prime spots totally free stay music embody the Riverside Restaurant (for gifted covers bands), Boy Blues Bar (for blues, clearly), Sudsanan (for acoustic singer-songwriters) and Thapae East (for up-and-coming native expertise).

6. Benefit from the view totally free

Chiang Mai is ringed by towering, forest-swaddled mountains, however the historic middle is surprisingly flat – which is partly why Lanna kings and queens selected this location because the setting for his or her royal capital. To understand the format of this historical metropolis, it pays to rise up above the streets to admire the views from on excessive.

Begin by following the Naga stairway climbing up by the timber above Royal Park Rajapruek to Wat Phra That Doi Kham, the place a terrace appears out over a sweep of Chiang Mai rooftops. When you benefit from the breezes, think about the sinister legends surrounding this mountainside. Based on Lanna custom, Doi Suthep was as soon as house to a pair of murderous giants who waylaid vacationers till the Buddha appeared and transformed them to a lifetime of advantage.

Three men sit on the grass in a Chiang Mai park practising yoga. In the background a small lake is visible with a fountain in the middle.
Sink into savasana totally free with Yoga within the Park © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet

7. Drop by for Yoga within the Park

Most yoga lessons in Chiang Mai cost a payment, however if you happen to’re on a strict funds you possibly can nice tune your yoga observe totally free. Take a look at the Yoga in the Park Facebook Group for the subsequent free yoga class in calm, inexperienced Suan Buak Hat park. Volunteer, touring and Chiang Mai-based yoga lecturers take visitor spots to run the lessons, and you should buy woven picnic mats regionally that serve simply nice as yoga mats. 

8. Hike as much as Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

There’s an entry payment to go to Chiang Mai’s most well-known temple, however it’s lower than you’d pay for a fruit shake, and the strenuous hike as much as this memorable mountain monastery is considered one of Chiang Mai’s most gratifying free experiences. Choose up the trail behind the zoo, close to Chiang Mai College, and hike up by more and more lush tropical forest by the grounds of Wat Pha Lat (put on applicable clothes – no quick shorts or naked shoulders). 

There are good views en route earlier than you punch out of the forest and arrive sizzling and sticky on the doorstep of Chiang Mai’s most spectacular temple (pause to catch your breath and ponder the journey on the towering, gilded chedi).

Planning Tip: If you happen to don’t really feel as much as the hike, the subsequent finest solution to attain Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is by renting a scooter or motorbike. It’s an exhilarating journey alongside a snaking street that climbs the mountainside. 

9. Discover ways to meditate 

Most Thais develop up studying vipassana meditation and Chiang Mai is a good place to analyze the observe. The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Vipassana Meditation Center runs donation-funded retreats with lodging on website, however you’ll have to observe strict guidelines of conduct, together with rising at 5am each morning. There’s a equally strict method to meditation however easier guidelines for enrolment at Wat Umong Suan Phutthatham.

Planning Tip: If you happen to’re simply on the lookout for a meditation taster, varied traveler-oriented holistic facilities provide free meditation periods alongside paid-for lessons. Wat Srisuphan gives free meditation periods after Monk Chat on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, beginning round 7pm. 

10. Bathe in a waterfall

Whereas a few of the idyllic waterfalls cascading by the jungle close to Chiang Mai have entry charges, there are a number of which might be free to splash about in, together with the conveniently positioned Huay Kaew Waterfall on the base of Doi Suthep. Additional out is Nam Tok Bua Tong, extra generally referred to as the “Sticky Waterfall” as a result of truth you possibly can stroll up the falls with out slipping – however you’ll want your personal car (or a chartered rót daang van) to get right here.

11. Eat on the Vegetarian Society

In Chiang Mai, you could find a filling meal for beneath 40B, notably if you happen to frequent road meals markets resembling Talat Pratu Chiang Mai and Talat Pratu Chang Pheuak, however the Chiang Mai Vegetarian Society raises the bar with regards to all-time low costs. Positioned on Thanon Mahidol, this volunteer-run Buddhist society serves purely vegan Thai fare in a canteen-like setting with dishes beginning as little as 5B, and a few dishes or drinks are fully free. 

Illuminated yellow lanterns dangle on strings over a street in Chiang Mai. Beneath them, crowds of people watch on, with only their silhouettes visible.
Throughout holidays like Loi Krathong, merely strolling across the metropolis immerses you within the festivities © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet

12. Marvel at Chiang Mai’s magical festivals

Nearly all of Chiang Mai’s fabulous festivals – from moist’n’wild Songkran and sky lantern-filled Loi Krathong – are free to watch and even take part in, although you’ll must steadiness that towards elevated costs for rooms and transport at pageant time. In addition to the big-name festivals, head to native monasteries throughout Buddhist celebrations resembling Makha Bucha and Visakha Bucha – dance performances and Thai classical music by phiphat bands are very a lot a part of the spectacle. 

Planning Tip: Competition followers take be aware – free meals is usually generously dished out at temples throughout Chiang Mai’s festivals, however a donation is suitable to assist the meals stands cowl their prices.