The fact that Chiang Mai has plenty to of things to offer is no secret. Whether you’re looking for romantic or action-filled activities, cultural sights or historical places, Thailand’s second city got it all. But are there also free things to do in Chiang Mai?
The answer is simply, YES! Unlike Bangkok for example, where you have to pay an entry fee for almost everything, Chiang Mai enjoys the liberty to offer many free things for its visitors and residents. From cultural spots over events to parks you can find yourself easily enjoying a day without paying a baht. But always remember, as long as sights and places are respected and no one takes advantage of it, the city of Chiang Mai can continue offering lots of free things to the people.
Let’s jump right in – here are some best free things to do in Chiang Mai:
That may sounds odd first, but once you start travelling to other places around Thailand, you will quickly notice that an entry free for temples is common. With over 300 hundred temples scattered around town plus the lost ruins of Wiang Kum Kam, it’s hard to decide where to go first. We recommend starting with the Silver Temple at Wualai Road and Wat Umong near Canal Road.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the shiny temple on top of the Doi Suthep mountain, is currently the only temple where you have pay entry (45 THB), followed soon by Wat Chedi Luang located in the heart of Chiang Mai’s Old Town
Love exercising outdoors? Then Chiang Mai is the right place for you. Chiang Mai’s mild temperatures (except February to May when the hot season strikes) allow flawless outdoor workouts especially during mid-mornings and afternoons. Almost all parks, regardless what size, offer gym machines for free usage. In addition, the city offers many trails that are perfect for running. Buak Hard Public Park at the southwestern corner of the Old Town or the reservoir at Chiang Mai University, are two great places for exercising.
Monk Chats are offered at several temples around town, encouraging young monks to practice their English in exchange to teach foreigners about Buddhism. Everyone is welcomed to try, there is no requirement to set an appointment; just stop by and say hello. Wat Suan Dok (located at Suthep Road to the west of the Old Town) or Wat Chedi Luang (right in the centre of the Old Town) are two fantastic places, as both temples also share their grounds with Buddhism universities where young Thais study Thai culture and religion.
Doi Suthep Pui National Park
You don’t have to travel far to get into the green, just take a Songthaew or your own scooter and drive to Huay Kaew Waterfall near Chiang Mai Zoo where the park starts. While you can of course drive around the mountain and park why not planning an epic hiking day? Start at the above mentioned waterfall and follow the trail up to the top of Doi Suthep. You will hike along smaller and bigger trails, some dense jungle at times, the hidden temple Wat Palad, several waterfalls and great viewpoints that offer fantastic vistas of Chiang Mai. The hike can be a bit demanding at times, therefore take lots water and snacks with you.
Love the combination of live music and meeting cool people? Welcome to Northgate Jazz-Op. This rather small but extremely popular bar sits near the north gate and has nightly live music with occasional jam sessions. The artists here are a mix of new and established folks, mainly from Chiang Mai and its surrounding. Since the entrance is free, the bar is quickly packed; don’t be wondered if you arrive and see crowds partying on the sidewalk, it happens almost every night. Entry is free but booze not.
Every year on the second Saturday in January, Thailand celebrates nationwide the Children’s Day and offers free or massively discounted entry to many places like parks, museums, zoos and theme parks. Chiang Mai’s main draw on Children’s Day is undoubtedly the action-filled air show that is held around the airport and yes, it’s free to visit.
Explore Wiang Kum Kam’s Ancient Ruins
The old city of Chiang Mai, which was founded more than 720 years ago, is steeped in history, but you may travel even further back in time at Wiang Kum Kam. Wiang Kum Kam, located along the Mae Ping River less than twenty minutes south of the city, was the original Chiang Mai, but it was severely flooded. Today, more than 1,300 bricks, inscribed stone tablets, temple foundations, and chedis have been unearthed, and visitors can bike along tight alleys to find little clearings containing ancient ruins. Wiang Kum Kam is free to explore if you have your own vehicle; otherwise, you must hire a driver to take you to the location.
Take a Dip in a Waterfall
Several waterfalls, like the conveniently positioned Huay Kaew Waterfall off of Th Huay Kaew at the base of Doi Suthep, are still accessible to visitors without charge. The waterfall’s bottom tier can get quite crowded, but if you make the ascent to the top, you’ll be amazed by how quiet it can become. Bua Tong Waterfall, often known as the “Sticky Waterfalls” because it is possible to walk up the falls without slipping, does not charge an entrance fee.
Visit the Markets
The Night Bazaar, Saturday Walking Street, and Sunday Walking Street are a few of the most well-known markets in Chiang Mai, however there are many others. The Night Bazaar is open every night. The Warorot Market (also known as Kad Luang) in Chiang Mai is another fantastic market that is less crowded with tourists. Test your Thai language abilities and endeavour to negotiate a reduced price. Wear your CMU uniform to the markets if you’re a study abroad student to receive even greater discounts.
Markets are a terrific place to people watch and hang out with friends even if you don’t want to buy anything. It’s a less expensive option than dining out because you can also find affordable options for snacks and dinner at the markets. Check out these fantastic guides to Chiang Mai’s markets.
Explore the City on Foot or a Bicycle
Chiang Mai is best explored on foot or by bicycle through its meandering streets and alleys. There is so much to see and experience and it is entirely free. Take a rest in Suan Buak Hat, a tiny park located to the southwest of the Old City, during your travels. It is a good location to relax with friends or read a book, despite its tiny size.