Chiang Mai on the cheap

Dan Brook, Ph.D. looks at where to go to find every day bargains to see, do and buy in Chiang Mai.

By | Mon 27 Aug 2018

The beautiful city of Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand, has so much to see and do. It is already a quite inexpensive place and, more importantly, it is one of the best values in the world with high incidence of wonderful people, outstanding food, and a beautiful environment, both natural and built. Most people get much more than what they pay for in Chiang Mai.

So if you want to stretch your budget to stay in Chiang Mai longer, whether as a visitor or a resident, which I always recommend doing in such a magnificent place, enjoy some free and inexpensive activities.  Enjoy all Chiang Mai has to offer, on the cheap, while getting a better taste for this amazing place, having fun, and meeting interesting people!

There are many free or inexpensive things to do every day! Although this is not intended to be comprehensive, here is a selection to get you going.


Mindfulness Meditation at Hidden House Yoga from 9 – 9:45 AM

Meditation at Wat Sri Gerd (near Wat Phra Singh) at 3 PM

Board Games at Cube No. 7 (Nimman) at 7 PM

Thai Night with free food and music at Papa Rock at 7 PM

Outdoor Ball Hockey at Futsal Heaven at 7:10 PM

Quiz Night at The Pub at 8 PM


Chiang Mai Geeks at Chiang Mai Computer Club at River Market from 1 – 2:30 PM

Mindfulness–Awareness Meditation Gathering by the Asian Center for Applied Mindfulness at Traidhos in Mae Rim at 3:15 PM

Hindu Ceremony and Vegetarian Dinner at Devi Mandir Temple at 7 PM

Mundo Lingo free language exchange at Pa-Khao at 7 PM

Jam Night at North Gate Jazz Co-Op

Music Tuesdays at My Secret Cafe from 7 – 10 PM (Happy Hour from 5 – 7 PM every day)

Salsa Night at Warm Up from 8 – 9 PM dance lesson followed by free dancing


Mindfulness Meditation at Hidden House Yoga from 9 – 9:45 AM

Nomad Girls Lunch at Free Bird Cafe at 12 PM

Scrabble at The Pub (usually, but not always) at 1:30 PM

Ultimate Frisbee at Chiang Mai University rugby field at 5 PM

Creative Write-In 5:30 – 6:30 PM social time, 6:30 – 7:30 PM writing

Jam Night at Tea Tree Cafe from 6:30 – 9:30 PM

Board and Card Games at Enjoy Café from 6:30 – 11:30 PM

Chess Club at 7 PM

Language Exchange at Cube No. 7 from 7 – ~10 PM

Tango Class at One Nimman at 8 PM – late

Trivia Night at Corner Bistro at 8:30 PM

Live Acoustic at The Edge at 8:30 PM


Laughter Yoga at Yoga Tree at 1:30 PM

Kayak the Ping River at Wat Fa Ham at 5 PM

Game Night at Game Tree Cafe from 6:30 – 11:30 PM

Bitcoin Mixer at Cube No. 7 at 7 PM

Outdoor Ball Hockey at Futsal Heaven at 7:10 PM

Green Papaya Meditation at Yoga Tree at 7:30 – 9 PM

Kizatin Mood Party at Our Place at 7:30 PM for beginners, class at 8 PM, party from 9 PM – Midnight

Swing Dance at Blur Bar 8 to 9 PM Intro Class followed by social dancing

Trivia Night at U.N. Irish Bar at 8:30 PM

Jam Session at The Edge at 8:30 PM

Jam Night at The Riverside at 9 PM


Mindfulness Meditation at Hidden House Yoga from 9 – 9:45 AM

Meditation retreat at Wat Suan Dok from 9 AM – 5 PM

Drawing and Sketching Club at Salad Concept from 1 – 4 PM

Nomad Coffee Club at Library Cafe at 4 PM

Open Mic at Healing House at 6:30 or 8 PM followed by dance

Game Night at Game Tree Cafe from 6:30 – 11:30 PM

Salsa Balchata Dancing at The Canteen from 8 – 11:30 PM


Hobby Market at Jing Jai (JJ Markets) from 7 AM – 1 PM

Board and Card Games at Enjoy Café from 6:30 – 11:30 PM

Homemade Breakfast Market at Wawee Coffee HQ from 7 – 11.30 AM

Laughter Yoga Circle at Yoga Tree at 3:30 PM

Ultimate Frisbee at Chiang Mai University rugby field at 5 PM

Language Exchange at Cube No. 7 from 7 – ~10 PM

Swing Dance at Blur Bar 8 to 9 PM intro class followed by social dancing

Open Mic at Tea Tree Cafe (times vary)

Saturday Night Walking Street (Wualai) 4 PM – Midnight


Rustic Market at Jing Jai (JJ Markets) from 7 AM – 1 PM

Organic Market at One Nimman from 7 AM to 12 Noon

Homemade Breakfast Market at Wawee Coffee Headquarters from 7 – 11.30 AM

Morning Market at Baan Kang Wat (near Wat Umong) from 8 – 11 AM

Mindfulness Meditation at Hidden House Yoga from 9 – 9:45 AM

S.W.E.E.T. Rooftop Cinema Club at Elephant Cafe from 6:30 – 10 PM

Game Night at Game Tree Cafe from 6:30 – 11:30 PM

One Salsa at One Nimman from 7:45 – 11 PM

Sunday Night Walking Street (Rajdamnern) 4 PM – Midnight


Monks collect alms around 6:30 AM (in season)

Free yoga in Suan Buak Hard Park at 9 – 10:15 AM

Monk Chat during the day at various temples

Aerobics in the evening at various locations

As is always the case in life, though perhaps even more so in Thailand, things are subject to change without notice. But that may simply be one of the lessons of Buddhism.

There are endless outdoor activities available every day.  You can take hikes (including the Monk Trail to Wat Phalat), visit a nearby lake (Huay Tung Tao), climb waterfalls (including Bua Thong, the sticky waterfall), visit parks (e.g., Suan Buak Hard in the southwest corner of the Old City), walk the perimeter of the Old City, walk and then sit along the Ping River on almost any day of the week.

Free cultural and spiritual activities are dotted throughout Chiang Mai’s many neighbourhoods.  Regardless of day (with occasional exceptions), you could go to most temples (including monk chats) for free, wander sprawling Chiang Mai University (and its free art museum), visit art galleries, go to indoor and outdoor markets (including the flower market, the pet market, etc.), wander in a new neighbourhood (and perhaps get lost and found), explore the Old City sois, visit craft factories (e.g., umbrellas, cotton, silk, wood, celadon, lacquer-ware, silver, jewelry, etc.), attend a lecture or concert (at Asian Culture Station, etc.), do photography, and practice sketching or painting.

To fulfil the senses, dance and listen to live music (at Tha Phae Gate, North Gate Jazz Co-opThapae EastThe Edge, etc.), get Chinese donuts in the shape of a dinosaur, dragon, or elephant in the morning at Go Neng, enjoy a great smoothie from Mrs. Pa at the Chiang Mai Gate Night Market, attend a meetup, people watch at an outdoor cafe, meet and speak with Thai people, tourists, travellers, and expats from around the world.

You can also get involved in the everyday civic life by picking up trash, riding the new public bus loop, donating blood, visiting the farang cemetery, or researching a local organisation to lend money to. And when there’s a holiday, anniversary, party, festival, or some other celebration or commemoration in Chiang Mai, as there often is, even more opportunities await you.

And of course, Chiang Mai also present the perfect place to connect with yourself, by meditating, practising yoga, volunteering, reading, writing, and relaxing.

All of these are not simply good ways to save money and have fun, but also great for meeting people and making new friends. What better way is there to really experience a city?

You’re also likely to serendipitously discover your own highlights as you get out and explore this fascinating city. Enjoy Chiang Mai on the cheap!

Dan Brook, Ph.D. teaches sociology at San Jose State University, from where he organizes the annual Hands on Thailand (HoT) program. Dan has a free ebook of travel inspiration called GO!: Travel Quotes to Send You Off on Smashwords.