Are you thinking to explore northern Thailand sometime soon? If you are, you should definitely pick Chiang Mai as your main base of activities. Not only is it full of food markets and temples but it’s also surrounded by jungle, waterfalls, and mountains.
To travel to and around this exotic destination without having to spend a fortune, backpacking will come to mind. This isn’t wrong but you have to admit that it can limit your level of enjoyment sometimes. You should allow yourself a bit of luxury but you should be careful not to overdo it. You simply need to learn where you should be cutting back or spending while on your trip.
Take Note of Visa Expenses
Those who will be coming from the US and 50 other countries can get Visa Exempt Permission at any international airport. This allows you to stay in the Kingdom for 30 days for free. If you require more time, you’ll have to acquire a 60-day or 90-day visa at any Thai embassy. You will typically need a passport that is valid for at least six months, around 10,000 Baht per person, and a round-trip ticket, among other necessary documents.
Avoid the Tourist Season
Forget about travelling during national holidays as this is when establishments and airlines tend to hike up their prices. Instead, find out the best time to visit your destination then go sometime before or after these dates. For Chiang Mai, this is between October and April when the weather is mostly pleasant and cool. You could perhaps arrange your trip around the last two weeks of September or right when May starts to enjoy the “shoulder season”.
Rethink Your Accommodation
You might think that a hotel would be the best option when it’s your first time to Thailand. However, there are actually plenty of other choices that are just as comfortable and safe but cost a lot less. Dorm rooms in hostels, for instance, can be booked for only a few dollars a night. They make perfect sense as you should be spending most of your trip outside your accommodation anyway. Plus, they give you more opportunities to meet people whom you could explore the city with.
Get Around the Smart Way
If you know how to ride a bicycle, by all means rent one to hit the streets. Many attractions and even coffee shops in the area are just within cycling distance of each other. Not to mention that a rental bike only costs around 50 Baht a day. When that isn’t an option for you, consider taking public transport instead. A ride on a songthaew is a must-try though you need to do some research how so you won’t get lost or confused.
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Try All the Free Things
It should come as no surprise that there are lots of stuff to do in the city that don’t require money. One is going on a photo walk of the Old City. Another is visiting an art gallery. Browsing the Chiang Mai Tribal Museum is yet another activity worth doing. Of course, don’t miss out on the chance to lounge around the 800-year-old moat surrounding the place either. Should there be an opportunity, chat with any of the monks as many of them would be more than happy to spend time with you.
Say No to Restaurants
Though some might disagree, it’s not advisable to spend a lot on what you eat. It can be tempting to sample all of the local dishes but you don’t need to go to top-rated cafes for that. Rather, you should head to the food markets for your fix. These are only open at night, however, so you may have to settle for supermarkets for lunch and breakfast. Or, you can just cook something at your accommodation if the place allows you to.
Pack Your Luggage Properly
Be sure to bring all your necessities so you won’t have to buy anything while you’re on the go. Regardless of the forecast prior to your departure, take at least one pair of jeans, a waterproof jacket, and a hoodie as you never know when the weather might change. The only things you should be shopping for when in Chiang Mai are a few souvenirs to take home. Even these you should learn to barter for so you can get them at a good price.
Put Safety Above All Else
Money for hotels or restaurants is always better spent on adventures. However, this still doesn’t mean you should skimp on experienced guides or quality services. The one thing that you don’t want to save money on is your safety, after all. So, when doing a tour in Thailand that involves ziplining, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, or trekking, be sure to go with a leading company because wealth can never be exchanged for your peace of mind.
Traveling like a broke backpacker has its perks but there are certain things that you shouldn’t cut corners on. Even if a package deal or extreme adventure seems pricey, if it can guarantee your safety while you make memories, go for it. It’s a luxury that would be well worth the money, compared to an expensive suite room or 5-star dish.
Bryan Schwartz Bryan works in digital marketing for 8Adventures, the leading provider of whitewater rafting, ATV, trekking and kayaking tours in Chiang Mai, Thailand. When he’s not working from his computer, you can find him doing adventurous activities, road trips or playing with his dog, Rocky.